Creating a Depository of Local Honey Bee Strains From Feral Swarms and Demonstrating a Sustainable Beekeeping Model Using Horizontal Hives and Bee-Friendly Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $7,469.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Good From the Woods
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Leo Sharashkin
Goods From The Woods

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination

    Proposal summary:

    Honeybees are extremely beneficial on any farm as pollinators and as producers of honey and wax. The increased production of agricultural crops due to honeybee pollination is estimated at $19 billion (2010). But with only 2.6 million beehives in the US - down from 6 million in the 1940s - up to 70% of honey consumed in the US is imported. Why is not beekeeping more widespread? Major problems discouraging farmers from adding bees to their operations include low quality (yet expensive) bee stock, costly beekeeping equipment, and complicated management methods that are unsuitable for a small apiary.

    First problem: commercially available package bees predominantly contain southern races (e.g., Italian) and come from a shallow genetic pool with low disease resistance and poor adaptation to northern conditions. They are expensive (over $100 per bee package), require treatments against disease, and have high mortality rates. A northern apiary relying on commercially bought bees is rarely sustainable. We will address this issue by establishing a depositary of locally adapted bee strains and demonstrating how any farmer can do the same at minimal expense.

    Many feral honeybee populations now have high level of disease resistance and adaptation to the local climate of the Northern Region. The densely forested Ozarks are particularly suitable for finding these "survivor stock" bees: abundance of tree hollows provides feral bee habitat, and there are relatively few beekeepers (forests offer much smaller honey harvests than agricultural fields), thence a lesser influx of commercial bees and queens. Honeybee races found in the Ozarks include the European dark bee (native to Europe's north), known for resilience and productivity. To tap this genetic resource we will attract feral swarms (over two successive swarming seasons) to thirty swarm traps (bait hives) placed on trees over a large territory, away from known apiaries. We anticipate catching 30 feral swarms over two seasons. These colonies will form a collection of local disease-resistant winter- hardy bees. We will monitor their productivity, health, and survival rates, and the most successful colonies will provide basis for subsequent breeding of resilient stock, which is crucial for sustainable beekeeping. We will also develop a detailed guide of best practices for swarm catching, including swarm trap plans and placement instructions and economic feasibility study - making it easy for any farmer to replicate this approach.

    Second problem: the standard beekeeping equipment is expensive (over $100 per hive); beekeeping methods are often detrimental to the bees and require years of experience to master. We will address this issue by demonstrating simple hive models and beekeeping methods accessible to anyone. The swarms will be hived at our model apiary in Drury, MO, in special bee-friendly, low-maintenance, easy-to-manage horizontal hives (30 deep frames per box) that any farmer can easily build in 3 hours using less than $50 in materials with only basic tools. We'll prepare free plans and a detailed hive management guide.

    In summary, we will demonstrate a turn-key, low-cost solution to starting a sustainable apiary based on catching then propagating local bee stock; using bee-friendly do-it-yourself hive models and simple, accessible management techniques. This approach will benefit farmers (pollination, honey production, income diversification), ranchers, and forest land managers (pesticide-free honey production and enhancing biodiversity of flowering plants) who would otherwise be unable to start beekeeping using the conventional methods due to high cost, low colony survival, or lack of advanced beekeeping skills.

    We will widely disseminate project results through detailed, well-organized and beautifully illustrated website content at, presentations at numerous venues, including Baker Creek Spring Planting Festival, Mansfield, Missouri (attendance 10,000), and a field day at our apiary in Drury, Missouri.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Create a depository of local honey bee strains by catching swarms from Ozark's feral populations displaying high genetic diversity and disease resistance. 
    2. Determine whether feral swarm genetics, our hive model, and non-invasive beekeeping methods have a positive effect on beekeeping sustainability.
    3. Determine whether this approach to beekeeping is economically viable for farmers to adopt.
    4. Inspire more farmers and community members to get into feral swarm catching and natural beekeeping by offering free classes and demonstrations as well as online content.
    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.