Bee expert Rheal Lafreniere shared his knowledge in Morden. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Morden Times)
The meeting room was packed at the South Central Library in Morden, Feb. 9, as local bee enthusiasts gathered to learn more about nature’s honey makers.
Rheal Lafreniere, Industry Development Specialist, of the Provincial Apiarists of Manitoba spoke at length about the dedication needed to keep bees, and some of the common pitfalls to avoid.
“I thought the crowd was very, very good,” he said after the talk that was hosted by A Rocha. “I love talking about bees in very different ways. I challenge myself and I hope I challenged them, by kind of staying way from talking about the bee and really talking about the society more than anything.”
Lafreniere gave beekeepers insight into common challenges such as biological/chemical stress, the Varroa Mite, American Foulbrood Disease and Colony Collapse Disorder. Someone who responds quickly to these issues is in Lafreniere’s mind, the difference between a beekeeper and someone who keeps bees.
He urged new beekeepers to start with several hives, saying one is impossible to manage.
“If you’re really serious about bees, but want to keep it a hobby, go with five hives,” he said.
There are things he encourages people to think about before they decide to keep bees.
That includes allergy to bee stings, time commitment, physical demands, sourcing bees and equipment and planning. “You’ve got to think about it last year, to get bees this year,” he said.
He stressed that bees do require management, as they are not native to this region.
“Honey bees, if left to their own devices in the wild, would not be very successful,” he said. “They could survive one year, maybe even two years. On a long term basis they would never become part of our wild ecosystem.”
Bee numbers have made a resurgence in the province.
Lafreniere said ten years ago, they had around 85,000 colonies. “At one point we were getting down close to 70,000 colonies after winter and always rebuilding back to 75,000 or 77,000 but were getting in that range of having 10,000 colonies fewer than we had three years earlier,” he said. “All the indications were our industry should be growing because honey production was still quite strong and honey prices were very strong.”
The high losses began to disappear, and numbers have risen. “We’ve actually seen our numbers rebound and go way past where we were before,” he said. “Our last count of registered hives is in that 100,000 range.” (An average colony contains 50,000 bees, which means about 5 billion bees live in Manitoba).
That can translate into a lot of honey as each hive can produce at its peak, 20 pounds of honey per day.
More bees are good news for the province.
“They are the super pollinator,” he said. “They fly great distances. They have a very, very strong work ethic.”
While Lafreniere said it’s great to see new beekeepers, he said it’s the responsibility of all to ensure they keep their populations healthy.
“We need to engage all the beekeepers,” he said. “(It) doesn’t matter if they’re big or small, and make sure that we’re all working toward a healthy bee population.”
Lafreniere said he enjoys seeing the enthusiasm. “I want to keep it high because I don’t want to see people abandoning their hives after five years,” he said.