Improving Honey Bees Through Local Queen Rearing, Selection, and Controlled Mating via Artificial Insemination

Progress report for LNE22-447

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $217,050.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Penn State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Robyn Underwood
Penn State Extension
Expand All

Project Information

Performance Target:

Queen rearing will be practiced by 65 beekeepers throughout the Northeast, resulting in the production of 100 queens per beekeeper annually (approximately 20,000 queens over 3 years). Thirteen beekeepers will practice artificial insemination of queens. By the end of the project, there will be 5-10 new queen producers in each state providing open-mated queens for sale, plus 1-2 artificial insemination service providers producing artificially-inseminated breeder queens. Queen production and insemination services will provide savings and increased profits to the beekeepers that learn the necessary skills. 


Problem or Opportunity and Justification:

Honey bees are essential to the pollination of agricultural crops in the northeast and beekeeping is an increasing hobby industry. Over 40% of honey bee colonies die each winter in NE SARE states, as honey bees are susceptible to parasites and pathogens as well as multiple environmental influences which threaten the sustainability of apiculture. To compensate for such losses, beekeepers purchase hundreds of thousands of queens and honey bee colonies (packages) from southern and western states annually. This annual mass importation dilutes the genetics of regionally-adapted lines of bees and results in colonies that either lack the resilient traits required or are maladapted for Northeastern climates. This cycle can be stopped or slowed by empowering beekeepers through education and training. 

A queen honey bee, the sole reproductive female, engages in a high degree of polyandry during natural mating, whereby she mates with dozens of males (drones).   Establishing isolated breeding areas is impossible due to the high density of beekeepers in the region; thus controlled mating is only possible through artificial insemination. 

Solution and Approach:

The solution to improving regional genetic lines is to train and educate beekeepers on how to select for and introduce resilient traits through controlled breeding. With this grant we will improve honey bee husbandry by training beekeepers in colony assessment, queen rearing, and artificial insemination. We will accomplish this by providing long-term learning opportunities, including regular Lunch-and-Learn sessions throughout the project duration, online classes and written informational documents which will be freely available, structured educational forums, and in-person workshops. There are many management practices that are inherent to breeding and novel to most beekeepers, which we will cover in our in-person training workshops. A large group will participate in queen rearing education, while a select sub-group of participants will receive training and equipment that will enable them to provide insemination services. Participation will result in improved regional genetic traits over the long-term, increased survivorship of honey bee colonies, and a number of self-supported queen producers with enhanced skills for genetic selection, queen production and sales. 


Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:


We will engage Northeastern beekeepers via articles in newsletters issued by beekeeping associations in the region, posting information on social media sites, and via Cooperative Extension marketing. An application process will be integral to choosing which individuals are invited to participate and will be based on an applicant’s beekeeping experience and goals, with an eye on geographic location to ensure coverage throughout the Northeast. Thus, a cohort of beekeepers will be invited to participate at the beginning of the project and will be retained for the duration. Thereafter, as our cohort of beekeepers becomes established, we will actively support each other in our efforts to learn about and rear queens. In our bi-weekly Lunch-and-Learn sessions, participants will be encouraged to share stories of problems and successes for discussion to enhance the learning of everyone involved. In addition, participants report on their activities on a monthly basis via questionnaire, indicating the time spent on project goals, numbers of queens produced and/or inseminated, and any successes or failures they have experienced. Members of the cohort will be invited to the hands-on workshops. Because only a few individuals will be invited to participate in artificial insemination workshops, participants will be made to understand that their devotion to learning about and practicing queen rearing and cooperation throughout the project will be important factors in choosing who to invite. Thus, they will have incentive to remain engaged and active. In addition, we will be producing downloadable, printable fact sheets for reference and the online classes will be available for unlimited viewing, providing long-term support, additional impact by educating beekeepers outside of the cohort, and will be distributed by Penn State Extension. Robyn and Kate will also attend Susan Cobey’s International Insemination and Cryopreservation Conference in July 2022 to disseminate information about this project and garner interest in a future larger-scale effort to impact honey bee genetics and queen production nationally. 


  1.  Through written educational materials, online classes and virtual Lunch-and-Learn group discussions, 100 participants will learn about and implement assessment and documentation protocols for evaluating and selecting colonies to breed from.
  2. Through written educational materials, online classes, virtual Lunch-and-Learn group discussions, and hands-on workshops, 100 participants will learn about and implement the practices and skills necessary to rear and manage robust, vigorous northern queens.
  3. Participants (100) will adopt practices that enable them to add or increase queen production and sales to their beekeeping operations.
  4. Through written educational materials, online classes, virtual Lunch-and-Learn group discussions, and hands-on workshops, up to 16 select participants will receive training and necessary equipment to artificially inseminate honey bee queens.
  5. Participants (100) will integrate what they have learned about stock evaluation, queen rearing practices, and artificial insemination to rear queens for sale in the Northeast region.
  6. Beekeepers in the northeast (~40,000) will be aware of the benefits and availability of northern-bred queens.
  7. By using the skills and network provided, 100 participants will experience lower colony losses, improved queen production, and increased profitability.
  8. Up to 16 trained individuals will add insemination services to their business models.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Queen Rearing Basics 
  • Honey Bee Queen Biology
  • How to make and maintain a cell builder colony
  • Queen Cell Production via Grafting
  • Data Collection for Colony Selection
  • Selection of Colonies for Breeding
  • Banking Virgin Queens
  • Rearing, Marking, and Banking Drones
  • Mating Nucs and Queen Castles
  • A Queen Producer’s Year
  • Introduction of Open-Mated Queens
  • Introduction of Artificially Inseminated Queens
  • Evaluation of Artificially Inseminated Queens
  • How to Maintain Breeder Queens
  • How to Collect, Store, and Ship Germplasm
  • Insemination Equipment Basics
  • Proper Maintenance and Cleaning of Insemination Equipment
  • Single- versus multiple-drone insemination
  • Economics of Queen Breeding
  • How to Manage an Insemination Service Business


A survey will be given to participants as they join the project to assess their incoming knowledge, skill levels and practices. Participants will, thereafter, be asked to track and report their personal progress with mastering each aspect of queen rearing (and artificial insemination) by recording time spent mastering each aspect of the process (see verification tool for details). These regular check-ins will allow us to closely monitor progress toward each milestone. After each workshop, the participants will be asked to fill in a survey specific to that workshop to ensure that the learning objectives were achieved and the workshop was run properly.  At the end of the project, participants will again be asked to assess their knowledge, skill levels, and practices to determine how much these have changed as a result of participation.



Milestone 1 (engagement). Create a cohort of participating beekeepers who attend bi-weekly Lunch-and-Learn virtual sessions. This group of up to 100 beekeepers will form in the first few months of the project and meet continuously throughout the duration of the project. Robyn and Kate will provide materials ahead of each meeting and will lead the discussions during these meetings. During these ~75 sessions, we will discuss each aspect of the queen rearing and artificial insemination processes in detail.

Proposed Timeline: March 2022: Create and distribute an application; April 2022: Applications are due and 100 participants will be chosen; May 2022-February 2025: These sessions will begin in May 2022 and continue on a bi-weekly basis for the rest of the project, 100 participants. 

Actual Timeline: IN PROGRESS. The application was distributed in March and April 2022. We received 551 applications. We chose and invited 249 applicants to join the program. Bi-weekly lunch and learn sessions began on June 7, 2022, with 185 individuals attending the first session. Sessions are ongoing on a bi-weekly basis. Throughout 2023, we have had approximately 85 consistend participants who remain with the program. 

Milestone 2 (learning). At least 25 fact sheets and 25 online class modules will be created by Robyn and Kate, with the help of a part-time employee. Topics will cover each aspect of the queen rearing and artificial insemination processes in detail. These learning tools will be created in 2022 and 2023, used throughout the project, and continue to be available long after the project ends through Penn State Extension. There will be 100 participants in live lunch and learn sessions, plus 1000 participants via passive, online means through Penn State Extension. 

Timeline: 7 fact sheets to be completed by Dec 31, 2022, 8 more by Dec 31, 2023, 10 more by Dec 31, 2024. Online course modules will be completed by Dec 31, 2024.

Actual timeline: IN PROGRESS: One, large fact sheet was published. Twelve fact sheets are in progress and are scheduled to be completed in early 2024. The remaining fact sheets will be written later in 2024 and in 2024.

Milestone 3 (learning). A total of five 2-day hands-on queen rearing workshops will be offered in June, 2022, May and June 2023, 2024. Groups of 20 participants (100 total) will attend each workshop to gain hands-on experience with the technical aspects of queen rearing. Each workshop will contain the same content. Three workshops will take place at Penn State University, one in New England, and one in Maryland. Robyn, Kate and the part-time employee will prepare and run these workshops.

Timeline: Queen rearing workshops: 1. June 2022; 20 participants. 2. May 2023; 20 participants. 3. June 2023; 20 participants. 4. May 2024;  20 participants. 5. June 2024; 20 participants.

Actual timeline: COMPLETE: One queen rearing workshop was conducted in August 2022. Four queen rearing in-person workshops were conducted in 2023; 1. April 2023 in Maryland, 2. May 2023 in Pennsylvania, 3. May 2023 in New Jersey, and 4. June 2023 in Vermont. 

Milestone 4 (learning). A total of four 5-day hands-on artificial insemination workshops will be offered in July & Aug. 2023, 2024 in groups of 8 participants (32 total). Each workshop will contain the same content and will be held at Penn State University. One set of equipment will be provided to each state (total of 13) along with a $500 travel stipend (for all 32 participants). Robyn, Kate, the part-time employee and one service provider will run each workshop.

Timeline: Insemination workshops: 1. July 2023, 8 participants. 2. Aug 2023, 8 participants. 3. July 2024, 8 participants. 4. Aug 2024, 8 participants.

Actual timeline: IN PROGRESS: Two insemination workshops were conducted in 2023; 1. June, 2. July. We are participated in a field day of the Heartland Honey Bee Breeders Association in June 2023.  Two additional insemination workshops are scheduled for June and July 2024. Seven sets of equipment were distributed in 2023. Six more sets will be distributed in 2024.

Milestone 5 (evaluation). Each fact sheet, class, and workshop will be evaluated by the participants/users. Evaluators will critique the content, presentation style, and usefulness of each item. Changes will be made accordingly.

Timeline: Evaluation will be continuous throughout the project, but will conclude in February 2025.

Actual timeline: NOT YET BEGUN: Evaluations are planned for the future.

Milestone 6 (evaluation). Participants will track and report their personal progress with mastering each aspect of queen rearing (and artificial insemination) by recording time spent mastering each aspect of the process, number of queens reared, sold, and inseminated, survival, productivity, and mite resistance of resulting queens, and income generated by these practices via a monthly questionnaire. Robyn will monitor the progress of the program and report to the project advisory committee to provide updates and troubleshoot problems.

Timeline: May 2022 - January 2025

Actual timeline: IN PROGRESS: In September 2023 we conducted a survey of all participants in the program. Here are the results.


Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Somewhat disagree

Strongly Disagree


Increased beekeeping knowledge

65 (69.9%)

24 (25.8%)





Improved beekeeping practices

58 (62.4%)

24 (25.8%)





Adopted new practices

51 (54.8%)

33 (35.4%)





Better able to manage diseases

25 (27.2%)

36 (39.1%)





Improved assessment of quality of colonies

50 (53.8%)

26 (28.0%)





Improved understanding of honey bee biology

61 (65.6%)

23 (24.7%)





Improved understanding of queen production

68 (73.1%)

17 (18.3%)





Increased productivity of my operation

36 (39.1%)

33 (35.9%)





Helped connect to other beekeepers

37 (39.8%)

31 (33.3%)





Improved ability to understand scientific research

24 (25.8%)

44 (47.3%)





In addition, Robyn and Kate held one-one-one individual evalution meetings with the 2023 insemination trainees. During the meetings, the participants evaluated their skills, indicated the time spent practicing their skills, and outlined their plans for success in 2024.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
3 Published press articles, newsletters
42 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

185 Farmers participated

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:


Target: change/adoption:

*Improve attention to: nutrition, drone quality and populations, mite control
*Begin or Increase record keeping and data collection
*Begin or Increase queen production via grafting
*Begin or increase production of high quality queens based on data
*Use quality queens to begin or Increase drone production
Eliminate manipulations of natural queen cell production as a way to produce high quality queens
Alter methods for testing hygienic behaviors and mite resistance
Eliminate potentially harmful varroa treatments (eg. amitraz)
Implement the use of alternative or more queen rearing equipment
Begin practicing instrumental insemination
Apply knowledge gained to local beekeeping education groups

Target: amount of production affected:

82 queen producers

Target: quantified benefit(s):

Higher quality queens
More queens available for sale in the local area
Advancement of breeding efforts

Actual: number of farmers:


Actual: change/adoption:

***Began, Increased, or Improved recording keeping and data collection
*Established criteria for breeding program
*Improved the health and populations of drones
*Increased or Improved queen rearing equipment
*Applied knowledge gained to local beekeeping education groups
Began or increased queen production
Improved mating success
Improved queen quality
Increased frequency of inspections
Eliminated amitraz use

Actual: amount of production affected:

61 queen producers

Actual: quantified benefit(s):

Higher quality queens
More queens available for sale in the local area
Advancement of breeding efforts

Performance Target Outcome Narrative:

Participants in the program were anonymously polled. They were asked:

  1. Since the start of the EPIQ program in June 2022, have you changed any of your beekeeping practices? a. Yes, I have already implemented changes, b. No, but I plan to implement changes, c. No, I have not and will not implement changes
  2. Please briefly describe the changes you have or plan to make as a result of the EPIQ program
  3. Please describe how the changes you have made or will make will impact your operation. If applicable, describe the change in number and quality of queens you will produce.

Answers for number 2 and 3 included:

***Began, Increased, or Improved recording keeping and data collection

*Established criteria for breeding program

*Improved the health and populations of drones

*Increased or Improved queen rearing equipment

*Applied knowledge gained to local beekeeping education groups

Began or increased queen production

Improved mating success

Improved queen quality

Increased frequency of inspections

Eliminated amitraz

106 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Information Products

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.