I started my March Blog last year with the comment that “spring seems to have started early again this year.” This seems to be happening yet again this year, the third year in a row. I wonder if we are developing a mediterranean style climate; warm wet winters and hot dry summers. The last two summers have been hot and dry and this winter has again been warm and wet.
Last month a stream of depressions have been passing over the country causing considerable flooding but here in Oxfordshire it has been nowhere near as bad as further north. Bees do not like cold wet conditions and I have been constantly checking to make sure that the severe winds we have been having have not dislodged any parts of the hives, especially the roofs which might allow rain to enter the hives.
Many spring flowers have been breaking out into flower. I am beginning to wonder if the bees will follow with a rapid build up in numbers similar to last year. Spring last year proved rather tricky with numerous early swarms in Oxfordshire completely opposite to the year before. No two years seem to be the same in beekeeping.
I wrote last month about the challenges from pests and diseases that the honey bees have to face. Of course they also have numerous larger scale environmental challenges to overcome some of which we may initially think only effect human beings but these events can often have unexpected effects on bees.
The drought and bushfires in Australia have been severely impacting honey bees there. Since the start of the 2019 bushfire season, reports confirm over a million hectares have burnt in New South Wales alone. On beekeeper a Peter Matthinson from Elands estimated that he lost 70% of his hives and 90% of the sites he used for his hives. The fire spread was so rapid that there was little that could be done in the time available to move his hives. Fires have been so severe this season that locals fear the most trees will not be flowering or producing nectar and pollen for the next 20 years. The numbers involved have been very large. An insurance company reported a loss of 6,000 hives in one fire alone near a town called Tumot. Few places have been safe even on islands such as Kangaroo Island losses of 3,000 hives have been reported.
As soon as one problem dies down another rears its head. The coronavirus which has killed in excess of 2,100 people in China is also affecting Chinas beekeeping industry. There was a report recently that a beekeeper in southern Yunnan committed suicide recently after all of his bees died of starvation affected by local strict travel restrictions, because of the virus, making it impossible to buy feed for his colonies or to relocate them to an area where they could feed naturally.
Bees have many challenges from pests, diseases and numerous other issues which at first thought might not be thought of as a direct problem. As we move into a new season I hope that next month I will be able to report the beginning of the annual development of my colonies and another successful beekeeping year.
Finally, on the China front, China has 9 million managed bee colonies making it the worlds largest beekeeping industry. In 2018 it exported 542,500 tons of honey. If you are interested in rural beekeeping in China you may find videos posted by Chinese beekeeper Ma Gongzuo on youtube interesting :