‘Honey armageddon’: Manitoba beekeepers struggle with small honey harvest after massive die-off

Major colony loss in the spring, coupled with other challenges like inflation and honey prices, has Manitoba beekeepers buzzing about the coming winter weather.

Along with being the president of the Red River Apiarists’ Association, John Russell keeps his own hives.

He says this year was an especially tough one on beekeepers.

“Pretty catastrophic,” said Russell, the owner of John Russell Honey Company. “If we have two of those in a row, it’s going to be honey armageddon.”

Despite a great fall last year, a late and snowy spring dramatically killed off the bee population.

“I was looking at probably a four percent colony loss at the end of February, and by the end of April, it was at 40 per cent, which is not sustainable numbers,” said Russell.

Podolski Honey Farms in Ethelbert, Man. saw 90 per cent of their bee population die over winter, meaning the apiary had to focus on rebuilding rather than honey production.

“Normally, we’d do 15-20 truckloads of honey. This year we only did four,” said Bob Podolsky, owner of Podolski Honey Farms.

The Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association said many producers are feeling beat up right now.

The association’s president Ian Steppler said better access to importing bees could help the situation, but increasing local hive health is the focus.

“Just get better treatment options, maybe more effective treatments to be able to control the varroa mites, we should be able to keep our hives healthier,” explained Steppler.

Steppler said many colonies made progress this season, but another rough overwintering could be disastrous for some.

“If we have another bad spring, it could be to the detriment of our industry,” he said. “We could see a lot of producers really fall back because of that, so we are really hoping we have something positive ahead of us.”

A risk keepers like Russell know could sting them.

“There’s an old beekeeping saying that says any fool can keep bees until the end of December. The real tricky part is when you start getting towards spring,” said Russell.

Russell said another mild fall with lots of flowers gave his bees plenty of honey for winter, leaving him with an optimistic outlook.

As for Podolsky, he took his bees to B.C. to overwinter in hopes that more will survive by keeping them in a milder climate.

Editor’s note: Podoloski Honey Farms and Podolosky are intentionally spelled differently.

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