Bolstering Maple Ridge's bee population

Scott Gordon, owner of Bee Natural Apiaries, will be hosting a queen-rearing seminar at his farm on Aug. 10.   - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
Scott Gordon, owner of Bee Natural Apiaries, will be hosting a queen-rearing seminar at his farm on Aug. 10.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

As media around the world gush about a new baby member of the royal family, a Maple Ridge man is going to teach locals how to rear some royalty of their own.

Gordon Scott fears the honey bee population is declining worldwide. A honey bee population crash would be a disaster, he said, not because people wouldn’t have honey for their tea, but because these industrious insects pollinate the plants that are the foundation of modern agriculture.

Bees are so critical to the process that Ministry of Agriculture guidelines recommend that there be three commercial hives (boxes) for every acre of blueberries planted.

This year, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows berry farmers had to contract beekeepers from Alberta to bring their insects here to cover the job of pollinating crops, and there was still a shortage of thousands of hives compared to ministry guidelines.

It has been tough to keep bees alive in B.C., Scott said.

“To put it into perspective, 40 per cent of commercial honey bee colonies died over the winter.”

A beekeeper of almost 20 years, a provincial apiary inspector and also the proprietor of Bee Natural Apiaries, Scott is doing his part to bolster local bee populations. He will be holding a queen-rearing seminar on Aug. 10 at his farm at 12640 Laity Street. In general, he wants to teach bee keepers to expand their knowledge so they can maintain hives successfully.

The threats to bees are numerous. Bacteria, viruses and fungi that have always attacked hives have gone from nuisances to hive killers, reinforced by new mites that have been putting the most stress on bees.

“They chew on the bees – they’re really nasty little critters,” said Scott.

For more than the past decade, he has been wrestling with the issue of managing mite populations, and has strategies to share with beekeepers.

Man-made problems like loss of wild bee habitat and pesticide and herbicide use are also causing a drop in the number of hives, but researching the major effects on bee populations is a relatively new and ongoing area of study.

“We need more funding for research,” Scott said. “We’ve got to find out what’s happening.

“Some incidence of disease in the valley is unexplainable.”

In the mid 1990s, Scott began working with bees while working for Natural Factors, a research facility in Kelowna. He maintained an apiary of 100 colonies, and collected pollen, honey, royal jelly and other apiary products for testing in health products. In 2001, he received a Beemasters certificate from SFU, and has retained his interest, and still works with a UBC bee breeding program.

“I’ve got the bug,” is how he puts it.

Many farmers and even gardeners put bee boxes on their properties, and become enamored with honey bees. They will generally experience a lot of success in their first year, he said.

“It’s easy to get started, but to keep them healthy through the winter takes some skill,” said Scott.

He sees queen rearing as a way to keep local populations healthy. When beekeepers buy stock from another country, such as New Zealand, they choose to overlook bees that have been successful in the Fraser Valley.

“It’s really important for valley beekeepers to raise their own queens.”

Both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have bylaws that allow people to have bee boxes in their backyards in urban areas, and Scott sees that as helpful.

He said there is only a credible stinging danger if people are actively disrupting a bee hive, and urban hives offer a legitimate benefit in boosting populations.

“Bees do really well in urban areas, and it helps add diversity to the population.”

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