February 9, 2016 – Brian Campbell – Bees in BC and Food Security Issues

Brian CampbellBrian Campbell became immersed in the rich and amazing world of bees while he and his four sons spent many a glorious day observing the curious activities of bees, noticing the bees’ consistent patterns, collective activities, and the surprising comparisons to our own human patterns and behaviours. He’s never looked back and today is a Certified Beemaster and beekeeper, heavily involved in food security issues in Richmond and the Lower Mainland.

Brian guest lectures for Gaia College’s Growing Food in the City certificate program, for adult education at Van Dusen Gardens in Vancouver, for Kwantlen’s Richmond Farm School and teaches young people in the city about honey bees as well as native types. He is President of the Richmond Beekeepers Association, a BC Association Master Gardener, Sustainable Gardening and Bee Master to West Coast Seeds,  and offers classes in grafting fruit trees, food preserving and other farm skills.

The website address for The Bee School is https://thebeeschool.wordpress.com/


Notes on Brian Campbell’s presentation by John Gunn

Norm Leach introduced our guest speaker, Brian Campbell, founder of the Blessed Bee Apiary and the Bee School, and he recommended you check out his web site at www.thebeeschool.ca.  Brian lectures at several colleges and at Van Dusen Gardens, mainly on the subject of maintaining the population of bees which is in serious decline.

Brian Campbell confirmed that, YES, as has been reported in the last few years, the population of honey bees, and for that matter other species as well, has been dropping and this is serious for many reasons, as these insects are so important for pollination on so much of our plant life.  First, bees belong to the same genus as wasps, hornets and ants (eight legs, compared to six on insects).  Actually bees evolved from wasps, but unlike wasps, they evolved to be vegetarian.  Honey bees are just one of over 20,000 species of bees world-wide and even 400 just in BC.  Contrary to our general notion of bees, most are solitary – unlike the honey bee which is highly social.  Why the decline in numbers?  Mainly due to pesticides, climate change, loss of habitat and in some cases, bad management.  Maintaining a hive of bees is complicated and not very rewarding financially, but honey bees will not totally disappear.  However, more crops are being planted every year that require bee pollination (rather than grains which are wind-pollinated) and so the world needs more, not fewer bees.  These bee-related ones are high-value crops so we keep increasing the planting of these types; blueberries for example.  It should be noted that the best pollinators are not honey bees but the solitary species mentioned above such as mason bees and these are also in decline due to habitat loss – in other words, residential and industrial use of the land around the planted areas.  It should also be noted that for many crops, bees are not essential for pollination, they simply improve the yield.  Only some plants, such as almonds, depend totally on bees for pollination.

It looks as if Canada will gradually end up, as in California, with numerous diseases spreading throughout the bee population.  We need to try and protect some of the habitats.  We are also running into trouble in greenhouses, where bumble bees are used rather than honey bees.  Since there is widespread buying and selling of various species of bees across borders we can expect some awesome new scourges in our own bee colonies in the future.  One of the current scourges is the varroa mite which plants its young right in the pupa of bees and the colony will totally collapse unless the bee keeper takes counter measures.  Honey bees seem to have no natural defences against this enemy.  It is suggested that a diversity of bee species is desirable in order to improve the level of pollination which is going to be more and more important as the world population continues to increase and simultaneously people are demanding more diverse products in their diet.  Incidentally, one should realize that proper pollination does not just require one bee to move the fertile material – it generally requires multiple bee visits, and preferably visits by different species of bee and the plants require the visits at varying times of the day and at various stages of the season, depending on which plant.  In other words, it is a fiendishly complex process.  We must understand that most bees are the solitary type – they live in the ground and not in colonies and they deposit the next generation in a hole in the ground with enough nourishment to grow to maturity without further help from the adult.  The adult never lives to see their own offspring.

Questions and Answers.

Can you tell us about wasps?

Bees are evolved from Wasps.  Most wasps are solitary, have a range of an acre or so and they feed themselves and their young with insects.  Wasps die off every year except for a fertilized queen bee who will survive and restart the process in the spring.

Is there a wasp which will chase away the chaffer beetle?

Not at the moment.  This beetle is an import and as such has no natural predator, but over time there will probably emerge or evolve some entity which would dine on these pests.  At the moment nematodes are the only enemy of the chaffer beetle.  Best solution is to replace the lawn with a flowering cover.

Should one use Mason Bees?

Yes, much better than honey bees for what you want in your typical gardens – and much less demanding.

 Why do bees and wasps sting us?

Almost always, a sting is a defence mechanism, not an aggression.  Wasps are especially territorial and if you walk near their abode and happen to cross their normal flight path, they will likely sting you since you are invading their territory.

What about neonicotinoids?

These insecticides are used widely in Ontario and their use is still very controversial.  Among other things it is important that it be used on windless days, otherwise it will quickly spread to neighbouring areas and will probably kill some bees.


What about killer bees?

Honey bees can be “Africanized” – they have mixed with the African killer bee and they can be aggressive.  Once they start to sting, they don’t stop until you are no longer (in their judgement) a serious threat to their well-being.   Beekeepers in Mexico must be registered and the bees must be 3kms away from habitations.   Killer bees kill hundreds of cattle yearly in Mexico – again because the animal wandered near the colony and they felt threatened.

Do hornets chase you?

Maybe.  The best defence from bees, wasps or hornets is – if it is sunny, run to the shade, if you are in a shady area run into the sun.  They can’t quickly change their vision apparatus.


The speaker was thanked by Billy Ellis dressed as a monkey in recognition of the Chinese New Year of the Monkey.




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