Alberta is Beekeeping

Medhat, Alberta's provincial apiculturalist

Medhat, Alberta’s provincial apiculturist

Last night, the Calgary and District Beekeepers Association hosted its monthly general meeting. About 150 people showed up. To accommodate the growing membership and big turnout, our club’s president found an affordable and spacious new meeting hall near the Bow River, about 5 minutes from the city’s downtown. The bigger space was a real boon as we had a special speaker last night – our provincial apiculturist, Dr Medhat Nasr. (Don’t call him Dr Nasr. He prefers that everyone simply use ‘Medhat’.) Well, Medhat always draws a large audience and last night was typical.

Before we get to what our guest-speaker spoke, I’ll recap some of the club’s business. Committees talked about the pending arrival of queens and packages and the resounding success of last weekend’s beginner’s bee course. I helped teach it and was I glad to hear the overwhelmingly positive response from attendees. Also mentioned was the upcoming honey competition (which I will help judge) held in association with Calgary’s Agriculture Exposition (Aggie Days). Winners of next month’s honey show will have their wares exhibited at this summer’s Calgary Stampede and will be awarded admission tickets to the world’s greatest cowboy show. You still have time to submit your winning honey entry – see details here. (Winners will be famous for 15 minutes – over a million people visit the fairgrounds each year and I’ll mention their honey on this site.)

I was given a couple of minutes at last night’s meeting to announce a special bee course that I’m helping host. It’s called “Making Money from Honey” and will be held here in Calgary on April 9th. My teaching partner, Neil Bertram, will tell students how to make money with bees while I specialize on losing money from beekeeping (I can hopefully give cautionary tales). It should be a good balance. Course information is here:

Calgary, soon to be renamed "Bee Town"

Calgary, soon to be renamed “Bee Town”

With the big active Calgary bee club in mind and the popularity of beekeeping here, guest speaker Medhat Nasr kindly suggested that our city’s nickname (“Cow Town“) be replaced with “Bee Town”. There are now several hundred bee colonies in and near the city – certainly more than the number of cows in town.

Medhat spoke on two related bee topics at the meet-up – the small hive beetle and the status of Alberta beekeeping. Well, they are loosely related because the Beatles have not been performing in Alberta yet, though they’ve been spotted in British Columbia. A few Alberta beekeepers winter their hives in BC, so they could possibly haul the beetles back here in the spring. Tomorrow, I’ll write about what Medhat told us about the small hive beetle. Today, I want to briefly touch upon his status update for Alberta beekeeping.

Alberta is beekeeping. The province’s beekeepers are keeping their bees alive – and prospering. The provincial apiculturist showed us the statistics. While alarmist claims are made that honey bees are going extinct (they are not), Medhat used real numbers to prove the contrary. Alberta had 145,000 colonies in 1987. Today, it has twice as many – 296,000 hives. The increasing trend accelerated in the past few years, even as headlines in papers like the Washington Post and Time magazine screamed the opposite. (Around the world, the number of colonies has also increased recently – up by 50% since 1961, according to the United Nations.) Alberta now has 10% more colonies than it did five years ago. And those bees are doing well – the 2015 crop average was 145 pounds per hive!

Medhat presented Alberta’s wintering statistics. These were absolutely gob-smacking. During the past three winters, the average province-wide loss has been just 10%. A few beekeepers lost more, sometimes due to inexperience or negligence. But 10% is the average. The worst winter in recent years had an autumn that caught beekeepers off-guard – bees made honey late into September with daily 10 pounds gains late in the fall. You might think that heavy hives going into winter is the best thing for the bees. It’s important, of course. But when honey clogs the brood chamber so much that the queen quits laying eggs, the result is few late-winter worker bees left in the hive. The population collapses in February or March. Our own outfit did OK, with minimal losses, because we put three empty drawn frames in the center of each brood nest  in mid-September when we realized what was happening. This gave us late-autumn brood and a good population of young bees later in the winter.

So, Alberta beekeepers are doing OK. High honey prices and big crops have helped beekeepers do things right. Minimal winter losses and expanding colony numbers also owe a nod of thanks to Dr Medhat Nasr’s government apiary office which has led the growth of beekeeping through research into bee diseases and education programs that help beekeepers beekeep smarter and better.

Part of the 150 folks attending last night's bee club meeting in Calgary.

Part of the 150 folks attending last night’s bee club meeting in Calgary.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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4 Responses to Alberta is Beekeeping

  1. BeeNuts says:

    Winter losses of 10% is impressive. The UK figures are usually much higher probably because winter is so variable. It was relatively warm in December so queens barely stopped laying, but Feb/March has been cold. Fondant keeps the bees fed but they need pollen for the brood.
    Your tip about open frames to prevent a honey-congested brood box going into winter is a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Emily Scott says:

    Great to hear Alberta beekeepers are doing so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Location, Location, Vocation | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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