by Vern Faulkner
A brief mid-June memo issued by New Brunswick’s provincial apiarist sent a shockwave through the province’s beekeeping community: samples of Small hive beetle (SHB) were found in hives imported from Ontario.
Samples taken on June 3 and 4 tested positive for the pest, stated provincial apiarist Chris Maund.
“Inspections on the Acadian Peninsula identified the first-time presence of small hive beetles in colonies rented for blueberry pollination from one beekeeper from Ontario,” confirmed Anne Bull, a provincial government communications officer. Bull acknowledged what many beekeepers already knew: the pest has been found in hives in Maine, Ontario, and Quebec.
The affected colonies required provincial approval to be removed, stated Bull. The imported colonies were to be removed by June 22.
The beetle’s larvae is the main cause of damage, devouring pollen, bee larvae, and honey. The pest also defecates in honey, spoiling it.
Calvin Hicks, president of the New Brunswick Beekeepers Association, isn’t happy. “The obvious concern is that we’ll end up with a domestic population of Small hive beetle in our hives in New Brunswick,” he said.
According to the Ontario government, SHB first hit Manitoba in 2002, and again in 2006. It spread to Alberta and Quebec. And it moved into Ontario in 2010.
SHB can overwinter in hives. The beetle spreads through hives and beekeeping equipment.
Hicks said SHB is less harmful to bees than other pests. “They are a nuisance, they are a pest, they can ruin honey and equipment, but they aren’t killing bees,” he said, adding that if SHB spreads to New Brunswick hives, it will “affect profitability.”
If SHB is now a problem, it will simply add another stress on the domestic honeybee population, joining a list of pests and parasites such as the Varroa mite, American foulbrood, European foulbrood, nosema, Tracheal mites and Wax moths.
Of those, the two foulbroods are invariably deadly and quite contagious. The Varroa mite is perhaps the best known: the red, spider-like mite, feeds off larval and adult bees, and is a delivery vector for viruses and other pathogens.
“A lot of managers have Varroa mites at a low or reasonable level,” said Hicks. “I would make an assumption that almost every beekeeper has some Varroa mites.”
In the past, Nova Scotia has banned the movement of bees into the province. New Brunswick, however, doesn’t have the domestic populations to do the same. That would require tripling the number of hives in the province.
The industry doesn’t need another challenge. As with almost every type of farming, there are few youth entering the beekeeping world. “There are only a handful of especially young, experienced beekeepers in this province,” said Hicks. “It is such a difficult business to get started in, because of all the health issues.”
Beekeeping, too, is not a craft where one can make mistakes and move on.
“It’s just so hard to keep bees alive,” said Hicks, adding that youth “don’t want to spend the money to get into it and then lose them.”
Recently, some regions have suffered winter losses of 40 percent or more, and replacing those lost hives can be expensive.
A “package” of bees, about one kilogram or more of live bees and a queen ready to be inserted into a hive, costs anywhere from $200-$250, said Hicks.
Hicks follows in the footsteps of his father, who has been keeping bees for 35 years.
“It takes three or four years to master the basics of commercial beekeeping,” he said. “Some people have what it takes to do it. My father worked 20 hours a day throughout my entire childhood, and that’s how he pulled it off. But it’s not easy.”
He returned to the issue of the Small hive beetle.
This year, the blueberry industry is having a tough time, Hicks said, and that leads to his major concern: why were hives being brought into New Brunswick?
“This year, the blueberry price is low,” he said. “There were a lot of New Brunswick hives, including our own, that didn’t go to blueberry fields.”
Given that, he wonders why preference didn’t go to local hives first.
“The added slap in the face is that some of the hives that came from Ontario were infected with Small hive beetle,” said Hicks.
by Vern Faulkner