Currently there is limited access and availability to nucleus (nuc) colonies utilizing Varroa
Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) queens. The demand for the importation of package bees specifically
has increased dramatically because of the continued loss of viable colonies due to the devastation
of the varroa mite. Large scale commercial package bee operations are hard pressed each year to
maintain an adequate supply of bees and queens to satisfy the demand. There is also limited focus
on varroa resistant breeding within this commercial environment and many of these package bees
don’t survive the first year. While numerous studies have been conducted, and controlled breeding
endeavors are gaining focus, there is still a minimal emphasis on utilizing and breeding for
genetically proven VSH queens. Within the beekeeping industry today, it is widely accepted that
the continued use of chemicals and miticides to combat the varroa mite is not a long term viable
solution to a healthy beekeeping industry. Economically speaking, todays mixed race queens and
bees are raised as quickly as possible in an attempt to satisfy the demand for bee colonies within
the commercial market, as well as supplying the general public.
Alternatively, maintaining healthy and vigorous mite resistant nucleus colonies is now attainable
through the use of available queens such as the Russian and USDA-VSH strains, that possess
significant mite suppressive traits. Through the use of controlled breeding, monitoring and
evaluation, over-wintered nucleus colonies headed by VSH expressive queens can be responsible
for eventually impacting the local and regional communities to a more sustainable and profitable
climate. This grant will demonstrate to others how to establish and maintain vigorous nucleus
colonies for sustainable growth within the apiary. An outreach program will be established to
provide instructional site visits to the bee yards, as well as educational presentations within an
academic setting. The availability of over-wintered colonies headed by VSH mite resistant queens
offers numerous possibilities for shared genetics within the community, and future breeding
programs to benefit all beekeepers.
1. Establish and maintain two separate nucleus colony bee yards consisting of a minimum of
24 colonies each. One control group will be established using USDA Russian queens and
the other group will be established using commercially available queens with high levels
of VSH. (Two different test yards were established in May of 2018. VSH and Russian queens were received and introduced in each yard from May 14 through the 18th. Queens were mixed into each yard randomly. Queen acceptance was well above normal with only (2) queens rejected in one yard, and (1) queen rejected in the other. Because of variables during the mating process of queens, and potential issues with introducing mated queens into queen less colonies, this is considered normal.
2. Maintain and evaluate each colony in each group, and perform mite count testing after
spring/summer colony growth, prior to overwintering and at the beginning of the following
spring. Compile and maintain a data base for each colony showing vital statistics and
pertinent information. Mite count testing was performed on each colony on June 26, 2018 and again on September 27th and 28th. See attached charts for testing results.
3. Schedule on site instructional seminars in the bee yards with other producers to share and
discuss benefits of the program. Educational outreach seminars will be scheduled at San
Juan College, Farmington N.M. as well as Santa Fe Community College. These events will
be hosted by the producer as well as Dr. Don Hyder, Professor of Biology and Dr. Jose
Villa, Retired USDA-Research Entomologist. The first educational outreach seminar was held on March 24th, in Santa Fe, N.M. A key focus of the presentation was nucleus colony management and sustainable beekeeping. John Gagne / Producer was the keynote speaker at this event (see attached brochure). The second event was the New Mexico Beekeepers Assoc. annual summer conference. This statewide event combined the Santa Fe Community College event to a more centralized location to accommodate a large attendance. Keynote speakers were John Gagne/ Producer, and Dr. Jose Villa, technical advisor to the grant. (see attached brochure). The last educational outreach program was held on October 20th., 2018 at San Juan Community College, Farmington, N.M. Keynote speakers were; John Gagne/Producer, Dr. Jose Villa, Technical advisor, and Dr. Don Hyder, Technical advisor to the grant (see attached literature).
4. Assess bee populations and honey stores of all colonies at the beginning and end of the
overwintering period. Currently ongoing, to be included in final report.
Two separate nucleus colony test yards have been established using (2) different genetic lines of queen bees. Each yard is comprised of a mix of VSH queens and Russian queens. The overall objective is to overwinter each nucleus colony without the intervention of any miticides or chemicals. In the spring of 2019 each colony will be inspected and a final report will be provided indicating how many of the colonies were able to survive the winter.
Educational & Outreach Activities
- Beekeeping Seminar, Nucleus Colonies, March 24th, 2018, Santa Fe, N.M.
- New Mexico Beekeepers Assoc. Seminar, August 18, 2018, Albuquerque, N.M.
- San Juan College Reginal Seminar (N.M & Colorado), October 20th, 2018, Farmington, N.M.
See attached seminar literature.
Upcoming seminar will be held in April, 2019. This event will be a regional “field day” seminar with hands on participation of local beekeepers.
To date (3) educational outreach seminars have been held directly pertaining to the research grant, and beekeeping in general. In addition, numerous topics of concern regarding the current health of our honeybees in general were addressed. Lectures on specific genetic traits of the two different queen bee lineage we are using was presented. VSH queen bees are considered a positive breeding tool to combat varroa mites and various viruses. The information presented by the producer and the technical advisors was well received by those attending the events. Significant feedback was received by those attending who now wish to implement best management practices as presented into their apiaries.
We will be including this information in our final report, once a clear evaluation of our test yards can be realized in April of 2019. We are anticipating that a field day / educational outreach event will be held in April 2019, to finalize the grant. It is our hope that at that time a positive assessment of our genetic line of bees and management practices of our nucleus colonies will be well received and adopted by others within our field.
To date our primary success story has been the attendance and participation at our educational outreach seminars. The New Mexico Beekeepers Assoc. meeting held in Albuquerque allowed our grant producer and technical advisor a wonderful opportunity to be the featured speakers. John Gagne (producer) was able to speak at length about establishing nucleus colony’s and introducing our two different genetic lines on queens. Dr. Jose Villa (technical advisor) also presented on varroa mite issues; including: testing, mite resistant genetics, pathogens and viruses and specific best management practices. Dr. Villa spoke at length regarding our SARE Grant and research study that he was participating in.