Identifying the Most Effective and Accessible Queen Rearing Method to Strengthen Northeast Beekeeping Practices

Progress report for ONE19-326

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $17,879.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2021
Grant Recipient: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Hannah Whitehead
University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

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:

  1. Queen acceptance
    • Hypothesis: queen acceptance will not be different across our three treatments
  2. 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
  3. 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.

 

Introduction:

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.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Angela Roell (Educator and Researcher)
  • Sam Comfort (Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:
 

General Approach

We conducted two rounds of queen rearing and testing in 2020. Round 1 queens were reared May 10-20 and assessed June 15; round 2 queens were reared June 7-17 and assessed July 14. This follows the typical queen rearing calendar in the Northeast. We compared three queen rearing methods: traditional 10-day (10D), 48-hour (48H) and walk-away splits (WA). 

The research was carried out by Ang Roell (AR), Sam Comfort (SC), Hannah Whitehead (HW), and the research assistant, Bi Kline (BK). Each round of queen rearing was conducted as follows:

  1. 10D Queen Graft: AR and BK graft young larvae from a breeder queen into a queen-less cell raiser (at “They Keep Bees” apiary in Montague MA). These larvae will be raised using the 10-day method. [May 10, June 7]
    • After 7 days, the larvae are transferred to an incubator
  2. 48H Queen Graft: AR and BK graft young larvae from a breeder queen into a queen-less cell raiser (at “They Keep Bees” apiary in Montague MA). These larvae will be raised using the 48-hour method. [May 18, June 15]
  3. Existing queens are removed from mating nucs at Anarchy Apiaries by SC, AR and BK. These queen-less nucs will be used for all three treatments. [May 19 and June 17]
  4. 48H and 10D queen cells are dropped into some of the queen-less nucs by SC, AR and BK [May 20 and June 18]. This creates three types of nucs: ~50 with 48H queens, ~50 with 10D queens and ~50 who will raise their own queen (WA). 
  5. After ~1 month, the queens are assessed for survival and size by SC, AR, BK and HW. A subset of queens in each group are removed and sent to the Tarpy lab in North Carolina for analysis. [June 15 and July 14]
  6. August 12, we assessed Varroa mite levels for a subset of the colonies (HW and AR)

 

Responses Measured:

  • On site:
    • Queen acceptance (whether nucs contain a laying queen) for each of the three treatments.
    • Queen size assessment
    • Nuc size assessment
    • Varroa mite levels using an alcohol wash (the standard method for determining mite levels) (Dietemann et al. 2013)
  • A subset of queens from each treatment were sent for 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).

Photos

Evaluating a bee hive
Sam Comfort evaluates a research queen
Opening hives
Ang Roell and Bi Kline evaluate research queens
Bee queens ready to be mailed
Honey bee queens, all packed up and ready to ship for analysis

 

Research results and discussion:
  •  

During October 2020-January 2021 HW conducted an analysis of the data, and continues to finalize the analysis, in collaboration with AR, SC and BK. More detailed results and discussion will be added once the analysis is complete. 

So far, it appears that all three queen rearing methods result in similar queens, who are equivalent in size and survival rate. This is surprising and exciting: we would expect 10-day queens to be far superior to queens raised through simpler walk-away or 48-hour methods. It suggests that we can raise high-quality queens using easier, less resource-intensive methods. This could make queen rearing more accessible to backyard beekeepers, and could dramatically enhance our ability to produce, disseminate and exchange northern-hardy genetics, ultimately improving the survival of honey bee colonies in the Northeast.

The next step is to finalize the analysis, and create outreach materials (including a video, fact sheet and presentation). 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:
  1. During summer 2020, we took video footage of the research process. 
  2. In January and February 2021, we will create a fact sheet and assemble a video about the research.
  3. In March 2021, we will upload the fact sheet and video to the UMass Extension pollinator resources page.
  4. February-July 2021, we will give talks to bee clubs and other organizations to disseminate the results. (At these talks, we will show the video and distribute the fact sheet (2)). 
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.