Teaching Generative Apiary Practices for Effective Beekeeping in the Northeast

Progress report for LNE21-422

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $124,034.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipient: They Keep Bees (Formerly Yard Birds Farm & Apiary)
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Angela Roell
They Keep Bees (Formerly Yard Birds Farm & Apiary)
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Project Information

Performance Target:

100 beekeepers will adopt “generative beekeeping practices” which includes innovative methods of hive expansion and mite control: the 48-hour queen cell approach and the simplified alternative “Walk-Away Split”.

Each of the 100 beekeepers who complete the program will produce 50 queen bees from their own selected stock over the course of 2 seasons. In total participants will produce 5,000 Northern hardy queen bees or $175,000 in potential revenue from queen bee sales in the Northeast region.

Introduction:

Problem and Justification

“Bee Informed Partnership” (BIP) reports that in 2019 Northeast beekeepers lost an average of 29% of 12,502 colonies managed by 515 beekeepers.  Beekeepers in the Northeast have been combatting the ongoing pressure of the Varroa mite on an annual basis (Kulhanek, 2019).  

In 2014, Erin MacGregor-Forbes discovered honey bee hives populated by northern-adapted queens survive winter nearly twice as well as hives with southern queens.  This suggests that rearing northern queens could improve the biological and financial sustainability of beekeeping in the Northeast. 

In a 2018 survey of 116 Northeast beekeepers, 109 beekeepers expressed interest in learning queen-rearing for a small scale apiary (Roell, 2020).  We understand there is a regional demand for queen-rearing education. 

Currently there are limited options for beekeepers within the Northeast region to pursue an extensive queen-rearing program.  While Cornell University offers a Master Beekeeping program and “Northeast IPM” offers great information on Varroa interventions, there currently is no explicit program offering queen-rearing and hive production methods, how to breed through the issue of Varroa, and how to use and mimic bee biology to increase hive survival.      

Solution and Approach 

We propose the development of an educational program that teaches students “generative beekeeping practices”.  We will teach both innovative (48-hour cell method, and the “Walk-Away Split” method) and traditional (10 day) queen-rearing techniques.  Students will collaboratively manage hives through the entirety of the queen-rearing process.  To culminate this process they will raise and overwinter their own hive, becoming invested in the queen rearing process as a result.  As a long term goal, the process will become regenerative as the advancing class raises bees provided to the next cohort.

We hypothesize that our alternative queen-rearing methods (48-hour, “Walk-Away Split”) will contribute to a reduced Varroa mite population.  The extra time queenless extends a break in the bee brood cycle and thus interrupts the mite reproduction process.  These methods can ensure a percentage of hive survival, especially while breeding for local adaptation.  We are inviting new beekeepers to create and continue their own adaptive apiary, generating new queens every year.  

Our program will offer two cohorts of beekeepers a preliminary introductory workshop- a season-long, hands-on experience of learning the intricacies of the queen-rearing process & hive care, as well as a post-skill building workshop to discuss the financial  feasibility of a queen-rearing and nucleus colony production enterprise.  Participants from the first cohort will be invited back the second year to share their knowledge and experience with the second cohort as a means of strengthening and expanding the regional beekeeping community.  

We anticipate these workshops to encourage beekeepers within the region to share knowledge and resources both during their participation in the workshops, and beyond.

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

The educational approach used in this project hinges on the importance of "participatory" education IE building a program for and by the people who need it most.  While we know there is a lot of interest in queen production, it is often difficult for people to access expertise in a way that meets their own scheduling realities.  

Using our previous NESARE research results and outreach materials as a jumping off point we've asked for input from current beekeepers to understand needs and capacity.  We've spent the last year talking with beekeepers in the region from small scale to commercial scale through one-on-one visits and informational interviews.   We've spoken to beekeepers in NY, PA, VT, MA and RI to determine how to make the program work well for them.  We've spoken with our own advisors in Vermont and Massachusetts about how to make the program accessible and effective.  We've consulted with a culture-building consultant about how to shape the culture of Queen School, both online and in-person.  We've identified our key values, strategies for welcoming people into the space.  We've built infrastructure to support people in Hands-on Cohort 1 including a composting toilet, wooden tables and a bee yard where all of the hives students' work will be housed.  

Through networks and relationships, we've done outreach to queen producing beekeepers across the US, who have agreed to be guest speakers for each of the four online sessions we have planned, as well as in-person guest speakers.  Online sessions will combine narrative/storytelling and biological apiary management strategy to discuss how each queen producer performs their work and achieves their success.  The online sessions begin 1/24/22 and will occur one time per month from January-April.  We have started planning out our in-person school sessions, and these will kick off in May and end in August.  

We've also been building up and stewarding the 100 bee hives necessary for learning queen production strategies for Cohort 1 in person.  

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

During our planning year, we will conduct outreach to beginning and intermediate beekeepers using the following outreach tools: social media channels, business newsletter, phone calls, beekeeping associations, webinars, etc. We anticipate that 3,000 beekeepers will hear about our project in year one.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
3000
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
321
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

During our planning year, we have conducted outreach to beginning and intermediate beekeepers using the following outreach tools:  social media channels, business newsletters, contacting beekeeping associations, and webinars, in person meetings.

As of January 20th, 2022, 321 "farmers" are signed up for the Online Queen School Webinar starting on January 24th about the systems and functions of generative beekeeping.  We've combined the digital courses into one meeting based on the feedback of attendees, and purchased a "large meetings" add on to our Zoom account, so more people could attend one session.  

The back-end of our web hosting server indicates that 1,251 people visited our Queen School website. 

On Facebook, we reached out to Boston Beekeepers Association, Massachusetts Beekeepers Association, Vermont Beekeepers Association, Northeast Beekeeping, New England Beekeeping, New Hampshire Beekeeping.  

We spoke with both Boston and Maryland Beekeeping Associations.  Each club had 50+ members on the nights we discussed Queen School.  

With an eye to equity, we outreached to the following marginalized listservs: SoulFire Farm, Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, Rocksteady Farm, SuSu Community Farm, Eastern Woodland Rematriation, Nipmuc Indian Development Corporation, Hunneebee Project, Northeast Queer Farmers Listserv, Queer Farmers Listserv, Boston Urban Farming Institute, Nuestras Raices.

We reached out the following additional listservs: Emasscraft, National Young Farmers, Northeast Farm Service Providers, Western MA Permaculture.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Systems and Functions of Generative Beekeeping:
Two Cohorts of 75 beekeepers will complete (2) digital courses on Bee/Mite Biology Interactions in Management Systems by January 1st, 2022, January 1st 2023 for Cohort 2.
Verification will include a post-assessment survey of course content and delivery.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
321
Proposed Completion Date:
January 1, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Online Queen School Webinar 1 begins on January 24th about the systems and functions of generative beekeeping.  We've combined the digital courses into one meeting based on the feedback of attendees, and purchased a "large meetings" add on to our Zoom account, so more people could attend one session.  

120 people attended, 77 people completed the assessment.  

Students who attended this introduction to Queen Rearing & Bee/Mite Biology Interactions in Management Systems reported the following lessons they are taking back to their own apiaries

  • Walk away splits are a viable way to raise a queen and initiate a brood break to help bees manage mites naturally 
  • Integrated pest management can include both chemical and nonchemical (management) strategies
  • Alternative hive designs offer an opportunity to build up apiary numbers quickly and sustainably (cost effective, easy to build)
  • Sourcing local bee stock is important 
  • Keeping a schedule for queen production is important
  • Keeping good notes assessing hives and queens is important for selection of the best queens for breeding

76% of students who attended reported the course was "useful or very useful" to their beekeeping practice. 

Course materials were sent out as asynchronous learning material for FREE to all who enrolled/registered (321 total).

Registered students will receive the asynchronous learning materials after the session is complete so people who can not attend in person can attend on their own time and be ready for Session two in February.  Registered students are asked to complete the post assessment survey as well, and we will update this milestone again with additional submissions.

 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Biology of Queen Production:
Two Cohorts of 75 beekeepers will complete (2) digital courses on the Mating Biology of the Honeybee Queen by February 1st, 2022, February 1st 2023 for Cohort 2.
Verification will include a post-assessment of course content and delivery.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed Completion Date:
February 1, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Systems for Production:
Two Cohorts of 75 beekeepers will complete (2) digital courses on Applying Mating Biology to Queen Production Systems by March 1st, 2022 for Cohort 1, March 1st 2023 for Cohort 2.
Verification will include a post-assessment survey of course content and delivery.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed Completion Date:
March 1, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Walk-Away Splits:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers divided into two hand on teaching groups of 25 will apply the “Walk-Away Split” method to one hive each in the teaching apiary. June 2022 for Cohort 1, June 2023 for Cohort 2. Verification will include, with instructor guidance, peer teams of two assessing the success of the applied method by July 2022/July 2023, using the supplied Split Analysis Tool in the sample Verification Tool.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
July 12, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Cellraiser Workshop:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers divided into two hands on teaching groups of 25 will work in teams create two Queen Cellraiser Colonies for Queen production by June 2022 for Cohort 1, June 2023 for Cohort 2.
Verification will be assessed by the percentage of queen cells accepted by a colony. Instructors will observe and record data.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

48-hour Graft/10-day Graft Methods:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers divided into two hand on teaching groups of 25 will graft 48-hour and 10-day cells to produce a total of ten queen cells total, by July 2022, July 2023 for Cohort 2.
Verification will be assessed by the percentage of cells accepted by the cellraiser as determined by the instructor's observational evaluation and recorded number of accepted cells.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Queen Mating Analysis:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers divided into two hand on teaching groups of 25 will each have two opportunities to check both 10-day and 48-hour cell acceptance using an assessment tool. Complete by August 2022 for Cohort 1 and August 2023 for Cohort 2. Verification will be determined by using the Mated Queen Tracking Tool.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
August 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Mite Analysis:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers divided into two hand on teaching groups of 25 will perform mite wash treatments on 3 hives each to assess mite threshold and determine an intervention plan as necessary. Completed by September 2022 for Cohort 1 and September 2023 for Cohort 2. Verification will include mite counts documented by the Fall Hive Evaluation Tool.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Scalable Systems for Honeybee Hive Expansion:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers will be offered a series of (3) one-hour Zoom sessions about industry-specific models for growth, including business models, expansion plans, and profit/loss analysis by December 2022 for Cohort 1, December 2023 for Cohort 2.
Verification will include a post-assessment of course content and delivery.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
December 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Summative Assessment:
Two Cohorts of 50 beekeepers will complete the Summative Evaluation feedback form via Google Forms disseminated by instructors and report on the skills acquired and implemented in the year of their cohort and the year following. (Cohort 1: September 2022 & 2023, Cohort 2: September 2023 & June 2024).

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Pre-assessment of all beekeepers' knowledge: two cohorts of 75 beekeepers will complete a digital pre-assessment survey of their skills prior to taking any courses to determine baseline knowledge. A pre-recorded "beeginners" course will be offered to all beekeepers who wish to build upon their preliminary knowledge, but it is not mandatory. December 2021 for Cohort 1, December 2022 for Cohort 2.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress

Learning Outcomes

65 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Students who attended this introduction to Queen Rearing & Bee/Mite Biology Interactions in Management Systems reported the following lessons they are taking back to their own apiaries

  • Walk away splits are a viable way to raise a queen and initiate a brood break to help bees manage mites naturally 
  • Integrated pest management can include both chemical and nonchemical (management) strategies
  • Alternative hive designs offer an opportunity to build up apiary numbers quickly and sustainably (cost effective, easy to build)
  • Sourcing local bee stock is important 
  • Keeping a schedule for queen production is important
  • Keeping good notes assessing hives and queens is important for selection of the best queens for breeding

76% of students who attended reported the course was "useful or very useful" to their beekeeping practice. 

Course materials were sent out as asynchronous learning material for FREE to all who enrolled/registered (321 total).

Registered students will receive the asynchronous learning materials after the session is complete so people who can not attend in person can attend on their own time and be ready for Session two in February.  Registered students are asked to complete the post assessment survey as well, and we will update this milestone again with additional submissions.

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:
100
Target: change/adoption:

100 beekeepers will adopt “generative beekeeping practices” which includes innovative methods of hive expansion and mite control: the 48-hour queen cell approach and the simplified alternative “Walk-Away Split” to produce 50 queens each

Target: amount of production affected:

Each of the 100 beekeepers who complete the program will produce 50 queen bees from their own selected stock over the course of 2 seasons.

Target: quantified benefit(s):

We anticipate that these changes to apiary management practices will result in 100 participants producing 5,000 Northern hardy queen bees or $175,000 in potential revenue from queen bee sales in the Northeast region.

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.