To build on previous SARE research and improve our ability to produce northern-hardy genetics, we will test three queen rearing methods, including one novel technique (48-hour queens). Our specific objectives are to:
1) Compare the reproductive potential of queens produced through three methods (48-hour, 10-day and walk- away splits) using the following metrics:
- Queen acceptance
- Hypothesis: queen acceptance will not be different across our three treatments
- Queen rearing quality (weight, head width, thorax width)
- Hypothesis: queens produced through grafting (48-hour and 10-day) will be larger than queens produced through walk-away splits
- Queen mating quality (number and viability of stored sperm)
- Hypothesis: queens produced through grafting (48-hour and 10-day) will have more sperm, and a higher percentage of viable sperm, than queens produced through walk-away splits
2) Produce a guide to queen rearing methods in the Northeast, which incorporates best practices and the research results
3) Conduct workshops to teach beekeepers how to raise their own queens using this method.
If this project is successful, it will expand the accessibility of queen rearing and northern-hardy genetics in the Northeast, ultimately increasing the sustainability and resilience of beekeeping in our region.
Recent SARE research found that honey bee hives headed 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. And beekeepers know this; in fall 2018, we surveyed 116 Northeast beekeepers, and found that 65% “usually” or “always” seek out queens reared from Northeast stock, and 68% are “very interested” in learning how to rear queens. However, producing high-quality queens in the Northeast is logistically complicated and resource intensive. This project will compare queens produced through two common rearing methods (10-day queen cells and walk-away splits) with a novel method (48-hour queens). This novel method, which may produce high-quality queens using fewer resources and simpler techniques, would be easier to teach to beekeepers, and could enhance our ability to improve and exchange genetic stock. We will compare the quality of queens produced through these three methods to determine which technique is most effective and resource-efficient in our bioregion. To share our findings and improve beekeeping strategies, we will host queen rearing workshops for backyard beekeepers and produce a guide to queen rearing in the Northeast. By comparing queen rearing methods and testing a new, promising technique (48-hour queens), this research will enhance our ability to disseminate high quality northern genetics and teach queen rearing to beekeepers, ultimately improving the sustainability and resilience of beekeeping in our region.
Work on this grant will begin in February 2020.
We will conduct two rounds of queen rearing and testing (May and June 2020), which follows the typical queen rearing calendar in the Northeast.
For each round of queen rearing, we will utilize 150 mating nucleus hives (mini queen rearing hives) made and housed at Anarchy Apiaries in NY State. The nucs will be maintained at Anarchy Apiaries with the support of Angela Roell of Yard Birds Farm and Apiary. One third of the nucs (50 total) will receive each queen treatment.
Nucleus hives (nucs) will be created by placing 2 frames of brood (including eggs), 1 frame of food (nectar and pollen) and a shake of bees into a nuc (bees, brood and food will be taken from strong queen-right colonies from Anarchy Apiaries). The nucs will be sealed and stored for 48 hours in the cool, dark “splitting shed” (a 4’ x 8’ structure with a solar powered fan to promote airflow). The shed will bond young bees to one another and keep bees from drifting or absconding. This will prevent the loss of foraging bees crucial to gathering natural food for the nucs. The new nucs will be fed sugar syrup (in a top feeder) and pollen as necessary, following typical beekeeping practices and seasonal availability of nectar and pollen.
For the first treatment (walk-away split, “WS”), the queenless nucs will be removed from the shed, placed on their respective stands and left alone to raise a new queen from worker eggs.
For both the 48-hour (48H) and 10-day (10D) treatments we will create a starter cell builder box, by filling a bee box with honey, pollen, nurse bees, and nectar and pollen, but no queen. We will then dry-graft young larvae from treatment colonies into queen cups, which will be placed in the cell builder box for 48 hours. For the 48H treatment, the queen cups will be removed from the starter cell builder after 48 hours and placed in nucs.
For the 10D treatment, the starter cell builder box will be combined with a queen-right finisher hive. This hive will be stocked with abundant food and nurse bees (obtained from 12 purchased bee packages). Cells will ripen in the cell builder hive for an additional eight days. After ten total days, the capped queen cells will be removed and placed in nucs. This procedure follows typical queen rearing protocols from Larry Connor’s book “Queen Rearing Essentials” (Connor 2009).
Nucs will be arranged at least 5 m apart, to reduce the chance of Varroa mite transmission between colonies. They will be marked with a colored symbol so mated queens can accurately orient to their mating nuc when returning from mating flights.
Each queen will require 16 days to develop into an adult, and an additional week to mature and conduct a mating flight. It will therefore take approximately 23 days total for her to begin laying eggs.
- After 23 days, we will visually assess queen acceptance (whether nucs contain a laying queen) for each of the three treatments.
- After 23 days, we will also ship 10 queens from each treatment (one third of the treatment queens) for reproductive quality analysis at Dr. David Tarpy’s Queen and Disease Clinic at North Carolina State University. This analysis includes both rearing quality (queen weight, thorax width and head width), and mating quality (the amount and viability of sperm stored in the queen’s spermatheca).
- In September, we will assess Varroa mite levels for both rounds of queen rearing using an alcohol wash (the standard method for determining mite levels) (Dietemann et al. 2013).
We will use generalized linear models with appropriate error distributions (e.g., binomial for queen acceptance, Gaussian for continuous responses, Poisson for count responses such as amount of sperm) to assess how queen rearing method, round (May or June) and their interaction affect each response. These analyses will tell us important information about the reproductive potential of queens produced through these three methods. They will serve as a foundation for any future studies comparing hive-level responses (eg. brood area, egg-laying rate, etc.).
We predict that queens produced by the 48 hour method will be larger and store more viable sperm than queens produced through walk-away splits, and will be of equivalent quality to queens produced through the complex 10-day method. If we find that 48-hour queens and 10-day queens have equivalent reproductive potential, it means that we can raise high-quality queens using an easier, less resource-intensive method. This would make queen rearing more accessible to backyard beekeepers, and would dramatically enhance our ability to produce, disseminate and exchange northern-hardy genetics, ultimately improving the survival of honey bee colonies in the Northeast.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
In September 2020, we will host two workshops for beekeepers to demonstrate our methods and present our results. During the fall, we will write up our results and experiences into a digital “Guide to Queen Rearing Methods for the Northeast”. We will also produce a shorter visual fact sheet which could be used for future workshops.