Honey, honey: Mother Nature gives beekeepers a bounce-back summer

·3 min read
Wildflowers have supplied plenty of nectar to honeybees this summer. (Frank Leplante - image credit)
Wildflowers have supplied plenty of nectar to honeybees this summer. (Frank Leplante - image credit)

It's been a sweet season for eastern Ontario beekeepers as summer weather conditions have been ideal for honey-making.

Early summer rain followed by sunny days and high temperatures helped to fill area fields with wildflowers that provide honey bees with the nourishing nectar they require to make liquid gold.

"We're probably looking at 30 per cent more honey than last year," said beekeeper Ron Grootjans who, along with his wife Cathy Worth, operate BeeToo Honey just outside of Brockville, Ont.

Last summer's scorching heat and lack of rain was hard on honeybees, according to Grootjans, as the insects had their energy sapped as they worked overtime trying to keep their hives cool by flapping their wings.

The lack of moisture also made it difficult for flowers to produce sweet liquid nectar, which is an important source of energy for bees. If they aren't able to extract the nutrients from flowers, they start eating the honey they've already made.

"June is normally known as nectar flow," said Grootjans, "That's when everything comes into bloom and when the bees just go crazy, collecting all of their nectar. Last year, it just didn't happen."

WATCH | Beekeepers in the Ottawa area report a rise in honey production:

With the rain, comes the reward

In a field surrounded by wildflowers behind his home in Vars, beekeeper Frank Leplante says he has added to his collection of hives throughout the summer to keep pace with bees' production of honey.

"So far, it's been a really great year for pretty much every beekeeper that I've spoken to," said Leplante.

"It started off kind of a bit on the slow side because we had a lot of high heat and no rain, and then all of a sudden the rain came and then that's when the wildflowers were coming out."

Leplante also says this year has brought relief after last year's honey drought, but he does have concerns about the long-term health of the bees in the face of increasing climate change.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Early spring means more work proctecting bees

As a beekeeper, he's had a front row seat to how fluctuating temperatures and extreme weather can disrupt the natural cycles of the insects. The winter months are the most dangerous.

Beekeepers have to keep working in those colder months to ensure the heat continues to bring them fruitful summers like this one.

"It's probably the hardest thing that a beekeeper has to do right now, because our temperatures tend to vary too high." said Laplante.

When temperatures rise in the hive during normally colder months, the dormant bees begin to get active again. The queen starts laying eggs while confused, or many bees will come out for cleaning flights because they don't defecate inside the hive, he says.

Then when bees leave the hive they most likely will freeze.

"What's really important is the size of the cluster inside that hive," said Leplante, which requires teamwork to keep all the bees warm and insulated during the winter months.

"If the cluster is too small, well then those bees don't have a fighting chance."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC
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