The Queen Bee Improvement Project attempts to add Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) /mite-resistance to our Pennsylvania Survivor Stock. These desirable genetic lines are Olympic Wilderness Apiary Survivors (OWA), and ‘Karnica’ which have been bred from chemical-free survivor stock in their own geographic regions (Washington and Ohio). By mating OWA and Karnica virgin queens with our local PSS drones, we merged the genetic lines of OWA and Karnica with our winter hardy PSS stocks.
Thirty honey bee colonies were evaluated during the 2011 season. The Mites Counts were the best (lowest) for the OWA bees (2.4), followed by Karnica (2.5), and the Control (3.6). Hive Strength average values, measured as number of frames of brood, Karnica was the best (highest) measuring (4.0), followed by Control (3.8), and OWA (3.0). The Karnica race of bees showed better mite resistance than the control, and established better colonies than the OWA bees.
It is important for honey bees to survive the winter. The Control group had the best survivorship (9/10), followed by the OWA (8/10), and Karnica (6/10).
A Quality Score was calculated by adding the averages of: Frames of Brood, Frames of Honey, Laying Pattern, Temper, and subtracting the Number of Mites. Karnica ranked the best (highest) with a QS =7.7, followed by Control QS=5.7, and OWA QS=4.9.
The Pennsylvania Queen Bee Improvement project was awarded a SARE grant for a field test of two promising queen bee stocks. These lines are Olympic Wilderness Apiary Survivors (OWA), and ‘Karnica’ which have Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH). Local beekeepers are working to improve our honey bees, referred to as Pennsylvanian Survivor Stock (PSS). By mating OWA and Karnica virgin queens with our local PSS drones, we merged the genetic lines of OWA and Karnica with our winter hardy PSS stocks. These colonies were tested during 2011.
This field trial measured three types of queen bees: OWA, Karnica, and a control group (Italian). We compared these two new lines of Varroa Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) queen bees which are supposedly superior, to ordinary Italian queen bees with no such special claims. We started with 78 virgin queen bees, and allowed them to open mate in our PSS bee yards. Once bred, we started 10 colonies of each of the three types, and then randomized into 6 separate bee yards. During 2011 they were measured for hive strength, mite count, and allowed to winter over.
Dates we have selected for performing field measurements were tied to the three specific benchmarks during the season, they are: Spring Build Up, Summer Dearth, and Fall Closure. The exact were dates adjusted based on weather, and mating success of our virgin queens.
Spring Build Up Measurement
The first measurement date was May/June, which was related to the dandelion bloom . Dandelions represent one of the first and easily observable major food source for the colony. We measured both the hive strength and mite count.
The hive strength was determined by counting and recording the number of frames of eggs and brood in the colony on that date. The value of all frames measured is the sum total.
The mites were counted by a common technique referred to as the “powder sugar” method. This was done removing the top cover, and sifting one cup of powdered sugar on the bees of the colony. A IPM ‘counting board’ was placed on the bottom of the colony, and the mites and excess sugar fall onto it. After a minimum of 10 minutes the “counting board” is removed and the number of mites were counted and recorded.
Summer Dearth Measurement
The second measurement date occured during July. The Varroa mites have completed several generations of their life cycle and are reaching peak number near this time of year.
Measurements of hive strength and mite counts were performed and recorded. No excess honey was harvested.
Fall Closure Measurement
The final set of measurements during October after the first hard killing frost. Measurement of hive strength and mite counts were performed and recorded. Also, excess honey was removed from the Warren yard from the Karnica (60#) and the OWA (45#). Most other colonies had low supplies of honey, not enough to survive winter. We started supplemental feeding.
Field measurements were maintained in an online database called “Beetight”. Barcodes were attached to each colony, and ‘smart phone’ technology was used to directly upload data directly from the field to web. All the raw data was then downloaded into an excel spreadsheet. The spread sheet was used to perform statistics and generate charts, Table 1. This was easier than transcribing field note books, and all the collaborators were able to follow all the colonies during the study in real time.
The ability for a colony to survive a northeastern winter is important. Most colonies had too little honey to survive winter; therefore feed was added during winterization of the colonies. Sugar syrup and protein supplements were placed in the colonies for winter, and checked periodically to prevent colony starvation.
We purchased 78 unhatched virgin queen bees from Miksa Honey Farm in Groveland, Florida who maintains/propagates these genetic breeds. The VSH queen’s bees we used were OWA and Karnica races of bees. The unhatched queen cell were implanted into nucleus colonies in 6 different bee yards, then allowed to hatch and mate with our local PSS males. The target was to have at least ten colonies of each of the three types of queens, for a total of thirty colonies.
Several virgin queens failed to mate and return safely to their colony. We continued introducing new queens until we achieved the target number of at least 10 hives of each type for the study. In some mating yards, we had over 50% failure rates. In the Mingoville and York beeyard, this took until the end of July to accomplish. Overall the OWA queens were the most troublesome, and the Italians mating and returning percentages were the best.
Field measurements were performed and recorded in an online database called “beetight”. Uploads were generally performed in the field using a smart-phone. After all the field work was complete, the raw date was downloaded to an excel spreadsheet, which was then used to sum, and then average the data. The averages values for Mites Counts, and Hive Strength are presented by chart format in Table 1. The Mites Counts were the best (lowest) for the OWA bees (2.4), followed by Karnica (2.5), and the Control (3.6). Hive Strength average values, measured as number of frames of brood, Karnica was the best (highest) measuring (4.0), followed by Control (3.8), and OWA (3.0).
It is important for honey bees to survive the winter, otherwise, we will not have a sustainable honey bee industry. Most all of our project colonies failed store enough honey to survive winter, except for the colonies in the Warren, Pa yard, which actually made enough to harvest. The York, Pa yard only had 2 of 6 colonies survive summer, and one through the Winter, most likely due to local pesticide spraying. The Saxonburg, Pa yard lost none. We monitored the colonies to assure adequate food. In February, we assessed surviving colonies results are presented in Table 1. The Control group had the best survivorship (9/10), followed by the OWA (8/10), and Karnica (6/10). Also we checked them in March Table 2, the Control was still the best with (7/10), followed by OWA (4/10), and Karnica (4/10).
Colony losses were due to: suspected pesticides in York (4/6), bears in Slippery Rock (5/9), drowning Mercer (2/3), or unknown diseases (all others). None were lost due to starvation.
Interesting to note, Karnica and OWA consumed very little food compared to the Control, typically less than half as much. Also, the winter-clusters were smaller, tighter, and calmer than the Control group. Considering the small number of colonies in the study, and mitigating circumstances, it is difficult to declare a winner.
We generated a “Quality Score” for the colonies after we completed our required calculations and analyses. When we inspected the colonies during the study we recorded: frames of brood, frames of honey/pollen, number of mites, laying pattern, and temperament. The laying pattern and temper were scored on a scale of 1 through 5; 1 is poor, and 5 is excellent. The Quality Score was calculated by adding the averages of: Frames of Brood, Frames of Honey, Laying Pattern, Temper, and subtracting the Number of Mites.
Which can be expressed as: QS=[ FB+FH+LP+T]-[NM]
This Quality Score can and will most likely be refined in the future, by adding in other factors such as honey, wintering, and diseases.
The Quality Scores supported our general overall observations on the test groups, Chart 2. Karnica ranked the highest with a QS =7.7, followed by Control QS=5.7, and OWA QS=4.9.
- Picture 2 Warren Pa Bee Yard- Kathy Berta behind the Bear Fence.
- Picture 1 Mating Nucs in Slippery Rock PA
- Scanning in Barcode-starting data logging
- Graph 1- Mite Counts and Frame Strength
- Slippery Rock, Pa-Bear damage
- Barcode on each colony
- Table 2- Colonies Surviving March 2012
- Chart 2-Quality Score
- Counting Frames of Brood
- Table 1- Colonies Surviving Winter- February
One of the biggest accomplishments that occurred during the study was the network that The Pennsylvania State University, has solidified with beekeepers and breeders across the state; particularly Dr. Maryann Frazier, and Dr. Christina Grozinger. Penn State established an online database and listserv network allowing both breeders and researchers to be aware of real time data, and share comments with each other.
Field protocols are now being standardized in the state for evaluation and selection of stock.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
It was part of the project to present both the concept and the results of the Queen Bee Improvement project.
Preliminary results were presented to the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers meeting in November 2011. A powerpoint presentation was made at the Pittsburgh Remodeling show in January 2012, and Garden Show in March of 2012.
Breeding the virgins with our PSS bees is an important first step, but is really just the beginning . It will take several more seasons of breeding and culling, to create a truly superior, and genetically stable strain suitable for Pennsylvania. The Quality Score may be helpful moving forward, and subject to constant improvement and validation.
Some colonies that survived 2011, appear healthy, and are building up nicely for the season. These may become future PSS donor colonies.
We plan on continuing to introduce superior genetic lines to breed with our PSS bees, striving to improve the overall mite and disease resistance, along with winter hardiness. Colonies that survived 2011, will continue to be observed and evaluated. Further selections will be done under the advice from our advisors Drs. Frazier and Grozinger.
We have received another SARE grant for 2012 which builds on this work. Based on advice from our advisors we will continue with Karnica, because of its potential. Note, Karnica was used successfully in the both the Ohio and West Virginia breeding programs. It appeared superior in some respects, mite and strength parameters, but not winter hardiness. The winter hardiness results had complicating factors. In 2012, OWA is replaced with Ontario Buckfast. Ontario Buckfast was used with good results in the West Virginia program.
Beyond 2012, we will evaluate the possibility of artificial insemination of breeder queens, and different cross breeding within the state.
Special THANKS! to the beekeeper collaborators: Warren ‘Superbee’ Miller, Jeremy ‘Bee Whisperer’ Barnes, Kathlene Berta, Dr. Bobby Lee Hawrenko. Our advisors Dr. Maryann Frazier and Dr. Christina Grozinger. And the helpful staff at the NE SARE in Vermont.