June 2013

Manitoba Chamber of Commerce

Issue link: http://publications.winnipegfreepress.com/i/141831

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CENTRAL BEE STORY HONEYBEE CASUALTIES STING MANITOBA KEEPERS By Pat St. Germain H is workers number in the millions and they can be an ornery bunch, but for the most part beekeeper Don Kitson is like any other farmer. Subject to Mother Nature's mood swings, his livelihood depends on a store of ingenuity and knowledge built on a lifetime of practical experience. He spreads his risk by placing about 200 honeybee hives in multiple locations up to 35 kilometres from his home base in Portage la Prairie. They need sunshine, shelter from wind and access to a diverse diet of nectar and pollen. And it helps if they have good breeding. "You want a hive that's nice to work with — you know, not going to sting you," he says. "You can have bees that bring in lots of honey, but sometimes they're hard to work with. They're not calm — it's like herding cats." After he was stung half a dozen times at one hive in early May, Kitson went looking for a docile queen to cool down the mean bees. "Nobody likes them, so you kill off the queen and the stock will change," he says. In his mid-50s, Kitson reduced his hives from 700 to about 200 over the past few years, a semiretirement that still keeps him busy about six hours a day. He's been knee-deep in bees since he was big enough to lift a hive. By the time he was 15, he was working as hard as any man alongside his father, Bill, who returned the favour later in life. "He helped me right to the day he died, basically. He was 84 when he died, and right to that summer he came out because he liked to play with bees." Kitson starts collecting honey in mid-July. It's sold through Bee Maid Honey, a beekeeper-owned company formed in the 1950s to market honey around the world. About 80% of the six million kilograms of honey produced in Manitoba each year is exported. A single hive produces 77 - 82 kilograms of honey on average. Two years ago, Kitson's hives had almost 110 kilograms each, but production fell dramatically last year, and this year wasn't off to a promising start. In fact, Manitoba beekeepers were in crisis mode after bees died off in alarming numbers over the winter. Kitson sold some of his 26 MBiz June 2013 MBiz June 2013_final.indd Sec1:26 6/21/13 3:26:04 PM

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