Edmonton

The ABC, in collaboration with Crystal Clear Communications, recently held a webinar on ‘What You Need to Know: Webinar for Agricultural Employers.

The webinar covered work permit supports from IRCC, the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot (AFIP), and What’s NEW, Express Entry for Ag +
Recognized Employer Program details.

  • Download the PowerPoint presentation HERE.
  • View the recording of the webinar here:

Summer 2022 CFIA invited the submission of new/current scientific information in regard to the health of and management of honey bee diseases and pests in the United States and Canada.

The Commission in collaboration with US beekeeping organizations and the Canadian Beekeepers Federation prepared and submitted 16 peer reviewed scientific papers in regard to the 4 risks identified in 2014 as well as control program and surveillance information in the US.

Mid August 2023 CFIA announced they would be undertaking a new risk assessment to evaluate the risks associated with the importation of honey bee packages from the United States.

With this announcement CFIA also invited the submission of any new/existing scientific information related to the health of honey bees or control programs in place to control disease agents and pests in Canada or in the United States.

Alberta Beekeepers Commission in collaboration with the American Beekeeping Federation, California State Beekeepers Association, American Honey Producers Association and the Canadian Beekeepers Federation prepared and submitted the following 22 documents to CFIA:

TITLEAUTHOR/OWNER
2023 Risks involved in intercontinental bee importsRandy Oliver
Relative risks of intercontinental honey bee imports into CanadaDr. David Tarpy
Buzz'sBees 2022 Mitochondrial DNA testing for Africanized HoneybeeBuzz's Bees
B-Z Bee Pollination Certificate of Quarantine ComplianceB-Z Bee Pollination
Comments on the Canadian boarder closure to US package beesPettis & Associates LLC
Small Hive BeetleDr. Jamie Ellis
Letter from University of California, DavisDr. Elina L. Nino
Rules & Regulations of the State of Georgia: Subject 40-4-1State of Georgia
2023 Certificate of Apiary Health: Wilbanks Apiaries, Georgia USA Georgia Department of Agriculture
Health Certificate to Export Honey Bee Queens Apis Mellifera From the United States of America – Continental to Canada: FORMUnited States Department of Agriculture
By Lynae Ovinge, M.Sc. Tech Transfer Program Lead. Updated July 2023.

Did you know there have been lawsuits about poor quality bee feed?

I recently watched Dr. Rob Currie’s presentation to the Manitoba Beekeepers Association on “The Importance of Quality Feed for Bees” which is available at www.manitobabee.org. I learned that in 1995 some “off-spec” corn syrup had been imported into Manitoba. Many beekeepers who bought this syrup lost hives, and Dr. Currie’s later investigations in the lab and in hives showed that bees fed off-spec syrup were much more likely to die than bees fed with standard corn syrup. He mentioned that the lawsuit filed by the beekeepers who bought the off-spec syrup was not settled until 14 years after the hives were lost!

Dr. Currie’s talk highlighted the real implications for beekeepers of knowing what makes up their sugar syrup. Beekeepers need to be sure that the syrup they’re purchasing is high quality, and not off-spec.  In Canada, there are three main sugar syrups that are fed to bees, and as they come from different plants, there are considerations to be had when making the decision on what syrup to feed to your bees.

‘In most cases the sugar syrup Alberta beekeepers received in 2020 and 2023 was cane sugar rather than beet sugar.’

Types of bee-fed sugars

Beet Sugar – In most years, the majority of Albertan beekeepers feed beet sugar which is produced by the Lantic/Rogers factory in Taber from sugar beets grown in Southern Alberta. In Dr. Currie’s presentation he mentioned that he has done many feeding trials and always finds that sucrose (the type of sugar in beet syrup) is the gold standard for bee feed, so it is wonderful to have a local source of it in Alberta!

Cane Sugar – Sugar cane is grown in tropical countries where it is partially refined after harvest, and then shipped and further refined at factories such as Lantic/Rogers in Vancouver or Montreal. Once refined, this sugar is also sucrose (very good bee feed) and very similar to beet sugar. However, because it comes from a tropical grass, cane sugar is a C4 sugar while Beet sugar is a C3 sugar (more on this in the chemistry section).

Corn Syrup – High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is extensively fed to bees in the US and eastern Canada (including Manitoba) but is not commonly fed in Alberta. As its name implies, it has high levels of the sugar fructose but also contains glucose. Dr. Currie also mentioned that his studies have found that HFCS is not as good for bees as sucrose. Additionally, if HFCS is heated, it produces a chemical called hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) which can harm the digestive tracts of bees and potentially kill an entire hive. It tends to be much cheaper than sucrose in the areas where it is commonly used as bee feed. Corn syrup is also a C4 sugar.

Did you know? Molasses is a by-product of sugar cane processing, but beet molasses is non-food grade, so its mostly used for yeast production or animal feed.

Chemistry

Due to rampant honey adulteration, honey is extensively tested for the presence of sugars to determine if: 1) honey has been directly diluted with a sugar syrup, or 2) if bees have been fed with a sugar syrup to make “honey”. Two of the laboratory tests commonly performed when honey shipments are checked for adulteration are a sucrose test and a C4 sugar test.

The sucrose test analyzes the percentage of sucrose in honey. As natural honey typically contains glucose and fructose with very low levels of sucrose, the presence of sucrose at certain levels indicates honey that is not natural. Therefore, if bees were fed sucrose and the resultant honey extracted, they would fail this test (5% is a common “fail-rate”).

The C4 sugar test tests for the presence of C4 sugars in honey. C4 is a photosynthesis pathway unique to tropical grasses (such as corn or sugar cane), so it can be used as a test for honey adulteration because bees would never collect nectar from a tropical grass. Therefore, if bees are fed cane sugar or corn syrup and the resultant honey extracted, they would fail the C4 sugar test (7% is a common fail-rate). However, due to beets being a C3 plant, if bees are fed beet sugar and the resultant honey extracted, the honey would pass the C4 sugar test, but would fail the sucrose test.

Interesting side note: Manuka honey sometimes fails the C4 sugar test and no one currently knows why.

All this chemistry becomes relevant when beekeepers are trying to keep their bees fed during very late and cold spring seasons, or have bees located near uneducated beekeepers. Here are a few examples of when beekeepers should be concerned:

1) Due to long rainy periods with almost no dandelions to provide nectar, the bees might require syrup in early to mid June. If the weather changes suddenly and the nectar flow comes quick the bees may not consume the syrup and instead store the syrup in the honey supers.

2) An uneducated beekeeper is barrel-feeding syrup to nucs in July, and nearby bees owned by another beekeeper forage on it and deposit the sugar syrup into honey supers.

There is a possibility in these cases for the beekeeper’s honey to fail C4 sugar tests or sucrose tests. Therefore, it is advised that if beekeepers suspect that if any sugar syrup may have gotten into their supers to have any associated shipments of honey tested before they leave the farm. Some of the labs accepting honey samples are Intertek and Labs-Mart. Beekeepers should also check with their supplier to see what type of sugar syrup they have received. In most cases the sugar syrup Alberta beekeepers received in 2020 and 2023 was cane sugar rather than beet sugar.

Check for a 22 when you buy Rogers granulated or icing sugar at the store, that means it comes from the Taber Beet Factory, and is 100% Canadian sugar! Unfortunately, buying sugar to feed your bees is a bit more complicated when you’re buying tanker loads of it, so check with your supplier on whether you’ve purchased cane or beet sugar.

Owners: Barb Thyr & Dave Tharle

Location: Ardmore

Social info: Facebook


Question:      How did you get involved in this sweet industry – what’s your story?

Answer:

My parents were married just before WW II and had a number of hired men on the farm. Sugar was rationed during the war, so my mother learned to use honey as the sweetener in most everything; cooking, baking, canning, etc. (during this time you could even sponsor a hive or hives). When the war ended, she just continued to use it, because of the texture and flavours of the things she made with it.  A trip would be made annually east into the Bassano/Brooks irrigation districts for alfalfa honey or west to Nanton/High River for the clover-wildflower honey produced in the foothills; sometimes both. When I came into their lives, I loved these trips and was fascinated by the whole process. We would take an assortment of 2, 4 & 8 lb. containers (the latter 2 sizes being the traditional tins with compression lids) in apple crates and obtain several hundred pounds while I’d ask the poor beekeeper a million questions. When we brought them home, they were placed in a deep freeze so we could have fresh, liquid honey year-round.

There was a beekeeping section in the Western Producer and when I turned 16, I ordered my first equipment from Henry Pirker, Debolt AB. Mr. Pirker also offered a correspondence course which I signed up for and letters were sent back & forth during the first season. Beekeeping in Alberta was 99% packages at that time. Even though the gophers pack a bag lunch where I grew up, I got frames drawn and made some honey.  When I moved to Edmonton to attend University, I joined the Edmonton & District Beekeepers Association and made a point of getting to know as many beekeepers as possible. I would offer to work with them and was regularly called upon in spring to help shake packages (because I was young and still had a back). During this time, I continued to expand my hive numbers, working with an established hobbyist. We ran our hives mostly along Hwy 14 east from Sherwood Park and built a 14’ x 26’ (garage package) extracting plant in the hamlet of Bruce. We ran 250 hives through it at the peak using a Maxant Chain Uncapper, a 60 frame Hodgeson, an OAC sump and a 1000lb settling tank.

In the late 70’s & early 80’s I spent some time during summers as an Apiary Inspector for Alberta Agriculture, working for both Roger Topping and then Doug Colter. Eventually I decided that I wanted to do beekeeping full time and moved to Grimshaw to work for John & Bev Woodburn’s Polar Bear Honey. After a couple of seasons in the Peace my wife and I decided to relocate to Cold Lake, Alberta and have been here ever since. At this point, she joined me in the bee yard and T’N’T Apiaries was born.

Question:         What’s a typical day like for you?

Answer:

I’m a morning person.  During bee season, I’m usually awake by 5:30 – 6 and doing paperwork, etc. in the office. I try to be in the shop by 7am and one of the great things about beekeeping is there really isn’t a typical day. You can cross half a dozen trade lines (electrician, plumber, mechanic, excavator…….) in a single day.

Question:         What is the most satisfying part of being a beekeeper?

Answer:

Bringing hives to their full potential and then producing a quality product that people enjoy.

Question:         How have things like new research, sustainability, innovation, and technology influenced your beekeeping?

Answer:

They’re always influencing it. Thankfully Barb is more reluctant to jump on the latest band wagon and I think we’re able to make good compromises about what things we adopt into the business.

Question:         Finding great sources of nutritional forage for your bees is an integral part of crafting delicious, pure Alberta honey and supporting pollination and biodiversity. What are some of the strategies you use to when selecting apiary locations for your hives?

Answer:

We’re really fortunate in this region to still have a significant amount of pasture and hay lands mixed throughout grain and oilseed fields. We’re mostly concerned about whether or not the location works year-round.

Question:         What is one of the biggest challenges you feel the Alberta beekeeping industry is facing and what would you like to see changed?

Answer:

I think our biggest issue is, and will be for some time, Varroa.  A close second (this likely won’t surprise those that know me) is labour. Not everyone in government realizes (or perhaps accepts) just how reliant we are on TFWs. I look back 20+ years and see the advancements which have occurred since Grant Hicks and I would beat our heads against the wall over some of the policies and procedures we used to jump through, but it could still be so much more straight forward for us and the Government.

Question:         With such a short beekeeping season in Alberta, how do you manage all the work required to support and maintain the health of your hives and harvest your honey?

Answer:

Preseason prep and hired Labour! Barb and I used to try doing everything ourselves, thinking that having employees’ cost you money, but once we hired staff, we found out how much more honey/money we could make with basically the same resources.

Question:         What is the strangest beekeeping question you have ever been asked?

Answer:

Although not really a question, one of my all-time favorites was being told they couldn’t eat our “creamed” honey, because the dairy in it was bad for their cholesterol.

Question:         If you were to describe your honey in four words, what words would you use?

Answer:

Most years: Light, sweet, smooth, aromatic. Not so sure in 2021. Lots of darker product this year.

Question:      What types of honey do you sell, and do you sell other bee related products?

Answer: 

When Covid derailed her graduation plans, our daughter started selling flavoured honeys made with our honey, and beeswax candles.

Question:      Where can people buy your honey and products?

Answer:

At our farm gate or from Micwellas.com

Question:      What are you happiest doing when you are not working?

Answer:

When beekeeping became my job, I started doing dog agility as a hobby.


Many years ago at Convention a gentleman from one of Alberta’s beekeeping dynasties (grew up keeping bees and was well into his eighties) shared the following advice: “If you think you understand everything about bees, you’re a damn fool.”  Words to live by here.