The Impact of Mushroom Extracts on Honey Bee Health

Final 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 only received 1/5th of the intended dose of mushroom extract. In the viral tests there was no statistical difference between the control and the treatment groups. The viral tests also had extreme variation within each group, showing no clear benefit of the treatment. 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 seeked to trial the use of a multiple mushroom extract, Ganoderma tsugae and Fomes
    fomentarius, to improve bee health. The extract was fed to the bees two times through the season.
    Bee health was 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 were recorded once through lab testing. Fungal, bacterial and mite counts were not recorded.
  2. This project seeked 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 is clearly laid out.
  3. This project seeked to educate beekeepers and farmers about the opportunity to work with local
    mushrooms in supporting bee health. If successful this project would have given 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 was modeled 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 looked at using commonly available mushroom fruiting bodies that could be gathered or easily cultivated on farms in the northeast. The same genus of fungus was used but a different anatomical part of the fungus, the mushroom, was 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 Yard Birds Farm, 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 were wild crafted. Dried Ganoderma tsugae from 2018 was sourced from Fungi Ally for creating the extracts. Fomes fomentarius was collected in early March and dried at 110 degrees for 24 hours. 384 grams of each dry mushroom was ground into a coarse powder and extracted for 6 weeks in 256 ounces of 95% alcohol. The mushrooms were then removed from the alcohol and used to create a decoction. The decoction, heating the mushrooms in water, started with 1,024 ounces of water and was maintained at 140 degrees until 512 ounces of water was left. The water decoction and the alcohol extraction were then combined to end with 768 ounces of extract with an alcohol content of 31%. This process was completed twice.

 This study looked at 20 hives. 10 hives were the control and 10 had the mushroom treatment applied. All hives started as 5 frame nucs that were brought up from Florida on the same truck around April 21st. All hives were established in Montague, MA in the same yard with a queen bee and approximately 5000 worker bees. Each nucleus colony started 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 were on the same feeding schedule through the year. To create the feed a 1:1:.01 ratio of sugar:water:and mushroom extract was supposed to be used for feedings 1 and 2. Instead a ratio of 1:1:.002 was used. The control group got a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water or 2.5 gallons sugar and 2.5 gallons water.  For each feeding period, 1 gallon per week was fed to each hive for 3 weeks after the initial feeding date. Bees were fed twice during the year. The first feeding- May 5th, May 12th, and 19th all hives received 1 gallon of the feed mix. Ten hives received sugar, water, and mushroom extract while ten received just sugar and water. The second feeding- July 7th, 14th and 21st all hives received 1 gallon of the feed mix. Ten hives received sugar, water, and mushroom extract while 10 hives received only sugar and water.

One week after the end of each feeding a visual inspection of the hive to determine health was made. These inspections were done on May 26th and July 28th.We used a hive analysis sheet for data collection. Data was collected on the presence of brood, the laying pattern of the queen, and population by frame. Bees were lab tested for disease and viruses. A sample of bees was gathered once during the season and sent to the Beltsville bee research lab for fungal and bacterial disease sampling. First sampling June 28th

All hives received the same treatment protocol through the year for Varroa mite control, Oxalic Acid Aapor (OAV). 

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. Data that was collected was lost by the beekeeper due to water damage. 

The process for making the mushroom extract is clearly laid out. Other farmers interested in offering bees these mushrooms could replicate those methods and try offering the alcohol/hot water extract in water.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

4 Farmers participated
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. 

Learning Outcomes

Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:


Project Outcomes

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

If this study was conducted again applying the correct amount of mushroom extracts it could work well.  The mushroom extracts were only applied at 1/5th of the planned quantity and had no impact. 

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.