Beekeeping in Alberta

Alberta honey has a delicate, subtle flavour desired by both domestic and foreign markets.  Much of Alberta’s honey comes from the Peace River region, where long summer days and abundant forage and canola crops result in high honey yields.  A yield of 200 to 250 pounds of honey per colony is common.  

Commercial beekeepers, comprising about 18 per cent of Alberta’s beekeepers, have at least 300 hives and derive all or most of their income from beekeeping.  The balance of beekeepers are hobbyists.  Commercial beekeepers generally sell their honey in bulk to a co-operative or to private domestic packers and brokerage firms for export.  Other beekeepers, particularly hobbyists, sell their products directly to the consumer or to retail outlets.  
Queen and worker bees
Queen bee and worker bees
As honey bees feed on forage and canola crops, they also cross-pollinate the crops.  Honey bee colonies are also used for the production of hybrid canola in southern Alberta.  The sale of bee pollen makes a significant contribution to Alberta’s economy.

The discovery of parasitic mites in North America led to the closure of the United States border in 1987 to honey bee package and queen bee imports.  Since then, more beekeepers winter their bees indoors, outdoors, or in southern British Columbia.  Pest-free bee stock can still be imported from Australia, New Zealand, Vancouver Island, and Hawaii.  Beekeepers in Alberta have also developed a trade in Alberta-produced queens and nucleus colonies.  
Unusually high overwintering losses in 2006-2007 left beekeepers concerned about bee health and strategies for reducing bee winterkill.  A survey conducted by Alberta Agriculture and Food showed that 30 per cent of Alberta's bees were killed in 2006-2007.  This is twice the long-term average in Alberta but in line with the Canadian average for that year.  Survey responses indicate that disappearance and starvation were not major factors in the high overwintering loss.  Possible causes include unusual weather conditions leading to fewer winter bees, the late arrival of spring in 2007, high mite populations due to resistance to miticides, the early onset of winter, Nosema, and viruses and other pathogens.  Detailed information is available in Alberta Beekeepers Over-Wintering Loss Survey 2007.
There are many possible factors leading to winterkill, but best management practices can help producers reduce winterkill.  For more information, see Honey Bees and Winterkill.
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