So the small hive beetle has arrived in the BC Lower Mainland. About a month ago, we were informed by the BC Provincial Apiarist that a single adult male beetle was discovered in a bee colony near Abbotsford. The ministry reaction was to impose a hold order, and start an inspection program of colonies located within a short distance of the border at zero avenue, on the assumption that the beetles had indeed arrived by flying over the border from Washington state. As the inspection program continued, they found a few more locations with adult beetles, but, no sign of reproducing populations as was reported to the BCHPA AGM in Courtenay on October 16. That changed early the following week, and we received another report, this time a colony of reproducing SHB had been found in the vicinity of Abbotsford.
The discovery of this new pest brings with it significant ramifications for beekeepers in the lower mainland and here on Vancouver Island, as it’s not really known wether or not these beetles are just up for a summer vacation of sorts, or, if they can actually become established in our climate. This subject was discussed in much detail over the two days of education seminars at the BCHPA AGM, and I think those in attendance came away with some appreciation of what this new pest can mean for those of us that have potential to be exposed to it.
My own personal take from all the information presented, the biggest ticket item for beekeepers in this area is we now have to be much more concerned about beeyard hygiene, and colony strength. The ideal breeding ground for these little critters is a box of comb, with honey and/or pollen stores, and no bees to protect those stores. So it’s no surprise, when they found a breeding colony of SHB just outside of Abbotsford last week, it was in a nuc deadout that had been left in the yard. The ministry put a burn order on the equipment in question to erradicate that beetle colony, so as beekeepers, we now know what to expect if the bee inspector finds breeding SHB in our bee yards.
I listened to all of the presentations at the AGM with great interest around the SHB subject, and when it was all over, my own personal take-away from it was, this is not a catastrophic development for us, and it could well turn into a non issue if the beetles dont get established. But at the same time, we cannot ignore the fact they have been found, and need to educate ourselves on how best to deal with these nasty little critters, drawing on the experience of our friends in Ontario that have dealt with the problem for a few years now in the southern extremes of the province. I noted with much interest, a general commentary from folks that have dealt with the SHB problem, most of them said ‘It has made me a better beekeeper’, but, in many of the cases, they were rather light on just what that meant.
In the end tho, it became clear. If we dont want SHB to overrun a bee yard, the first and foremost item on the agenda, make sure there are no places ready and waiting for the beetles to get established. That means no boxes with comb that dont have bees. Think about deadouts, and think about our long standing tradition of the ‘swarm trap’. We may have to start thinking of the traditional swarm trap now as a small hive beetle breeder box. In the short term, winter is coming, so we have a reprieve from any potential onslaught. A great presentation by Medhat Nasr from the Alberta agriculture department pointed out a few simple steps that will go a LONG way to preventing beetles from getting well established. Equipment stored in the cold room, ie cooler than 10C, for 48-72 hours will prevent the larvae from becoming viable. Apparently they need temps above 10C and humidity above 50%, so keep the humidity and temperature down, and the beetles wont survive. As we head into the cooler season here on the wet coast, mother nature will give us a good helping hand in keeping equipment in the colder temps, but, she wont help us at all in keeping humidity below 50%. Ofc, this is no help when it comes to adult beetles that join the bees in the cluster for the winter, which apparently they will do. So our best option is to employ preventative measures which will help keep the critters from getting established in the first place.
The other area where we have to be vigilant is at the honey house, or where ever you store supers for extraction for those not large enough to have a dedicated honey house. If you bring a box of frames home that has been exposed to SHB, in 48 hours those larvae will be viable, and destroy the comb and honey in the combs inside those boxes. The cure is, when you bring boxes home, extract immediately, then either store the empty boxes back on strong hives, or, they need to get into a cold room to kill off any potential SHB larvae ready to start doing the damage in those boxes. A single adult will lay thousands of eggs, so this is a process that can destroy equipment rather quickly if we dont adopt management practises with the SHB pest in mind. For those of us that do this on a small scale, it has been somewhat normal over the years, we head out and start pulling full supers off of our hives on the weekend, then leave them stacked in the garage or barn, to extract honey next weekend. If you continue to do so with SHB in the area, now you are putting your entire honey crop at risk. Bring one viable adult female home by accident in those honey supers, and by the following weekend you could well find the whole works slimed and destroyed by the larvae produced when she lays eggs on those frames. If there is SHB in your area, then the traditional way of doing things on alternate weekends for the part-timers will have to change. Pull supers on Saturday, extract on Sunday if you want to protect your crop, unless you have a cold room to store things in for a few days. ofc, who wants to be trying to extract honey right out of the ‘cold room’, that’s completely counter productive.
But, for those of us here on Vancouver Island, is the arrival of SHB into the lower mainland going to be catastrophic for our beekeeping efforts ? Not in the least. Compared to the Varroa mite, SHB is a minor pest, and there is a lot we can do pre-emptively to prevent it from becoming a major pest. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and if folks make some minor changes to how we manage our bee yards, then when a few of the SHB ultimately do make that trip over on the ferry, clean bee yards with strong colonies and no deadout boxes laying around will give them little / no opportunity to become established on this side of the water. If a few beetles do manage to ride the ferry, but find no spot to settle in and call home inside weak / dead beehives, they will die of natural causes before it becomes a problem. Adult beetles are not the issue when it comes to your equipment, it’s the larvae stage that is devastating to the colonies. Realistically, island beekeepers cannot prevent an occaisional beetle from hitch-hiking over on the ferry, but, we can go a long ways to making sure there are no welcoming new homes for them after they arrive.