Northern Production of Disease and Mite Resistant Queen Honey Bees

2008 Annual Report for FNC06-641

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $4,409.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $2,940.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
stewart jacobson
Illinois Queen Initiative

Northern Production of Disease and Mite Resistant Queen Honey Bees


2008 Queen Production to date:
To date there have been two successful grafts producing queen cells: the first on June 13, the second on June 28. As a result we have produced about 30 queens. Cool, rainy weather was a major factor causing delays; as were much greater than normal colony mortalities at Steve Staley’s yards, which meant that only the Rochester City site had enough colonies and bees to be used as a queen mating yard. An additional, successful graft occurred in late August.

We plan at least two additional grafts: one in late July-early August and one in late August; possibly September if there is a good nectar flow from wildflowers (which will improve chances of success). We now believe that would be worthwhile to raise queens during the summer months using slightly different methods than last summer. Early this year we spoke with an Illinois queen producer who has had reasonable success into fall.

Because queen rearing was delayed, we did not try to market queens this year, since there were none in early-mid May when most local beekeepers were interested. Unfortunately, in most years, it is difficult to predictably raise them in our area at that time.

Improvements made during 2008: As discussed in the Progress Report for 200, nine of the surviving queens raised in 2007 were sold as part of small nucleus colonies. There was quite a bit of interest in purchasing these nuclei, which are a superior substitute for “package bees” and may offer a more profitable way to market queens than the queens alone. We plan to sell more nuclei in 2009. Coincidently, many of the package bees received by area beekeepers from California had problems with the queens.

Educational Activities: To date five talks on the importance of using disease and mite resistant queens have been given this year to a total of 217 persons. Locations/venues include a day long program at the Kankakee Valley Beekeepers Association; an introductory class of the Lincoln Land Beekeepers Association; the summer meeting of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association; at a State Line Beekeepers Association meeting, which draws beekeepers from Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois; and the Eastern Apicultural Society meeting in northern Kentucky, which attracted many beekeepers form Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. An article on disease and mite resistant queens has been prepared for publication in the trade journal Bee Culture, where an article on a related topic we previously published.

Additional activities: One of the most promising potential results of the project is the formation of an “Illinois Queen Project” I response to the talk at the Illinois State Beekeepers Association summer meeting. The purpose is to promote the raising of queens adapted to Illinois climate and conditions. A group of seven experienced beekeepers met on August 10 to plan how the project would function. Leadership is being provided by me, the president of the Central-East Illinois Beekeepers Association and the president of the State Line Beekeepers Association. The current proposal is a direct outgrowth of this effort.

The dates were later than we had planned and fewer queens were produced. There were several reasons for this situation:
1) The rainy cool weather further delayed obtaining a successful graft
2) The Varroa mites appears to have caused a high mortality rate of colonies (with only six weak ones surviving) on the Staley farm, where the queen cells are produced; this necessitated transfer of colonies from my bee yards, which suffered somewhat less mortality
3) An 18 day delay in receiving Minnesota Hygienic breeder queens; this was also related to delays due to weather in North Carolina where they were raised
4) The weather also meant that Steve had to balance queen rearing and beekeeping with getting his crops planted
It should be noted that even if we had been successful with an earlier graft, there is a good possibility that there would have been insufficient male bees (drones) to mate with the young queens, since colonies usually raise few male bees during period of unfavorable weather. Under these circumstances, the resulting queens are often insufficiently mates and are of poor quality. Also, as noted above, the losses of colonies at the Staley Farm meant that queens could only be mated at the New City bee yard, which had enough bees to make up 20 or so nuclei as well as large colonies to produce male bees.

Work Activities
The first component of the project is to produce and sell Minnesota Hygienic queens to local beekeepers. Hygienic worker bees control devastating diseases of honey bee larvae and pupae (collectively called brood) by removing diseased individuals before the disease causing organisms have the chance to reproduce and spread within colonies. We used standard “cell grafting” methods to raise queens: very young female larvae from a selected breeder colony were transferred into prepared “cups” and placed into a “cell starter”, a well provisioned and populous colony which has had its queen and all the larvae removed. Lacking a queen, the cell starter will start produce up to 40 queen cells or more replacements for the queen which was removed. These are moved into a cell finisher, which is a populous colony that can provide the large amounts of protein and fats needed to raise queens from the grafted larvae.

During 2007 about 115 viable queen cells were produced in three rounds of production on May 30, June 25 and July 24, with each round averaging 38 cells. These were introduced separately into mating nuclei in two different apiaries. Nuclei are small colonies from which the virgin queens take mating flights and are kept until they begin laying eggs, at which point they are then sold or placed into larger colonies. The results are reported below.

The second project component was local marketing of the queens occurred first through the annual summer meeting of the local beekeeping association, with about 30 persons attending; this resulted in at least 15 orders. Marketing also occurred through calls to beekeepers in the area, which is time consuming. This resulted in an additional six orders. The third project component is comprised of educational presentations on disease resistant lines of bees. This is described in the outreach section.

Of the 115 viable queen cells introduced into mating nuclei, 81 queens survived their mating flights and colony acceptance. This is a 70% survival rate and is lower than we anticipated. In addition, acceptance of viable queen cells by nuclei was only 50% in the July 24 graft. These results agree with previous data indicating that the best period for queen production is between mid-May and early July, although each year may differ somewhat.

Of the 81 queens produced, 36 were sold to beekeepers and 25 were introduced into large colonies to serve as sources of hygienic, disease resistant male bees or drones to serve as mates for queens during the 2008 production season. Hygienic behavior is a recessive trait and 75% or more of the drones with which the project queens will mate should be carrying the genes for the hygienic trait for it to be widespread within those queens’ colonies. Another 20 queens were placed into small colonies to be held over for sale or use in spring 2008. It is highly probably that earlier production of queens, by at least May 15, and more efforts at local marketing would have resulted in sales of more queens in 2007.

Work plan for next year
First, we will produce more queens and start earlier than in 2007 – the goal is by May 15. We also plan to stop production earlier, since the July 24 round resulted in fewer viable cells and lower rates of queen survival from viable cells than earlier rounds. We will raise more rounds of queens on approximately a 2.5 week schedule, depending in part on demand. Third, due to increased concerns about a new parasite, Nosema ceranae, all nuclei and colonies used in queen production will be treated with Fumadil, an antibiotic specific for treatment of this organism. Fourth, we plan to increase the numbers of queens surviving mating flights; first by separating the mating nuclei by at least 6-8 feet and also by marking each mating nucleus with a different color pattern, in order to make it easier for the queens to find their home colonies safely. Finally, we plan to sell 20 or more of the queens as part of four-frame nucleus colonies. The main reason is that most beekeepers in our area by queens with mail-order “package bees”, rather than queens alone. Four-frame nuclei are a superior substitute for packages and may offer a more profitable way to market disease and mite resistant queens in northern areas.

Since we are planning to produce approximately 200-250 queens, we plan to increase local marketing efforts. This has already begun, with a marketing presentation on the queen rearing project was made at the January 2008 meeting of the Lincoln Land Beekeepers Association, which has about 40 members from a five-six county area in central Illinois. In addition, marketing will occur during an introductory beekeeping class to be taught March 13, 20 and 27. The class generally draws 15-20 new as well as a few more experienced beekeepers. As was true for last year, we also will bring queens for sale to the summer meeting of the local, Lincoln Land Beekeeping Association.

Both the marketing and especially the project’s educational programs entailed sharing information with other beekeepers. Information on the project was shared with local beekeepers in central Illinois as part of marketing the disease resistant queens. Beyond local promotion, two educational presentations on disease and mite resistance lines of bees were given to a total of 46 persons at the Heartland Apicultural Society (HAS) annual meeting in July 2007. In addition, two talks were given to 32 persons at the HAS meeting on the SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Program.

An educational presentation on disease and mite resistant queens will be presented at the Bluegrass Beekeeping school, which although in Kentucky does draw some beekeepers from the NCR out of the 250 who attend. A similar presentation also is planned for the summer meeting of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association in June 2008. This meeting typically attracts about 50 beekeepers. An educational presentation also will be made at the Eastern Apicultural Society annual meeting, to be held in Murray, KY just south of the Illinois border. This meeting should draw at least 200 beekeepers from NCR states. Inquiries have also been made to both Wisconsin and Missouri beekeeping associations regarding presentation on disease resistant lines of honey bees.

Lastly, information on the project and on disease resistant lines of bees will be shared through at least one article in either the American Bee Journal or in the magazine Bee Culture, as well as in the newsletter of the Illinois State Beekeeping Association.