Industry News and Events

Posted:Mon, Apr 18th, 2016 9:48:07 pm

Nova Scotia beekeepers concerned about spread of beetle infestation

Province turned down request from the beekeepers' association to close border to imported bees
By Elizabeth McMillan, CBC News

A team of people from the beekeeping and wild blueberry industries will be travelling to Ontario this spring to inspect bee hives in hopes of preventing the spread of a beetle that interferes with honey crops.

Earlier this year, the province turned down a request from the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association to close the border to ban imported bees due to the small hive beetle, which burrows in hives and can ferment honey if it isn't immediately harvested.

"Now we're just working and doing everything we can to ensure they don't enter the province," said Lauren Park, the association's president.

"It's a really tough thing to say I'm 100 per cent confident. The beetles seem to, anywhere they are in the world, they seem to kind of spread regardless of what people are doing."

Beetles ferment honey

The small hive beetle likes to prey on weak colonies and young hives by laying eggs inside the cells. They eat honey and pollen.

The pests don't kill bees, but they can ruin the honey and are difficult to get rid of, Park says.

"They will consume and in the process ferment the honey that is in the hives," she said. "It would not be edible afterwards. They slime the hives."

Typically honey is stored until a beekeeper has time to extract it. In hives that have the beetle, Park says it's essential to harvest the honey as soon as possible so it's not ruined, adding extra pressure on producers.

The Department of Agriculture says it is only permitting hives to be imported to Cumberland County to help pollinate wild blueberry crops.

"Hives will only be able to be imported from producers in Ontario that have been determined to be free from small hive beetles for the past two years, and will not be able to be stored or transported with un-inspected hives after they have been inspected," the department said in a statement.

Vulnerable populations

Perry Brandt, a Wolfville beekeeper, says he's disappointed with the province's decision and believes importing any colonies from an affected area will speed up the spread of the beetle at a time when populations are already decline in many parts of the world.

He sells nucs, or young colonies created from larger colonies, which he says can easily be overrun by beetles.

"It doesn't kill bees outright but it demoralizes and exhausts the colony and it gets to such a point that the bees literally just leave," he said. "They will make it an unlivable place for bees to inhabit."

Brandt says the arrival of the small hive beetle would make it harder and more expensive to harvest honey in the province because speeding up the harvesting process would require new processes and more staff.

"The government is putting us at risk," he said.

Training to spot beetles

There will be a small hive beetle workshop on April 17 in Bible Hill and the plan is to send a group in May to inspect about 5,000 hives before they're shipped east.

Park says inspectors will be opening up the top cover of all the hives set to be shipped to try to spot beetles. They'll also be examining the bottom part of 10 per cent of the hives for infestations.

"They dislike light and sudden movements like that. The idea is we'll be able to see them scurry away," she said.

Park said the beekeepers association pushed for a smaller window of time between when a hive is inspected and when it's been shipped. It's now 10 days, down from about a month, she said.