The Impact of Mushroom Extracts on Honey Bee Health

Progress report for FNE19-926

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2019: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Fungi Ally
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Willie Crosby
Fungi Ally
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Project Information


This project looked at the impact of mushroom extracts on honeybee health.

We planned to give a hot water/alcohol extract to the honeybees in a sugar feed and test viral loads and record honeybee health over the course of 1.5 years.  We found the bees did not need the amount of feed required to get them the amount of mushroom extract we wanted. To get them the mushroom extract in the quantities we intended it needed to be applied in a different manner. One idea for that would be to add the extract to water with a small amount of sugar that the bees consume. The bee's were only fed 1/5th of the intended dose of mushroom extract. In the viral tests there was no difference and extreme variation between the control and the treated hives. Because of the execution of this project our initial question remains unanswered and unexplored in a thorough manner. 

In our outreach we held a class at the summer NOFA conference and both Willie and Ang shared about the process of the study through their newsletters. 

Project Objectives:
  1. This project seeks to trial the use of a multiple mushroom extract, Ganoderma tsugae and Fomes
    fomentarius to improve bee health. The extract will be fed to the bees four times through the season.
    Bee health will be measured through a hive analysis sheet measuring presence of brood, laying
    pattern of queen, population by frame, and honey production. Virus levels of deformed wing virus
    and lake sinai virus will be recorded through lab testing twice throughout the season. Fungal,
    bacterial and mite counts will be recorded through lab testing four times during the season.
  2. This project seeks to evaluate the use of easily accessible mushrooms in the northeast for supporting
    bee health. The process of finding or cultivating these mushrooms and then extracting will clearly
    be laid out.
  3. This project seeks to educate beekeepers and farmers about the opportunity to work with local
    mushrooms in supporting bee health. If successful this project will give beekeepers another tool to
    maintain healthy bees for multiple seasons.

Over the last fifteen years honeybee populations have experienced massive die-offs and increased disease pressure. Much of this is in direct relation to the presence of Varroa mites and 8 different viruses. A multiyear survey published in 2016 to gather disease baselines saw winter colony losses
average 30% and annual hive mortality was about 50% for commercial beekeepers (Traynor, Kirsten S.). In an article published by Cornell highlighting SARE project FNE10-694 the author estimated over 20,000 new hives are imported into New England every year (Englander, Aaron).
Honey bees are an essential part of the food system in the northeast, globally they are the third most economically important agricultural livestock. Despite the importance and wide spread use of honeybees, consistently effective treatments to limit Varroa mites and decrease viruses have not been found or made commercially available. Honey bees provide pollination for many important crops in the northeast including apples, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, and squash. According to a Cornell study published in 2012 “honeybees pollinated $12.4 billion worth of directly dependent crops and $6.8 billion worth of indirectly dependent crops in 2010” (Ramanujan, Krishna). The health and viability of the honeybee is essential in maintaining a sustainable food system in the northeast. By decreasing the annual mortality rate of honeybee populations farmers economic viability can increase. Beekeepers would need to spend less time and money on purchasing and reestablishing their hives annually. Farmers with apple orchards in New Hampshire, cranberry bogs in Massachusetts, blueberry barrens in Maine, sunflower fields in New York will more effectively manage their own hives or be able to rent healthier bees for less. Viruses found in bee hives are typical and can be managed by a healthy colony without overt symptoms being expressed. When colonies begin to experience further stress these viruses start to proliferate and cause extreme damage in a beehive. The Varroa mite is the primary infection route for the viruses, this is the deadly spiral weakened bee hives get into. An increase in the expression of viruses, due to a weakened immune system under Varroa pressure, leads to decreased hive health and activity. This leads to an increase in viral expression and Varroa mite damage which then leads to a further increase in Varroa pressure. These cycles feed of each other until the hive dies. To stop this cycle either the Varroa mite needs to be eradicated, which has proven extremely difficult, or the immune system of the bee needs to be strengthened to stop the initial increased expression of the viruses due to Varroa infestation.


This approach is modelled after the results from the study published October 4th 2018 titled Extracts of polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees. In field trials conducted in this study “colonies fed Ganoderma resinaceum extract exhibited a 79-fold reduction in DWV(deformed wing virus) and a 45,000-fold reduction in LSV(lake sinai virus) compared to control colonies” (Stamets, Paul). In cage trials measuring bee survival rate, bees fed a sugar broth with extracts of Fomes had on average 50% more bees surviving over the course of 30 days. These are massive decreases in the expression of very common viruses that greatly damage honeybee health. At the same time increasing the survival rate of bees leads to strong hives that are capable of dealing with different stress factors. These factors of decreased virus presence and increased survival rate likely means overall bee health is improving from the application of these extracts. The above study primarily studied mycelial extracts of two mushroom genuses Fomes and Ganoderma. Both of these mushroom genuses are commonly found in the northeast. Rather than focusing on mycelial extracts this study will look at using commonly available mushroom fruiting bodies that could be gathered or easily cultivated on farms in the northeast. The same genus of fungus will be used but a different anatomical part of the fungus, the mushroom, will be used instead of the mycelium.

Description of farm operation:

Fungi Ally is a mushroom farm that has been producing mushrooms for 6 years. This trial is being conducted on a bee apiary that has been raising bees for 3 years.


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Materials and methods:

Methods for creating the Mushroom extract
Mushrooms will be wild crafted. Dried Ganoderma tsugae from 2018 will be sourced from Fungi Ally for creating the extracts. Fomes fomentarius will be collected in early March and dried at 110 degrees for 24 hours. 384 grams of each dry mushroom will be ground into a coarse powder and extracted for 6 weeks in 256 ounces of 95% alcohol. The mushrooms will then be removed from the alcohol and used to create a decoction. The decoction, heating the mushrooms in water, will start with 1,024 ounces of water and be maintained at 140 degrees until 512 ounces of water is left. The water decoction and the alcohol extraction will then be combined to end with 768 ounces of extract with an alcohol content of 31%. This process will be completed twice.

 This study will look at 20 hives. 10 hives will be the control and 10 will have the mushroom treatment applied. All hives will start as 5 frame nucs that are brought up from Florida on the same truck around April 21st. All hives will be established in Montague, MA in the same yard with a queen bee and approximately 5000 worker bees. Each nucleus colony will start with 2 frames of capped brood, 1 frame of open brood, and one frame of nectar and pollen and one frame of drawn wax foundation. All hives will be on the same feeding schedule through the year. To create the feed a 1:1:.01 ratio
of sugar:water:and mushroom extract will be used for feedings 1 through 3. The control group will get a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. The fourth feed will be applied at a rate of 2:1:.01 for the test group and 2:1 for the control. The feed will be mixed in a 5 gallon bucket with 2.5 gallons sugar, 2.5 gallons of water, and .05 gallons (6.4 ounces) of mushroom extract. For each feeding period, 1 gallon per week will be fed to each hive for 3 weeks after the initial feeding date. Bees will be fed four times during the year First feeding- May 5th, May 12th, and 19th all hives will receive 1 gallon of the feed mix. Ten hives will receive sugar, water, and mushroom extract. Second feeding- July 7th, 14th and 21st all hives will receive 1 gallon of the feed mix. Ten hives will receive sugar, water, and mushroom extract. Third Feeding-Aug 25th, Sept 3rd, 10th all hives will receive 1 gallon of the feed mix. Ten hives will receive sugar, water, and mushroom extract. Fourth Feeding-October 6th,13th, and 20th all hives will receive 1 gallon of the feed mix. Ten hives will receive sugar, water, and mushroom extract. This feed will be at a rate of 2:1:.01 for the test group and 2:1 sugar:water for the control. 3.3 gallons sugar, 1.6 gallons water, and if applied .05 gallons (6.4 ounces) mushroom extract. One week after the end of each feeding a visual inspection of the hive to determine health will be made. These inspections will be done on May 26th, July 28th, Sept 17th, and Oct 27th. We will use a hive analysis sheet for data collection. Data will be collected on the presence of brood, the laying pattern of the queen, population by frame, and at the end of the year excess honey produced. Bees will be lab tested for disease and viruses. A sample of bees will be gathered four times during the season and sent to the Beltsville bee research lab for fungal and bacterial disease sampling. Twice in the season samples will be sent to the University of Maryland for virus sampling. The samples will be gathered a week before feeding and a week after feeding is complete twice in the year. First sampling June 28th
Second sampling July 28th
Third sampling August 18th
Fourth sampling September 17th
All hives will receive the same treatment protocol through the year for Varroa mite control, Oxalic Acid Aapor (OAV). All hives will be tested in mid August. A sample of 300 bees will be washed in alcohol. The bees will be strained off and any mites present counted. The threshold limit for OAV treatment will be 5 mites per 300 bees. If any hives have counts above five all hives will be treated with OAV in late August. Varroa mite counts will be recorded for all hives in August.

All hives will receive Oxalic Acid treatment in the last week of October. Treatment will be applied by inserting an Oxalic Acid vaporizer into the hive and sealing the hive with foam. The vaporizer will remain in the hive for 2.5 minutes and then be removed. The foam will remain for an additional 2.5 minutes keeping the hive sealed for a total of 5 minutes. After 5 total minutes the foam barriers will be removed. Winter feeding will begin standardized for all the hives with a feed honey store and candy board board added as needed. All additional feeding after mid November will be recorded by hive. In early May of 2020 a final set of data will be collected. A Varroa mite count as described above will be conducted. Winter survival rate will be recorded and all other data points will be recorded for each hive.

Research results and discussion:

In the first year we skipped feeding the 3rd time because the bees did not need food. If this happens again we could likely feed the mushroom extract in water to the bees. The Viral sampling was very expensive so only conducted once during the season. It came back with no statistical differences between the hives. Hive health was also extremely erratic between hives receiving the treatment and control hives. Size and health of the honey bee hive did not seem to be influenced by the mushroom extract application. 

2020 update: It came to light there was a miscommunication about how much extract to feed the bees during 2019. The bees were not being fed the proper amount of mushroom extract, only 1/5th of the intended extract was given to the bees. The data collected showed no difference between the treated and untreated hives and is basically irrelevant. 

Keeping the bees in the same yard may not be the best strategy. Having separate areas for the control and treatment may help minimize bees from control hives getting food or water with the treatment in it. 

2021 update: PL Willie Crosby was unable to replicate this study at another apiary and a final report will be submitted with the current information. 

Research conclusions:

In this project we aimed to discover if wild mushrooms in the northeast could be collected, extracted, and fed to honeybees to increase overall health. We hoped these readily available mushrooms could decrease viral load detected in the hives, increase overall health and there by increase winter survival rate. In our treatment process only 1/5 of the intended mushroom extract was given and no noticeable differences were observed or measured in the honeybees. Because of the miscommunication and mis application of the treatment we were not able to answer our query. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

4 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

one workshop was given at the NOFA summer conference. Four people attended. 

2021 update: No further work in the education outreach field was conducted. 

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

If this study was conducted following the preparation of mushroom extracts would work well. Applying the feed will take some experimentation and may be best to do through water on top of the hives. Keeping the treatment and control hives separate can help for tracking data and minimizing the amount of the treatment migrating to control hives. 

I think this is still a very interesting subject to investigate and deserves a thorough field replication of the studies that were conducted previous to this one. 

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.