Managed Bees (Honey Bees and Leafcutting Bees)

The two main managed bee species in Manitoba are the honey bee, (Apis mellifera) and the alfalfa leafcutting bee, or commonly known as the leafcutter bee, (Megachile rotundata). The long and warm summer days that are characteristic of Manitoba provide favourable conditions for the management of both bee species. Although both are important pollinators in Manitoba, honey production is the primary source of income for beekeepers managing honey bees, whereas alfalfa seed production is the principal source of income from producers managing alfalfa leafcutting bees.

The honey bee industry is valued at $50 million annually for honey production and the leafcutting bee industry is valued at $12 million for alfalfa seed production. The estimated benefit of managed bee vectored-pollination in terms of increased yields of agricultural crops grown in Manitoba is valued at $130 - $150 million per annum.

Each year, Manitoba produces in excess of 8,500 metric tonnes of high quality honey. Currently, Manitoba has approximately 900 beekeepers, of which 25% are commercial beekeepers with 50 or more colonies. A typical honey-producing colony has approximately 40,000 to 60,000 bees and on average produces 77 kilograms (170 pounds) of honey in a six week period between the end of June and the middle of August. Nectar from flowering crops such as canola, buckwheat, clover and alfalfa are the principal honey crops in Manitoba. Some crops such as buckwheat have a very distinctive colour and flavour to the honey produced from them.

The exportation of honey to countries like the United States and overseas markets is where the majority of Manitoba's honey ends up. In fact, less than 20% of the honey produced in Manitoba will stay in the province. Beekeepers can also earn additional income from selling other hive products such as beexwax, pollen and propolis. They can also rent out their colonies for pollination of crops such as red clover and selling surplus colonies to other beekeepers.

In Manitoba, alfalfa leafcutting bees contribute to the annual production of approximately 1,500 metric tonnes of alfalfa seed. Average alfalfa seed production is about 200-300 kilograms per hectare. In addition to alfalfa seed income, leafcutting bee producers can earn income from selling surplus bees to alfalfa seed producers in the United States, hybrid canola producers in Alberta, or blueberry producers in Quebec and Maritime provinces. Average bee return at the end of the season is approximately 150-200% of the number of bees put out in the field at the beginning of the season. Bee return and seed production can be variable and are highly dependent on the weather. There are approximately 65 producers in Manitoba pollinating with alfalfa leafcutting bees and the majority of them are the alfalfa seed grower as well. The stocking rate on alfalfa seed is generally 20,000-30,000 bees per acre.

Unlike honey bees, which live socially as a colony, alfalfa leafcutting bees do not function as a social unit, but rather they are "solitary bees" nesting with other female leaf cutting bees but living independently from each other. Many alfalfa leafcutting bees can occupy a single shelter. However, each female works her own nest space and forages independently. The producers provides nesting blocks inside shelters, which multiple independent females will use as a nest to produce offspring. The shelters are evenly spaced throughout the alfalfa seed field, such as one shelter per 3-5 acres. Managed alfalfa leafcutting bees in Manitoba generally have one generation per year. Adult alfalfa leafcutting bees are normally active from mid to late June through to mid to late August and live for approximately 6-8 weeks.


Regulation of Managed Bees

Managed Bees Industry Statistics and Annual Reports

Information on Bee Management


Pollination and Pollinators


Other Resources for Beekeeping