Beehive thefts a 'growing phenomenon' says southwestern Ontario beekeeper

Thirteen bee hives stolen from a Wheatley, Ont. property might be part of a growing phenomenon of these kinds of thefts, according to one area beekeeper. 

Guy Langevin, a Sarnia beekeeper, said this kind of theft has been happening "all over the place."

"More in the U.S. but it's kind of migrated up to Canada," said Langevin, pointing to two other incidents in Ontario in the last few years. 

Langevin, a part-time beekeeper, said you'd have to know how to handle bees in order to walk away with 13 hives.

"You'd need a large pickup truck, if not a flatbed ... and people. It would be more than just one person handling the bee boxes," said Langevin about the Wheatley theft. According to police, the theft occurred sometime between November and Dec. 28, 2019. 

The stolen beehives include seven three-storey hives and six two-storey hives. 'Storey' refers to the number of boxes — each of which are about 24" by 18" and include 8-10 frames of bees. 

Andy Duback/The Associated Press

As the colony grows, it grows vertically, which is when a box would be added on top. For a three-storey hive, Langevin said it would have been cultivated for a few years.

"When you get into three storeys you're well into 100,000 bees," said Langevin. "But at this time of the year, due to cold, the bee colonies tend to shrink down to 20 to 30,000 bees in the winter."

Langevin said a three-storey hive could be considered "fairly substantial."

Each box or storey could hold up to 45 kilograms of honey each — sold wholesale for about $2 per half-kilogram but $8 for an average half-kilogram bottle in retail stores. 

"That's a considerable amount of money lost, just for the honey value," said Langevin. "But the bee value ... that colony, as it's growing and getting stronger, can produce honey season to season."

Honey is usually drawn from hives about twice a year. 

Langevin said bee hives are easily stolen because there's no distinguishing marks from bee-to-bee or from hive-to-hive. Anything that denotes a box as belonging to someone specific could be easily changed with paint. 

"These people are just taking advantage of an aviary that's been left unattended," said Langevin.

Ted Dillion/CBC

Aviaries — bee farms — are often left alone in the winter months because the bees are essentially hibernating. During the honey harvesting season, Langevin said he would check his boxes about once a week. In the winter, he just leaves them alone. 

"When they're wrapped up and tucked away in the winter, I don't have a need to go see them or check up on them. They're just in a box and ready to bear the winter out," said Langevin. 

Langevin doesn't think anything can be done to prevent this kind of theft. 

"It's a small community," said Langevin. "Everybody talks ... boxes that show up out of the blue or a beekeper that shows up with a large yard overnight, it's looked at suspiciously. The community is pretty active but there's nothing really that can be done."

Chatham-Kent police are looking for any information regarding the stolen hives.