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

Final 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

Summary:

Small-scale beekeepers in northern states like Massachusetts frequently lose 50% or more of their colonies over the winter. To replace their losses, they often buy bees and queens from southern states. However, there is evidence that queens reared from northern-adapted stock survive better in northern climates. Additionally, importing bees from other states spreads pests and diseases. If northern beekeepers bought or reared more local queens, it would improve the sustainability and resilience of beekeeping in our region. However, traditional queen rearing (10-day grafting) requires specialized knowledge and resources. This makes it inaccessible to many small or beginner beekeepers. The goal of this research project was to test the efficacy of two easier and more accessible queen rearing methods: 1) a novel 48-hour technique, which is an abbreviated version of the traditional method, and 2) walk-away splits, a commonly used method in which a beekeeper simply splits one colony into two new colonies and leaves the queen-less half alone to rear a new queen. Previous research suggests that queen rearing conditions affect queen survival and physiology, which in term affect colony outcomes; however, there has been little research on the impact of 48-hour or walk-away methods on queen quality.  We reared ~100 queens using each of the three methods (315 queens total), and then compared queen survival and worker population size between the treatments, as well as queen size and reproductive characteristics for a subset of queens. We found no significant differences in queen survival, size or reproductive characteristics between the treatments, suggesting that these simpler methods may produce queens that are just as good as the traditional "gold standard". This is very promising, because we could teach small-scale beekeepers to use these simpler methods, and improve their access to local high-quality queens. In order to disseminate these results, we spoke to 13 beekeeper groups, reaching over 450 beekeepers across 5 states (one of these talks was recorded, and is publicly available). We also created a multi-media queen-rearing guide (including over a dozen instructional videos), and a fact sheet that describes the research methods and results. 

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.

 

Background:

 

Nearly half of all Massachusetts hives died the winter of 2015-2016, according to the most recently published survey (Kulhanek et al. 2017). To replace hives, northern beekeepers often purchase “packages” (3 lbs. of bees and a queen) from southern states. However, hives with southern genetics may not survive northern winters as well. A series of SARE projects in Maine showed that hives headed by northern-adapted queens survived winter better than hives headed by southern-adapted queens (MacGregor-Forbes 2014).

 

These findings suggest that buying or rearing northern queens is a promising way to improve the sustainability of beekeeping in the Northeast. 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, typical queen rearing practices require complex logistics and lots of resources. Under the current model, queen rearers use a multistage process to raise queens from egg to mature queen cell. This process includes a technique called “grafting,” in which young larvae are manually transferred to tiny cups. The larvae are then placed in a resource-rich hive that is filled with honey, pollen and nurse bees. After 10 days, the queens are sold as mature pupae (called queen cells) (McNeil 2015).  

 

Alternatively, beekeepers can create new queens through walk-away splits, an easier method that may lead to sub-par queens. In this method, a beekeeper divides a hive, leaving the original queen in one box, and no queen in the other. The queenless hive then raises a queen from worker larvae. However, this queen may not receive sufficient royal jelly before key developmental milestones and may therefore be smaller and less fertile (McNeil 2015). Our 2018 survey showed that walk-away splits were the most common queen producing technique; 44% of surveyed beekeepers had tried making walk-away splits, while only 25% had attempted grafting. 

 

Recently, queen rearers have discussed a third method, called 48-hour queens. This technique is promising because it uses grafting to select for high-quality queens, as in the traditional method. However, queen larvae are sold after 48 hours (rather than 10 days), so it is logistically simpler. Because customers purchase queens at a younger age, this method encourages average beekeepers become more knowledgeable about queen development. It is also easier to teach and requires fewer “bee” resources than traditional queen rearing. In addition, this method results in a long egg-laying gap, which could disrupt Varroa mites, a ubiquitous bee pest. In short, this is a promising method for increasing the production of northern-hardy genetics, teaching beekeepers how to reach their own queens, and exchanging strong genetics among breeders.

 

However, there is no published literature comparing the reproductive quality of queens produced through these three methods (walk-away splits, traditional 10-day, or 48-hour). The first step in expanding the production of northern-hardy genetics is to determine the most resource-efficient method for raising high-quality queens in our bioregion.

 

48-hour queens have not yet been formally studied. However, there is interest across the country. Last year, a North Central SARE partnership grant was awarded to a group of Ohio beekeepers who plan to test the production of 48-hour queens (ONC19-062). Our research would complement theirs by exploring the same promising topic in a different region.

 

Furthermore, there is momentum around teaching and learning queen rearing in the Northeast. Another Northeast SARE grant is currently funding a group of beekeepers in New Hampshire to create a queen rearing network (along with other capacity-building projects for New Hampshire Beekeepers; NENH17-001). We would be happy to share the results from our study with that group in order to expand the impact of both grants and open the door to a New England-wide queen rearing effort.

 

Several studies have shown that northern-hardy genetics improve survival in northern climates. Between 2009 and 2014, Erin Forbes-MacGregor received three SARE grants to compare hives with northern and southern genetics. Across all three studies, she found that hives with northern queens were nearly twice as likely to survive winter as hives with southern queens. (MacGregor-Forbes 2014). These results are consistent with a recent European study, which found that bees kept in their native range had improved overwintering survival (Buchler et al. 2014). This research suggests that northern-hardy genetics could improve the sustainability of beekeeping in northern climates.

 

However, if we are going to expand the production of northern queens and potentially move to a 48-hour queen model, it is important to first make sure that we are producing high-quality queens, which will generate strong, resilient hives.

 

The term “high-quality” refers to queens with a high reproductive potential, that is, individuals who are large and contain substantial viable sperm. There is enormous variation in queen reproductive potential (ie. body size and sperm quality/quantity), and this reproductive potential ultimately impacts hive strength (Rangel et al. 2012, Amiri et al. 2017).

 

There is a robust literature showing that rearing conditions affect queen quality. For instance, the earlier an egg/larva is tracked as a queen, the more “queen-like” it becomes: it will be bigger, have a larger spermatheca (sperm storage sac), store more sperm and keep more of that sperm viable (Tarpy et al. 2011). Colonies headed by such queens produce more brood, store more food, and grow larger (Rangel et al. 2012). There is less research on the impact of nutrition, but one study found that queens reared in more nutrient-rich conditions had higher rates of colony acceptance but were not bigger (Gencer et al. 2000).  

 

Different queen rearing methods (eg. walk-away splits, 10-day queens, 48-hour queens) will produce different developmental conditions. However, there has been little research specifically testing the impact of queen rearing methods on queen reproductive potential. One study found that under emergency conditions (similar to a walk-away split) higher-quality queens (from younger larvae) were selected against (Tarpy et al. 1999), but another study found that they were preferentially raised (Hatch et al. 1999). Walk-away splits are typically not recommended, but there is clearly not robust research behind this claim.

 

In short, we know that queen quality (body size, sperm quantity/viability) has important implications for hive health, and that developmental conditions affect queen quality. However, we don’t know how specific queen rearing methods affect queen quality. This is a critical piece of knowledge if we are going to recommend and teach these methods to beekeepers. The goal of our research is to compare the quality of queens produced through three queen rearing methods, including a novel method.

 

Our long-term goal is to increase our capacity to produce, disseminate and exchange northern-hardy queens. This trial is a critical first step towards creating best management practices for queen rearing in the Northeast.

 

Amiri, Esmaeil, Micheline K. Strand, Olav Rueppell, and David R. Tarpy. 2017. “Queen Quality and the Impact of Honey Bee Diseases on Queen Health: Potential for Interactions between Two Major Threats to Colony Health.” Insects 8 (2). https://doi.org/10.3390/insects8020048.

 

Büchler, Ralph, Cecilia Costa, Fani Hatjina, Sreten Andonov, Marina D. Meixner, Yves Le Conte, Aleksandar Uzunov, et al. 2014. “The Influence of Genetic Origin and Its Interaction with Environmental Effects on the Survival of Apis Mellifera L. Colonies in Europe.” Journal of Apicultural Research 53 (2): 205–14. https://doi.org/10.3896/IBRA.1.53.2.03.

 

Gencer, H. V. (Ankara Univ (Turkey) Dept of Animal Sciences), S. Q. Shah, and C. Firatli. 2000. “Effects of Supplemental Feeding of Queen Rearing Colonies and Larval Age on the Acceptance of Grafted Larvae and Queen Traits.” Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences (Pakistan). http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=PK2000000402.

 

Hatch, S., D. R. Tarpy, and D. J. C. Fletcher. 1999. “Worker Regulation of Emergency Queen Rearing in Honey Bee Colonies and the Resultant Variation in Queen Quality.” Insectes Sociaux 46 (4): 372–77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s000400050159.

 

Kulhanek, Kelly, Nathalie Steinhauer, Karen Rennich, Dewey M. Caron, Ramesh R. Sagili, Jeff S. Pettis, James D. Ellis, et al. 2017. “A National Survey of Managed Honey Bee 2015–2016 Annual Colony Losses in the USA.” Journal of Apicultural Research 56 (4): 328–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/00218839.2017.1344496.

 

Li-Byarlay, Hongmei. 2019. “Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Outreach, USDA - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Annual Project (ONC19-062)  Improving the Honeybee Queen Qualities and Genetic Diversity by Transferring Selected Queen Cells.” https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/onc19-062/.

 

MacGregor-Forbes, E. 2014. “Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Outreach, USDA - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Annual Project (FNE12-1756) Report: A Comparison of Strength and Survivability of Honeybee Colonies Started with Conventional versus Northern Requeened Packages.” https://projects.sare.org/project-reports/fne12-756/.

 

McNeil, M.E.A. 2015. “Chapter 24: Production of Queens and Package Bees.” In The Hive and the Honey Bee: A New Book on Beekeeping Which Continues the Tradition of “Langstroth on the Hive and the Honeybee,” Revised Edition. Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons.

 

Rangel, J., J. J. Keller, and D. R. Tarpy. 2013. “The Effects of Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera L.) Queen Reproductive Potential on Colony Growth.” Insectes Sociaux 60 (1): 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-012-0267-1.

 

Saunders, Olivia. 2018. “Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Outreach, USDA - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Annual Project (NENH17-001) Tech-Transfer for New Hampshire Beekeepers.” https://projects.sare.org/project-reports/nenh17-001/.

 

Tarpy, David, J J. Keller, Joel Caren, and Deborah Delaney. 2011. “Experimentally Induced Variation in the Physical Reproductive Potential and Mating Success in Honey Bee Queens.” Insectes Sociaux 58 (November): 569–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-011-0180-z.

 

Tarpy, David R., Shanti Hatch, and David J. C. Fletcher. 1999. “The Influence of Queen Age and Quality during Queen Replacement in Honeybee Colonies.” Animal Behaviour 59 (1): 97–101. https://doi.org/10.1006/anbe.1999.1311.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Ang Roell - Producer (Educator and Researcher)
  • Sam Comfort - Producer (Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:

1. General Approach

The research was carried out by Ang Roell (AR), Sam Comfort (SC), Hannah Whitehead (HW), and research assistant Bi Kline (BK). AR, SC and BK conducted the bulk of the queen rearing, while HW conducted the analysis and assisted with data collection. We conducted two rounds of queen rearing and testing in 2020, comparing queens reared using traditional 10-day (10D) methods, 48-hour (48H) methods or walk-away splits (WA).

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. About 50 queens in each treatment group were reared in each round (see Results for final numbers). 

 

2. Each round of queen rearing was conducted as follows:

(NOTE: larvae from different treatments were grafted on different days so that they could be placed into mating nucs on the same day, but at different developmental stages, i.e. 10-days old or 2-days old)

  1. Eggs grafted for 10-day cells
    • May 10 and June 7 at They Keep Bees in Montague, MA: young larvae were grafted and placed in a queen-less cell raiser. (These larvae would ultimately become 10-day cells)
    • After 7 days, the young pupae were transferred to an incubator
  2. Eggs grafted for 48-hr cells
    • May 18 and June 15 at They Keep Bees in Montague, MA: young larvae were grafted and placed in a queen-less cell raiser. (These larvae would ultimately become 48-hr cells).
  3. Mating Nucs Prepared
    • May 19 and June 17 at Anarchy Apiaries: Existing queens were removed from~150 mating nucs. These nucs were used for all three treatments.
  4. Queen Cells Installed
    • May 20 and June 18 at Anarchy Apiaries: 48H and 10D queen cells were dropped into some of the queen-less nucs. ~50 nucs received 48H cells, ~50 received 10D cells and ~50 received no cells (walk-away treatment).
  5. Queens Assessed
    • June 15 and July 14 at Anarchy Apiaries: After ~1 month, the nucs were assessed for queen survival and population size. A subset of queens in each group (6 per group in round one and 11 per group in round two) were removed and sent to the Tarpy Lab for analysis.
  6. Varroa Mites Assessed
    • August 12 at Anarchy Apiaries: We assessed Varroa mites for a subset of the colonies, using an alcohol wash, which is the standard method for measuring mite levels (Dietemann et al. 2013).

 

3. Response variables. For each queen, we collected the following data: 

  1. Field metrics (measured by our team on site):
    • Queen survival: whether nucs contained a living mated queen at the one-month assessment 
    • Nuc population size: at the one-month assessment, we rated nuc population size on a scale of 1-3: sparse (1), average (2) or bubbling over(3)
  2. Lab Metrics (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 physiological quality (queen weight, thorax width and head width), and mating quality (the amount and viability of sperm stored in the queen’s spermatheca).

 

4. Statistical Analysis

We used generalized linear models with appropriate error distributions to assess how queen rearing method, round (May or June) and their interaction affected each response. When significant, we assessed pairwise comparisons. All analyses were conducted with R Statistical Software version 4.1.1. 

We predicted that queens produced by the 48 hour method would be larger and store more viable sperm than queens produced through walk-away splits, and would be of equivalent quality to queens produced through the complex 10-day method.

 

5. Photos

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

Research results and discussion:

Overall, 315 queens were raised for this project. 94 10-day queens, 113 48-hour queens and 108 walk-away queens. There were 134 queens in round 1, and 181 queens in round 2 (Table 1):

Queen Survival

The survival rate for 10-day, 48-hour and walk-away queens were 68%, 68% and 66% respectively.  The survival rate for queens reared in round 1 was 69% and the survival rate for round 2 was 66%. To test the effect of treatment on queen survival, we used a generalized linear model with a binomial error distribution. The dependent variable was queen survival to mated adulthood (yes/no), and the independent variables were treatment (10-day, 48-hour and walk-away) and round (“one”, “two”). There was no significant interaction between treatment and round (p = 0.40), so we dropped the interaction from the model. There was no significant effect of treatment (p = 0.94) or round (p = 0.53) on queen survival (see Figure 1. Queen Research Results).

 

Nucleus Population Size

When we analyzed nuc population size, we included only queenright colonies with complete population data (209 nucs total), since we were only interested in comparing population size if the queen rearing process was successful. 

The average nuc population size ratings for 10-day, 48-hour and walk-away queens were 2.56, 2.51 and 2.26 respectively. The average nuc population size rating for round 1 queens was 2.57, and for round 2 queens was 2.34.  We tested the effect of treatment on nuc population size using an ordinal logistic regression. The dependent variable was nuc population size rating (1, 2, 3), and the independent variables were treatment (10-day, 48-hour and walk-away) and round (“one”, “two”). There was no significant interaction between treatment and round (p = 0.87), so we dropped the interaction from the model. There was no significant effect of treatment on population size (p=0.07). The effect of round on population size was significant (p=0.047). The average nuc population rating at one month was significantly smaller in round 2 (2.34) than in round 1 (2.57). We tested pairwise comparisons among treatments, and still found no significant effect of treatment on nuc population size (p>0.10) (see Figure 1. Queen Research Results).

 

Tarpy Lab Analyses

We sent 51 queens to the Tarpy lab for analysis: 6 for each treatment in the first round, and 11 for each treatment in the second round.

For average morphological and insemination measurements per treatment, see Table 2. Queen Lab Measurements. We tested the effect of round and treatment on queen morphological measurements (weight, head width, thorax width) and insemination measurements (total sperm count, viable sperm count, percent viable sperm, spermatheca diameter, and percent spermatheca filled). We also analyzed summary statistics from the lab: morphological grade (which incorporated all morphological measurements), insemination grade (which incorporated all insemination measurements) and overall grade. For continuous data, we used linear models. For percent data, we used beta regressions. All models contained treatment and round as independent variables, and a queen measurement (e.g. head width) or grade (e.g. morphological grade) as the dependent variable. For all queen measurements and grades, we found no effect of treatment (p > 0.21). For all measurements and grades except "percent spermatheca filled", we found no effect of  round (p> 0.12). We did find a significant effect of round on "percent spermatheca filled" (p=0.020). Average percent spermatheca filled was smaller in round 2 (57%) than round 1 (65%) (see Figure 1. Queen Research Results).

 

Varroa Mite Analysis

Our data collection process was cut short, and we did not collect enough Varroa mite data to analyze.

Research conclusions:

For this research project, we aimed to compare the quality of queens produced through three different methods: 10-day (the gold standard for queen rearing), 48-hour (an abbreviated version of the 10-day method) and walk-away splits (an easier but less precise queen rearing method). We were specifically interested to discover whether queens reared through simpler methods (48-hour, walk-away) were of similar reproductive and morphological quality to queens reared using more the more complicated 10-day method. Queen morphological and reproductive characteristics are important because they are influenced by rearing conditions and are correlated with future laying potential and ultimately hive health - however, there has been little research that specifically links rearing methods with queen characteristics. Our overall goal was to find effective yet simple queen rearing methods that we could later teach to small-scale beekeepers in order to lower barriers to queen rearing, increase the number of northern-hardy queens in northern climates and strengthen the resilience and sustainability of beekeeping in the Northeast. 

Based on conventional beekeeping wisdom, we expected walk-away queens to have lower reproductive potential (i.e. poorer morphological and insemination quality) than queens rearing through the traditional 10-day grafting method. We expected the quality of 48-hour queens to fall somewhere in between walk-away and 10-day queens. 

However, we were surprised to find no significant difference in queen size, queen reproductive characteristics, queen survival or nuc population size between the three treatment groups. This means that 48-hour and walk-away methods have potential as easy yet effective queen rearing techniques. We did find that "percent spermatheca filled" was lower in round 2 than round 1. This may be the result of many factors, including weather during the mating period.  

These results suggest that we can raise high-quality queens using easier, less resource-intensive methods. Future research could explore the long-term effect of these rearing methods on egg-laying, disease and winter survival, or could test the most effective way to make a walk-away split (there are many variations). Ultimately, easier techniques could make queen rearing more accessible to small-scale 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.

 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
12 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

503 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

In order to provide education and outreach about this research, we carried out the following:

 

Workshops/talks:

  • Our original plan was to host hands-on workshops and field days to share our research. However, due to COVID-19 health concerns, we decided to give virtual talks instead. H. Whitehead, A. Roell and S. Comfort spoke about this research and our results at 11 beekeeper meetings across 4 Northeast states, reaching 445 beekeepers (6 talks to MA bee groups, 2 talks to NH bee groups, 1 talk to a VT bee group, and a national meeting). A. Roell also gave an in-person talk in North Carolina, and A. Roell and S. Comfort taught a 6-hour queen workshop in South Carolina, reaching an additional 25 beekeepers. 
  • One of these presentations (given by H. Whitehead to the Middlesex County Beekeepers Association in spring 2021) was posted to YouTube, where it is publicly available, and has already received 35 additional views: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSYGhnW8_L4. Note that this presentation was based on preliminary data, so slideshow figures differ slightly from Final Report figures, though they show similar trends.

Written and multi-media materials: 

  • H. Whitehead, with editing help from A. Roell and L. Adler, wrote a 5-page fact sheet summarizing research results, which can be viewed here: Roads to Royalty: Comparing Three Methods of Queen Production.
  • A. Roell created a Guide to Queen Rearing in the Northeast, with editing help from B. Kline, S. Comfort and H. Whitehead. The guide was designed by Jae Southerland and includes artwork by Hang Tran. This unique multi-media guide includes over a dozen links to instructional videos and footage from our 2020 field work (see "Digital Outreach" below). It also includes a link to the 5-page research fact sheet, and to the publicly available video of H. Whitehead's research talk (see "Workshops/talks" above).  

Digital outreach:

  • We shared information about the grant and research on the UMass Extension website, here:  https://ag.umass.edu/resources/pollinators/research-projects-at-umass/48-hour-queen-project 
  • Because we were unable to host workshops or field days, we shot over a dozen videos during our 2020 field work, in which we explained each step of the queen rearing process. These videos can be accessed through the Queen Rearing Guide (see "Written and multi-media materials" above). 

Learning Outcomes

2 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:

Conventional beekeeping wisdom suggests that labor-intensive 10-day queen rearing methods (the "gold standard") should produce the best queens, but our research found that queens produced using simpler methods had comparable physiological and reproductive characteristics. Both farmer cooperators were surprised and pleased to find that all three queen rearing methods produced comparable queens. Both said that they intended to learn more about walk-away splits - the simplest and most accessible of the three methods. They also intend to teach walk-away splits to new beekeepers, using funding from a subsequent SARE Research and Education grant, which was based on the results of this research. 

Beekeepers who attended virtual talks were similarly surprised and intrigued to learn that simpler queen rearing methods (like walk-away splits) produced high quality queens. Many participants said that they planned to try making walk-away splits for the first time the following season, as a result of these research findings. They were also eager to see more research on the nuances of making good walk-away splits. 

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$124,034.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project was successful in multiple ways:

  • It strengthened collaborations between UMass Extension, They Keep Bees and Anarchy Apiaries
  • Based on the results of this research, and collaborations formed, A. Roell and S. Comfort wrote and received a $124,034 SARE Research and Education grant (LNE21-422) to teach "generative" beekeeping practices, including the queen rearing techniques studied through this grant (https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/lne21-422/)
  • Our main research result was that queens produced through simpler rearing methods were physiologically and reproductively comparable to those produced through more labor-intensive methods. This is an exciting result, because those simpler methods are easier to teach to new beekeepers, and require fewer start-up resources. Disseminating knowledge about these simpler methods could allow more northern beekeepers (including small-scale beekeepers) to raise northern queens on-site, increasing the sustainability and resilience of beekeeping in the Northeast. 
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Despite conducting research during the height of a global pandemic, this project went relatively smoothly. We aimed to compare morphological characteristics of queens reared in three ways, and we ended up with compelling results which suggest that there are not significant physiological differences between queens reared in these ways. 

We had initially proposed this research because we were interested in a novel 48-hour queen rearing method, which could be easier than the traditional 10-day method, but more effective than the simpler walk-away split method. However, we were surprised to find that queens produced using all three methods were comparable - suggesting not only that 48-hour methods work, but walk-away splits have more potential than we'd initially thought. This is very exciting, given that walk-away splits are relatively accessible, and easier to teach to new beekeepers. 

These unexpected results raise several follow-up questions, which are important to beekeepers and which could be explored in future research:

  • How do these queens compare the following season, in terms of important factors like laying pattern, disease and overwintering survival?
  • Would the rearing methods have more of an affect on queen outcomes under different weather conditions or locations?
  • This research showed that our walk-away splits did not produce sub-par queens, as expected by conventional beekeeper wisdom - in fact, they were physiological equivalent to those produced using more complex methods. This is very promising, in terms of finding an accessible queen rearing method to teach new beekeepers. However, there are many ways to make a walkaway split. What is the best method? 

A. Roell and S. Comfort will teach the simpler queen rearing methods (48-hour queens and walk-away splits) in their upcoming "generative" beekeeping program. 

In terms of outreach and education, our plans were affected by COVID-19. We were not able to offer the hands-on workshops that we'd planned. We instead gave virtual talks to bee clubs around the region describing our research and results, reaching nearly 450 beekeepers. We also pivoted swiftly to create a series of instructional videos and a multi-media queen rearing guide, that will be publicly available and used as an educational tool in future workshops/classes. 

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.