How to make beekeeping more sustainable

Final Report for FNE06-567

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2006: $6,369.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Craig Cella
Craig A. Cella
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Project Information


Report Summary

The results were not as dramatic as expected, but were encouraging. The test hives that were divided in early April didn't have the large gains I expected over the control hives. The divided colonies produced an average of 49.8 lb of honey per parent hive (or 24.9 lb per new divided colony), while the control group hives produced an average of 30.9 lb per hive. I was disappointed with the fact that the divides didn't produce better, but I feel that under better conditions the results would be more favorable.

For the second part of the project, fifty hives were divided into two groups of 25 to study whether providing August feedings improved virus indicators. Half of the hives (the test group) were fed 2 gallons of 1:1 sugar syrup on August 1 and again on August 14, and the other half of the hives (the control group) were not. Between August 1 and August 25 there was a greater decrease in virus indications among the test group hives than the control group hives. These results were very encouraging and will be perused in a larger group this year.

Another important experiences to come out of the past year was learning to successfully install package bees at 22 degrees. This has also been written up as an article for The American Bee Journal to publish.

All in all I feel the results are promising and I hope more beekeepers with similar problems follow suit.


To develop a management program that would increase hive production during early summer and also to reduce virus levels during the late summer nectar dearth.

Part 1 was to divide colonies into two equal nucs and introduce a new queen into both the test group and the control hives managed in the traditional way.

Part 2 was designed to see if feeding sugar syrup in mid summer during the nectar dearth would have any influence on the amount of virus indications that could be seen on brood combs such as empty cells, holes in cappings or dead pupae.

Farm Profile

We have a 125 acre hay and grass production farm along with over 100 honey bee colonies that are used primarily for research. We also supply game birds to people.


Dennis Van Engelsdorp and I discussed my project over the course of this season several times and he would help explain some of my findings. He also asked me to help on some of his research projects such as queen locating, formic acid mite control and "tower" hives

Project Activities

My project actually started last year with preparing hives for over wintering so they would be ready for dividing this April. Hives were treated for mites with formic acid using the Mite-Away II pads, mouse guards installed, and ventilation provided. Over the years I've found that an inner cover placed with a 3/8" x 2" long notch cut into the bottom side of the rim facing the sun provides an excellent moisture escape and a top entrance that is used even on cold sunny days. 1 place a totally empty super (any size) above this and then the outer cover. The empty super allows warm air to cool down slowly without condensation forming and keeps the outer cover from blocking the inner cover notch which leaves you with nice dry hives. I only had twenty six good colonies that I felt would be strong enough to divide on April 1st and they were prepared for my return from Georgia by placing queen excluders between the supers to make queen hunting go much faster four days later in the hives. Thirteen had brood and honey frames divided equally into the top half and bottom half separated by a queen excluder, again to simplify finding the queen four days later. By the end of March it was time to head south to Baxley, Ga. and pick up our order of queens and packages for this years research. The research work started after a good return trip with locating the queens in all the hives and dividing the thirteen colonies into two equal nucs. Packages also had to be installed for both our operation and Penn State University so I didn't have a lot of slack time and having the queens restricted with the queen excluder saved a lot of time. All of the queens were accepted which is not all that unusual in smaller colonies at this time of year. Also, instead of placing the queen cage down between the frames I have had good success by just placing the wire side down over the space between two fames with the candy end cork removed and a hole punched through it. Mites were measured by using the sugar roll method and all the hives were very low counts from 0 to 3 being the highest which seemed to be common among many beekeepers in my area this year and there were no visual signs of any virus at this time on April 17, 2006.


The results were not as dramatic as I had expected but they were encouraging. The test hives that were divided in early April didn't have the large gains 1 expected over the control hives. The divided colonies produced an average of 49.8 lb of honey per parent hive. By this I mean that when one hive was divided into two the total production of the two only resulted in a total of 49.8 lb while the control group hives which also were requeened at the same time produced an average of 30.9 lb. The actual production per each new divided colony was only 24.9 lb. By July 10, 2006, all of the colonies looked fine with no noticeable virus indication on the combs or with deformed wings. The mite levels had gone up slightly from earlier but still in a safe level of 0 to 7 as the highest with an average of 2.3 per sugar roll. The sugar roll is done by placing Vz cup of bees from a brood frame in a 1 qt. mason jar with a #8 screen lid then adding 2 or more tablespoons of powdered sugar and rolling it around until all the bees are well covered. Use any flat light colored surface to shake the powered sugar out on and count the mites that fall out with the sugar. Sunlight and a magnifying glass can be a big help for this task.

For the second part where I fed twenty five test hives compared to twenty five control colonies that didn't receive any sugar syrup the results were a little more encouraging. Colonies were selected from three different locations, one at Lock Haven Rt. 80 exit, one at Salladasburg, and the other at Bald Eagle State Park. No sorting or screening of hives was done, instead I just went down the row and every other one was a control hive. I used 16 at Lock Haven, 16 at Bald Eagle State Park and 18 at Salladasburg. Out of the 25 control hives, sixteen had virus indications (open cells of pupae or empty cells) on August 1st and by August 25th this had decreased to 13. Mite levels again were not in a high range when the bees were sugar rolled. The lowest was 0 and the highest was 9 with an average of 3.1 per sugar roll. This number did increase slightly by August 25 to 3.4 which is to be expected as the season progresses. Of the 25 hives in the test group fourteen were classified as infected on August 1st by visual observation of the brood comb. Mite levels were almost the same 3.3 per sugar rolls. By August 25* the fourteen colonies that showed virus indications had been reduced to 5 with three additional that were greatly reduced for a total of 6 colonies with significantly reduced levels of infection. Again mite levels were almost the same as August lsl with an average of 3.9 per sugar roll.


Murphy's law applies. The weather was good when we arrived home with the bees but by the time I finished installing bees for P.S.U. on Tuesday afternoon things would change for me. I awoke Wednesday morning and by daylight we were having a blizzard. High winds, snow blowing straight across and 22 degrees. I was devastated and then I thought, "can it be done." What an opportunity! I grabbed lots of clothes, two packages of bees and headed out. I installed one on foundation and one on drawn comb and headed back in. It snowed for another hour with about a 6" total accumulation then cleared off into a beautiful clear cold day. Keep in mind this equipment was set up outside a week before so everything was 22 degrees. The foundation hive didn't have much to warm up and the bees moved down on the frames quickly but the drawn comb hives had honey on every other frame. This allows cluster space, a place to start brood production and not so much bulk to heat up along with a handy food (heat) source. But remember that the honey was 22 degrees and they didn't want to go down on the combs instead they started to cluster up in the empty super I use as a feed box. I realized that I had a real big problem and knew 1 had to change something. 1 spray my packages with a sugar syrup and fumadil B mix until everyone is sticky - about !/z cup per package and then dump them out on the queen cage placed screen side down over a space between the frames about 1" from where my feeder will be placed. The pile of bees will slump down like brown sugar until it is shaped like an upside down pie dish. Now place a sheet of newspaper over the pile and add an empty deep super to hold it in place (and later to hold the feeder) and close them up for 5 hours. When you go back at that time the bees will be down on the frames and nice and dry. Tear a hole in the paper large enough to place your feeder and set it in on the top bars. I have excellent results with a bob white waterer available from KUHL Corporation, Telephone 908-782-5696 order # QB-455. Bees must be close to the feed to use it in cold weather and this works. Best thing I've ever used. Syrup must be very close to the bees because they will not break cluster to bring food back and they will starve, it's that simple. I've fed thousands of gallons with these feeders and they do work. Once the feeders are in place crumple about 5 pages of newspaper and drop it in around the feeder. It helps to hold the heat in but more important it will keep the bees from hanging on the inner cover. This will be explained in more detail in an article later this year in The American Bee Journal. I didn't lose any packages out of over eighty and I gained a lot of knowledge. I have written this up as an article for The American Bee Journal also. The whole season was a poor one on the whole and I think feeding the divides would have shown a larger spread in production. I also feel that 1 should have started feeding one or two weeks earlier than August 1st with the addition of a pollen supplement. Another thing I have learned this past summer is that some large beekeepers are using a Vitamin and Electrolyte premix in their sugar syrup. It sounds like a good idea to me for about 5 cents more per gallon of syrup. We do have a small test started at P.S.U. and it will be interesting to watch.


It wasn't an earth shattering study but I think it opened up some possibilities to make beekeeping more profitable. For the price of a plywood cover ($4.00) and a bottom ($4.00) you could double your hive numbers by just buying one new queen, although you should replace the old queen also. Queens will usually sell for around $15.00 at this time of the year so to replace the old queen plus add a new queen to the 2 divides you would have about $30.00 involved. Queens should be replaced at least once a year for a number of reasons but it all boils down to better production. Just like animals, a two year old chicken doesn't lay like a year old one and an 8 year old cow doesn't milk like a 4 year old. I think in a normal year you would double your production and you have the opportunity to select the top half of the queens when you reunite in mid July. Culling is one thing we must do more of. It would be very difficult to place a dollar sign on the impact of late summer feeding. First it will depend on your local area and nectar sources and then you have to factor in the late summer flows and your bee condition. Then you are left with winter losses - do those that are fed overwinter better. I don't know but I know fat fall cows drop more healthy calves in the spring than ones in poor condition going into winter.


I honestly feel I hurt the divides by not feeding them more sugar syrup and that in a more productive year things may have been much better. I think the mechanics are there but they need fine tuned yet. I feel quite strong that $6.40 worth of sugar is well worth the time and effort. It is like fertilizing a hayfield in that it doesn't cost but rather pays to feed when there is a nectar dearth. A person could say "well what if this or what if that" and I wouldn't be able to answer. You must try things in our own operation - keep good records and measure the results.

I am already excited about next spring and yes I am going to divide my colonies. The queens are ordered and I can hardly wait. As for the late summer feeding, again yes. 1 will try open barrel feeding in some locations and in hive pollen supplement cakes. I will also be using the Vitamin and Electrolyte premix in the syrup.


I presented these findings at the PA State Beekeepers annual meeting on November 11, 2006 and I am scheduled to speak in February at a class held on the PSU Beaver Campus in late winter. I am also schedulated to teach at the PASA conference in early February. I have prepared a written article to be published in the American Bee Journal this year and will also be conducting the Beekeeping tours at PSU this summer with Maryann Frazier.


Participation Summary
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.