The Rocky Mountain Survivor Queenbee Cooperative

Report for OW12-024

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2012: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Melanie Kirby
Zia Queenbee Co.
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Project Information


The Rocky Mountain Survivor Queenbee Rearing Cooperative is an all-women queen honeybee breeding and rearing exchange focusing on high altitude alpine survivor stock establishment and promotion. Promotion of naturally hearty pest and pathogen-resistant honeybee stock leads to regional fortification of area bee stock, which assists in assuring beekeeping sustainability (for bee products and services), along with food security for our surrounding communities. The cooperative is composed of nine women beekeepers: six in New Mexico and three in Colorado. High-altitude locations span seven different counties across state lines. We plan to establish mountain survivor stock from our own apiaries and from introduced strains, which have demonstrated longevity and hygienic abilities in order to select breeders from these tested colonies. Selected breeders will serve to provide appropriate aged diploid larvae for grafting survivor stock queenbees. We will conduct cross-matings for exchange and monitor the performance of grafted survivor stock lines. Integration and promotion throughout our own apiaries will strengthen each participant’s beekeeping endeavors, fortify our communities’ needs for sustainable and healthy pollination and allow sharing stock with our beekeeping neighbors. All project queens will be marked and monitored for multiple seasons in order to develop their “survivorship pedigree” and to establish our broadened survivor genetics breeding pool. After surviving two winters, breeding contenders will then be used for larval grafts to repeat the process of out-crossing and to exchange with participating women. Mating nucs will rear queens for exchange and will be made available to area beekeepers. All project queens will be monitored and reintroduced into the breeding pool after individual two year survival. The Rocky Mountain Survivor Queenbee Cooperative is a distinctive and creative project involving women beekeepers serving as producers and is professionally facilitated by an established woman queenbee breeder. This initiative focuses on survivor stock/chemical-free queen honeybee breeding and rearing by enhancing skills and services of area female apiculturists while lending to their offering of community services--- quality pollination, honey and bee products production, and bee farming area production and sustainability. This project develops a network of producer support and supports their efforts to serve as resources for area enthusiasts. All of these aspects are crucial to the sustainability of beekeeping in the region and its promotion of sustainable food production and security. This project addresses several problems and situations currently afflicting American beekeepers. It will assist in curbing importation of pests and diseases; thusly inhibiting spread of CCD-Colony Collapse Disorder, which was identified in 2005. Research has yet to yield a single cause and current research is avidly investigating the roots of its manifestation. Developing and selecting the needed higher quality strains takes time and funds. By utilizing longevity as a selection tool, breeding contenders will have demonstrated how well they have been able to withstand the fluctuations of the natural seasonal cycles and the intense winters/short summers of alpine areas over time. Currently, natural beekeeping, and natural farming, are experiencing a devastating decline due to the lack of quality stock, changing climate and the encroachment of "engineered' chemical agricultural farming practices. Keeping honeybees healthy and productive is a genuine challenge. The increase of drought conditions, wildfires and predatory threat (bears and habitat encroachment) also contribute to the overall decline in beekeeping. Developing a pedigree of quality honeybee stock is necessary to demonstrate the validity and sustainability of beekeeping. Beekeepers and farmers throughout the United States and abroad have experienced contamination losses due to new viral pathogens, pests, promoted chemical farming practices and genetically modified cultivations. While interest in beekeeping has increased recently, one obstacle for the aspiring beekeeper is obtaining healthy honeybees. Finding locally adapted stock is a challenge. Choosing to buy and import bees from large-scale commercial operations in high production zones carries the big risk of importing contaminated stock, which then threatens and affects local beekeepers and their bees. Contaminated stock also threatens area pollination, bee products and broad ranging bee services. There is a sincere need and calling for those who are dedicated to their livestock (namely honeybees) to take initiative and realize their region's potential to provide sustainable, renewable and fortified resources for their livelihoods and community benefit. I will serve as the Ag Professional for The Rocky Mountain Survivor Queenbee Cooperative project in order to share my skills with area producers such that we can supply our region with healthy pollinators. I co-own and operate Zia Queenbee Co. which is located in Truchas, New Mexico, at 8300’ elevation. Zia Queenbee Co. focuses on survivor queenbee stock breeding and production rearing. We collaborate with our peers and also look to support area enthusiasts by offering advanced beekeeping and queen rearing workshops, along with community seminars and symposiums. We keep bees from the Mesilla Valley of Las Cruces in southern NM (at 3900’ elevation) traveling north along the Rio Grande up to Taos in northern NM (at 9000’ elevation). We have on average about 300 full size support hives along with close to 600 mating nucs (during the summer rearing season). We provide pollination services for area orchards and farms (in NM) and also provide outreach and educational presentations.

Project Objectives:

 1. (January-April) Ag Professional composes project protocol manual for issue to producers at first meeting.
 2. (April) Hold first meeting to discuss timeline and coordinate site visit calendar (meeting location in NM- Taos area).
 3. (May) Get equipment assembled/mating apiaries bear fenced.
 4. (June) Bring participants to ZQB farm for weekend Queenrearing workshop and to schedule brood exchange/cell exchange.
 5. (June) Conduct first graft for swapping (approximately two week process. Stock mating nuclei. Deliver ripe cells for out-crossing and pick up cells- round 1.
 6. (July) Exchange mated queens (five week process from graft to harvest)* from round 1 and swap cells for round 2.
 7. (August) Exchange round 2 mated queens and swap cells/brood for round 3.
 8. (September) Exchange round 3 queens and mark all queens/collect data.
 9. (October) Review season and begin discussions for following spring
 10. (November) Review documentation and compile data for reports to producers and Western SARE.
 1. (January) Presentation at NM Beekeepers Association Annual Meeting.
 2. (March) Survey overwintering ability and continue discussions for spring production.
 3. (April) Secondary overwintering ability survey. Meeting to plan summer 2013 rearing schedule. Begin writing Manual.
 4. (May) Selection of new breeders from personal stock.
 5. (June) Grafting for round 1. Stocking of nucs and exchanging of cells/brood. Presentation for Colorado State Beekeepers Summer Meeting.
 6. (July) Exchange round 1 mated queens and swap cells for round 2.
 7. (summer) Workshops in NM & CO.
 8. (August) Exchange round 2 mated queens and swap cells for round 3.
 9. (September) Exchange round 3 queens and mark all queens/collect data. Presentation for Western Apicultural Society Annual Conference (NM).
 10. (October) Review season and begin discussions for spring 2013
 Discuss Manual (to be written by Ag Professional with input and data
 from producer participants).
 11. (October-December) Compose and publish manual for distribution at North Am. Beekeeping Conference.
 1. (January) Presentation at North American Beekeeping Conference.
 *Manual published and available to other area beekeepers.
 2. (March) Survey overwintering ability and continue discussions for spring production.
 3. (April) Secondary overwintering ability survey and meeting for planning of summer.
 4. (May) Selection of 2012 reared project queens for breeding!!!
 Presentation for Northern NM Rocky Mountain Sweet Spring Sting
 5. (June) Grafting for round 1. Stocking of nucs and exchange of cells/brood.
 6. (July) Exchange round 1 mated queens and exchange/grafting for round 2.
 7. (August) Exchange round 2 mated queens and swap cells for round 3.
 8. (summer) Workshops in NM and CO.
 9. (September) Exchange round 3 queens and mark all queens/collect data.
 10. (October) Review season and Wrap-Up. Final Project Review
 Discuss future plans and ideas for continuation of queen exchange.


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  • Meg McGee
  • Resa Sawyer
  • Kate Whealen


Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes
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.