Sustainable Beekeeping in Indiana - Challenging the Old Paradigm of Buying Bees in the Early Spring

Final Report for FNC12-856

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,824.80
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Indiana Beekeepers Association
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Improving the sustainability of beekeeping in Indiana by providing Indiana-grown nucleus hives in July with Indiana grown queens and brood, to reduce winter losses and increase profitability and pollination.




We worked with one Amish beekeeper and three different big beekeepers to obtain the nucs (nucleus), and with one hundred different beekeepers [to provide them with Indiana-grown nucleus hives].


Project Objectives:

One objective was to get one hundred two-story nucs built and stocked with honey bees with Indiana bred queens.  The second objective was to distribute them with proven laying queens individually across the state by early July 2012.  The third objective was to improve the normal survival rate through the winter of 2012.


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Materials and methods:

We had one hundred two-story nucs built by a young Amish beekeeper.  They were stocked with strong Indiana bred queens and verified that the queens were laying.  They had 5 frames of bees, pollen, honey, Indiana bred queen and brood.  The nucs were then distributed individually throughout the state.  Participants had to provide five additional frames so that the colony could expand to have enough room to store honey or transfer them into a regular hive body, so that they could survive the winter. We had 17 brand new beekeepers who volunteered to be part of the project.  They had to have a mentor identified to be able to participate in the project.


Research results and discussion:

We now have the final results analyzed.  We had 15 nucs die before the winter and 32 died during the winter.  That gave us an overall 53% survival rate.  We were hoping for a much better survival rate, but there are many variables that went into that rate.  The bees built up so much stronger and faster because of the early spring.  They were busting by July, so not everyone got them into a bigger hive quick enough and once they swarmed the natural process of the hives re-queening themselves did not happen as well  as it once has in the past.  Surprisingly the three nuc providers stated that the survival rate exceed their expectations.   

Impact of Results/Outcomes

We were able to distribute 100 strong nucs to 100 different beekeepers throughout the state.  We received praise from the beekeepers whose hives survived; those hives were very strong throughout the following year of 2013.  We now better appreciate how difficult it is to try and control all of the numerous variables that go into beekeeping.  We feel that getting 17 new beekeepers started was an additional benefit of the grant.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We gave presentations at the East Central Indiana Beekeepers' Association (IBA) meeting (50 attended) on October 8; at the IBA Fall board meeting (20 attended) on November 8; at the IBA Fall meeting (157 attended) on November 9 and are publishing the results in the IBA first quarter newsletter (1250 newsletters distributed) in January of 2014. We would like to thank North Central Region - Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) for their Farmer Rancher Grant and their support of the beekeeping community. The participants were really enthusiastic and were very well pleased with the SARE grant project.

Project Outcomes


Potential Contributions

The growing season was moved up by Mother Nature a complete month in the Midwest in 2012.  One of the beekeepers had to move his bees into Michigan for blueberry pollination a month early and his bees were not really up to strength.  Because of a cold weather snap in Michigan, he suffered considerable losses.  Therefore, he was not able to provide 50 nucs as promised after all.  We were fortunate to find two other Indiana beekeepers that were able to provide us with 25 nucs each.  Also Mother Nature’s next trick was to provide us with less than one half inch of rain total from the middle of May until the middle of July.

Future Recommendations

We still think that the making of nucs in July has merit even though our numbers didn't verify it as strongly as we would have liked.  There are so many things happening in the beekeeping world: it is very hard to conduct a project with so many variables that you can’t control.  However, this project did help us focus on using Indiana bred queens.  There is a new state-wide company starting up this coming year of 2014 to provide Indiana bred queens. 



Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.