A honey bee forages about eight kilometres in any direction for pollen. A drone will fly 24 kilometres to seeking a queen bee. It’s a lot of work for the tiny, beneficial insect which bears most of the responsibility for crop pollination.
Viruses and pests are increasingly causing the demise of European bees (one of three races of bees worldwide, including African and Asian). In the U.S., colony collapse disorder has resulted in the total demise of entire colonies of bees, says Renfrew’s Bob Bouchard, owner of Nature’s Nectar.
Because bees do not adapt well to throw off new diseases or predators such as mites and beetles, he explains, beekeepers must be vigilant to ensure their charges stay healthy. “You’ve got to do everything right and cross your fingers. There’s no guarantee you can bring a colony through the winter” says Murray Borer, an Ottawa Valley beekeeper.
Adding to the problem, a huge amount of “fake” honey is circulating as larger producers become victims of imported honey scams perpetrated by Chinese and Indian companies. This means local beekeepers are under increasing pressure to compete with cheap-quality, antibiotic and even carcinogen-laced products sold under some brand names, particularly in the U.S. Even worse, there are few labs that can actually test honey properly to determine what is actually in it. To read more about this issue, visit http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.Ubh_bjVzatU. Be sure to buy pure, local honey from a trusted producer in your area.
“Eat local honey,” urges Murray Borer, a Renfrew Valley beekeeper.
Ontario honey bought from a local producer costs about $7 per kilo– more expensive than large commercial brands but consumers can be sure of its quality.Most cheap honey comes from Asia. It is often ultra filtered to take away the pollen (an essential ingredient of honey) making its origins untraceable. This type of honey, says Bob Bouchard, of Nature’s Nectar, may have antibiotics or other unsavoury elements in it.
In fact, fake honey from India and China has flooded the U.S. market and authorities seem powerless to stop it; even the biggest honey companies are victims. The solution is to buy only pure local honey from a trusted producer. To read more about this vital issue, visit http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/08/honey-laundering/#.Ubh8fDVzatU.
“The Ottawa valley produces twice the amount of honey as the provincial average,” says Mr. Borer, though not as much as it used to when there were more small bee farms. In fact, there are only a quarter as many bees in the area as there were 15 years ago. Half of those bees belonged to feral colonies, most of which died out due to the varroa mite which attacked them, leaving only the colonized bees for pollination–half the original numbers.
Only four or five commercial beekeepers remain in Renfrew County (down from 12), though another two or three may be trying to work up to commercial levels (more than 50 hives), says Mr. Borer.
“When you are working with bees it gives you a window onto nature that you don’t get otherwise,” says Renfrew’s Murray Borer. “I know when every tree is flowering because of the type of pollen the bees are bringing in. There’s an intimate connection with nature.”
Borer has been an apiarist for 36 years and has kept bees of his own since 1979 at Oak Grove Apiaries near Renfrew. He loves bees and it inspires in him a moving sort of poetry that is evident in the way he speaks so lovingly of them.
“People have been fascinated with bees forever. I don’t think that’s going to change soon.”