Queen bee improvement program: Another step foward

Final Report for FNE12-737

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Always Summer Herbs
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Jeffrey Berta
Always Summer Herbs
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Project Information

Summary:

This 2012 SARE grant builds upon our 2011 SARE grant, and Pennsylvania Survivors Stock program managed by Penn State. This breeding program is based on evaluation and selection for Varroa mite resistance and winter-hardiness at the beekeeper level.

We compared two new lines of Varroa Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) queen bees, to ordinary queen bees with no such special claims. The VSH queen’s bees used were the Ontario Buckfast (OB) and Karnica races of bees, and a control (C). Colonies were measured for hive strength and mite counts, and honey was weighed. Then a Quality Score is calculated by the sum of Frames of Brood, and Frames of Honey, and subtracting the number of mites:QS= FB + FH – Mites. The results are as follows: OB=10.3, Karnica=7.5, and C=5.8. The OB race of bees rated the best. Then Winter survivorship (hardiness) was measured, and percentage mortality calculated: Karnica=27%, OB=40%, and C=67%.

Introduction:

Since 1993 Varroa mite infestations have caused substantial financial losses to beekeepers. Mite infestations are a documented as link to decreased size, strength, health, and sometimes Colony Collapse Disorder. Weakened colonies are susceptible to secondary, opportunistic diseases such as foulbrood, viruses or Nosema. Queen Bee breeders across the globe have responded, by creating mite resistant genetic hybrids. This is well and good for their specific climatic conditions; but not always suited for our long, harsh winters and humid summers.

Mite resistant honeybees would ideally eliminate the need for beekeepers/farm hands from being exposed to pesticides and fungicides. Reduced agrichemical usage would lower the production input costs, as well as producing purer honey/wax and a hopefully a stronger, healthier and more productive colony. Our approach is to use genetically superior, mite resistant queens and mate them with winter hardy survivor stock, without the use of manmade chemicals.

Project Objectives:

The objective is to create a honeybee that is mite resistant and winter hardy. Local beekeepers and Penn State are working along these lines, creating what we call Pennsylvanian Survivor Stock (PSS). PSS bees are kept with chemical free methods and have survived two winters.

We took the next step forward during the Summer of 2012 by mating the Karnica and OB lines with the winter hardy Pennsylvania Survivor Stocks (PSS), and SARE 2011 survivors. Thus building on the best, and most hardy stock from all breeding programs to date.

If these genetic lines are truly superior, they will eventually benefit many beekeepers and farmers in the Northeast by:
Reducing replacement costs,
lower chemical use and exposure,
purer honey, and
stable, predictable and sustainable honeybee populations.

Cooperators

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  • Dr. Maryann Frazier, PhD

Research

Materials and methods:

The methods that we used for this project is easy to implement, and uses the existing skills of most beekeepers.

We compared two new lines of Varroa Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) queen bees, to ordinary queen bees with no such special claims. The VSH queen’s bees used were the OB and Karnica races of bees, and a control (C). We attempted to have least ten queens of OB, Karnica, and C for our 2012 field trails. These virgin queens cells were introduced using standard apiculture methods into small nucleus colonies, Figure 1. The target was to have at least one from each of the three lines to be located in five bee yards. the be yards are located in: Slippery Rock, Warren, Mingoville, Saxonburg, PA, and Linesboro, MD. There were some mating failures which caused some shortfalls from the target. We started with 103 unhatched virgin queens and ended up with 30 viable queens heading colonies by October 2012.

This experimental field trail empirically measured, and evaluated supposedly superior lines of Queen Bees (viz. Karnica, OB), with a control group (C). As described in the previous section, 10 virgin queens of Karnica, OB and C were randomized into 5 separate bee yards.

Measurement Dates
The life cycle of honey bee colonies in Northeast is inherently seasonal, related to daylegth, temperature, food supply, and rainfall. Therefore, the dates we chose for performing field measurements are tied to the three specific benchmarks during the season, they are: Spring Build Up, Summer Dearth, and Fall Closure. The exact dates were shifted based on weather, queen mating, and other factors.

Spring Build Up Measurement
The first measurement date was around June, which is related to the dandelion bloom . We measured both the hive strength, and mite count.

The hive strength will be determined by counting and recording the number of frames of eggs and brood, and honey in the colony on that date.

The mites were counted by a the “powder sugar” method. As the powdered sugar coats the bees, they respond by grooming each other, which causes causes a percentage of the parasitic Varroa mites to fall onto the bottom board. A piece white IPM ‘counting board’ is placed on the bottom of the colony, and the number of mites were counted and recorded.

Summer Dearth Measurement
The second measurement date occured during July. This date is significant because is a time of dearth, generally low amounts of food being brought into the colony. August on 2012 was very dry and and severe robbing behavior occured destroying some smaller project hives. Measurement of hive strength and mite counts were performed and recorded.

Fall Closure Measurement
The third measurement occured during the end of the growing season and marked the last major honey flow of goldenrod. This occurs generally during the first week of October after the first hard killing frost. Measurement of hive strength and mite counts were performed and recorded. Also, excess honey was removed, it was weighed and noted. The OB and Karnica were the only colonies which honey was collected, 65 and 45 pound respectively.

Winter Hardiness
The ability for a colony to survive and northeastern winter is important. Adequate honey was left on the colonies for winter survival. Sugar and protein supplements were placed on many of the colonies for winter. If the colony survived, it was entered into the 2013 breeding program for evaluation, if it dies, that will be recorded as well. The cause of death will be determined the best as possible.

Empirical data was recorded in a “Rite in Rain” field notebook or directly uploaded into our online database using an iPhone. During both the 2011 and 2012 SARE grants we created an online database by using the “beetight” app which can be accessed via the internet or any “smart phone”, Figure 2 and Figure 3. This database allowed everyone to see all the data in real-time.

The hive strength was measured counting and recording the number of frames of eggs and brood, and honey for each colony, Figure 4.

Research results and discussion:

The field data was collected in an online “beetight” database until the project end. Then data was downloaded as an excel spreadsheet for analysis, and graphing.

Table 1 presents the Quality Score for each of the three races of bees. The Quality Score is calculated by the sum of Frames of Brood, and Frames of Honey, and subtracting the number of mites:
QS= FB + FH – Mites. The results are as follows: OB=10.3, Karnica=7.5, and C=5.8. The OB race of bees rated the best.

Table 2 presents the Frame Strength and Mites Counts for each of the three races of bees. The results for Mite Counts: OB=1.1, Karnica=2.6, and C=3.3. The OB race rated the best.

Table 2 also presents the Frames Strength for all three races of bees. The results are as follows for Frame Strength: OB=4.0, Karnica=3.9, and C=4.2. The C (Control) rated the best, but the difference is small.

Table 3 is the raw data, included for completeness and further study by the reader.

Table 4 in the Winter Survivorship is shown as a fraction, we observed the (number of colonies still alive in March 2013)/(the number had in October 2012). Survivorship is Karnica=8/11, OB=6/10, and C=3/9. Conversely, the mortality rate is K=27%, OB=40%, and C=67%.

Research conclusions:

The 2012 field trial proved to be both challenging and productive. The mating of the virgin queens was not as easy as expected. We had to continue to ship in queens throughout the summer to replaced failed/lost queens. This resulted in several field measurements that were missed because no established colony existed on that date. The OB bees proved to be better than we expected with very low mite counts, and good honey production.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We have presented the SARE study at several public venues via a Power Point presentation. We presented the information at:
The Pittsburgh Remodeling Show Jan 2012
The Monroeville Indoor Outdoor show Feb 2012
The Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show March 2012
The Farm to Table PASA conference March 2012

We also met with the Northern Queen Bee Breeders during the ABF Conference in Hershey PA, in January 2012.

We maintain a Facebook page for the program, and mention this work on our webpage www.AlwaysSummerHerbs.com.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

This 2012 SARE grant builds upon our 2011 SARE grant, and the Pennsylvania Survivors Stock program managed by Penn State. This breeding program is based on evaluation and selection at the beekeeper level. Gradually we are improving mite resistance and winter-hardiness. The genetic stock from these programs will be advanced for further improvement. We have been awarded a 2013 grant for Artificial Insemination (AI) of 25 queens with genetics from this improvement program and the Northern Queen Breeders Group. Plans are being made for distribution of 250 queen daughters from these AI queens to other beekeepers in our local bee clubs.

Future Recommendations

Breeding programs are underway in Ohio, West Virginia, and now in Pennsylvania. Evaluation, and selection for mite resistance and winter-hardiness are done using NO CHEMICAL treatments. Improvements in our survivor stock program are noticeable, but still more progress needs to made.

We have been awarded a 2013 grant for Artificial Insemination (AI) of 25 queens with genetics from this improvement program amongst the Northern Queen Breeders Group. We are considering distribution of 250 queen daughters, from these AI queens, to other beekeepers in local bee clubs. Distributing the improved stock to other local and regional beekeepers is what will bring sustainability back to beekeeping.

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.