Sustainable Beekeeping in Indiana - Challenging the Old Paradigm of Buying Bees in the Early Spring

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,824.80
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Indiana Beekeepers Association
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: general animal production
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    DESCRIPTION. I (Steve Doty) live on an old Hoosier Homestead farm of 43 acres. I presently have 16 hives and 4 nucs of honeybees. I have had bees for over 40 years. I worked in management at a division of General Motors in their Quality Control and Statistics department for 36 years and retired in 2001. I’ve served as vice-president, president and now Director for one of the Indiana state organizations. I’m a member of the state Farm Bureau honey advisory committee and a member of the Indiana Agricultural Resource Council. I developed and have coordinated the Indiana Bee School for nine years. We had over 600 participants in Bee School IX this year. Ron Myers is retired and has kept honeybees for over 35 years. He is currently maintaining 30 colonies and 10 nucs. He has been working with hygienic breeder queens from the artificially inseminated line of Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota. He was a state inspector with the Indiana beekeeping inspection program which was managed by the Department of Natural Resources up until 2002. He was a medical technician early in his career and is invaluable in the area of evaluating diseases. He is also a Director of the state organization. Both Steve and Ron are part of a three man team B.I.G. (Bee Inspection Group) which successfully completed SARE grant FNC08-726. This group has helped new and old beekeepers in the past since 2002. As leaders in the largest beekeeping organization in Indiana and as active members in the overall beekeeping community in Indiana we feel that it is our role to help beekeepers make educated decisions in the management of their hives. What we are proposing here will help better sustain the keeping of bees in Indiana and retain their benefits in our farm and natural environment.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The number of producing colonies in the United States has decreased from 5.9 million bee hives in 1948 down to 2 million in 2010. (USDA NASS)

    The Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the USDA have conducted a survey across the United States to estimate honey bee colony losses for the winters of 2006/2007 (32% loss), 2007/2008 (36% loss), 2008/2009 (29% loss) and 2009/2010 (34% loss). We found a 45.0% loss in the winter of 2009 here in Indiana when doing our SARE project FNC08-726. The resulting pollination for our crops is at a great risk. We must not continue on this path. We are not replenishing our diminishing Indiana honeybee stocks each year with Indiana grown stocks. We continue to buy packages or nucs of honeybees in late April each year because we have done it that way for over forty years. We do that because in the past we’ve wanted to get an early start and hopefully it would guarantee a honey crop the first year off of these bees. At that time we were not really concerned about survivability; in that we were only losing less than 10% of our colonies through the winters. However, we have continued to lose the number of beekeepers who were reporting and/or keeping honey bees.

    These early bees came either from packages (3mlbs of bees and a caged queen) from the South or from nucs (nucleus) of bees (California brood and a California caged queen) which had been used for almond pollination in California. These caged queens are not proven, not always accepted and are not best adapted for our local cooler conditions. The colonies of honeybees with these queens from the South or from California are not surviving the Indiana winters.

    Buying early is the method that established beekeepers and brand new beekeepers are both still using. We must change this. We need to shift thinking to survival first and then second the honey production using strong, proven Indiana grown stocks. The real hidden plus here is the valuable pollination which they will provide. We want to create a paradigm shift for the purchasing of honeybees and queens from in April to early July.

    Note: a nuc (nucleus) is 1/2 the size of a normal hive body. It contains 5 frames; whereas a hive body holds ten frames. By July we will be able to obtain Indiana nucs with Indiana raised brood and Indiana produced queens (5 frames of bees and pollen and a proven queen in a starter box). Another group has received a grant (Indiana Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops – The Indiana Queen Project) which is promoting the raising of Indiana hygienic queens in Indiana. These virgin queens will be place into the nucs and then will be mated with Indiana drones on their mating flights. Because of the timing of the drone pool, this process can not happen until mid June. By the second week of July it will be very evident whether the queen in this nuc is a good queen or not. The beekeepers will be getting a proven laying queen when they purchase the nuc. The queens will be marked so we can tell if the queen gets superseded some time during our project. These nucs/hives will be better adapted to survive the Indiana winters and should be good honey producers the following year. They will be better adapted to the pesticides being used here; they will have the potential of less stress and the Indiana producers of bees with Indiana genetics will start to be rewarded for their hard work.

    In checking previous SARE grants there have been a few dealing with: 1. buying of nucs versus package bees; 2. local grown survivor queen stocks; 3. increasing the number of local queen raisers; etc. Our project will be adding the feature of buying later versus early to these studies.

    We will purchase 100 nucs from an Indiana Beekeeper (assembled and painted – a $60 value). We will deliver 50 each of these nuc boxes to the two biggest commercial beekeepers in Indiana. They have Indiana breeder queens from the other mentioned grant. They will use Indiana raised brood to make up these nucs and will introduce the Indiana virgin queens into the nucs. These queens will then get mated with Indiana drones. We will sell these nucs to 100 different beekeepers in the Central district for $60.00 each. The limit is one nuc per beekeeper. So the beekeeper is getting a $60 assembled nuc and $80 worth of honeybees (total of $140) for $60. The grant will cover the cost of the honey bees and will provide an incentive for the participants to make a financial investment into the success of the project. Participants are to do the following:
    1. They are not to take honey off of these the first year.
    2. They are to record the strength of the hive going into the
    3. They are to call the partnership if any problem arises along the
    4. They are to report if the hive survived the winter in March of
    5. They are to report in August 2013 the estimated amount of honey
    taken from the hive

    Ron and I will check these hives especially with the new beekeepers and will be available to check any hives upon request. The queens will be marked. We will obtain replacement queens from the two breeders and if necessary requeen their hive for them. We have the microscope from the last SARE project in case we need to check for Nosema Ceranae. If a problem is found we will work with the beekeeper to correct it. When East Central buys nucs and/or packages again in April we will get similar information on them so that we can compare the results.
    1. Communicate to the beekeepers about a possible SARE grant via e
    mail to East Central/Central groups and IBA newsletter –
    January, 2012.
    2. Obtain grant approval from SARE – March, 2012
    3. Obtain deposit monies from 100 beekeepers – April, 2012
    4. Purchase 100 nucs from Indiana Beekeeper – April, 2012
    5. Deliver nuc boxes to two commercial Indiana beekeepers – May,
    6. Make up nucs with Indiana produced queens – June, 2012
    7. Pick-up 100 nucs when ready – Est. July 9, 2012
    8. Delivery of nucs to participants in the project – Est. July 10,
    9. Mentor beekeeper and/or inspect nucs – August through October of
    10. Sample and check for Nosema Ceranae under microscope – October ,
    11. Obtain strength information on hives going into winter –
    October, 2012
    12. Give progress report at Indiana Bee School XI – February 26, 2013
    13. Obtain final data on survival rate – April, 2013
    14. Obtain data on honey production, etc. and finalize results –
    August, 2013
    15. Share results with 100 participants and 1000 plus beekeepers via IBA newsletter – 4th qtr 2013.

    We will share the results first of all with the 100 participants in the study. We will publish the results in the IBA 4th quarter newsletter which reaches out to over 1000 beekeepers. We will develop a power point presentation which we will be to use at the local district meetings. We would also be available to present at the state level meetings for the Indiana Beekeepers’ Association and for the Indiana State Beekeepers Association. We would provide the results to the Purdue Extension organization which is state wide.

    We will be able to compare the survivability percent with prior years. When the East Central IBA purchases packages / nucs again in late April, we will have a direct comparison in the same time frame. If the results turn out as we expect, the word will spread quickly and we will have made a big step forward in improving the sustainability of the honey bees in Indiana.

    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.