A Comparison of Honey Bee Colony Strength and Survivability between Nucleus and Package Started Colonies

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,993.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Erin MacGregor-Forbes
Overland Apiaries

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: livestock breeding, preventive practices
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: chemical control, integrated pest management, physical control
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture, urban/rural integration

    Proposal summary:

    Current issue

    Recent Honey Bee “die offs” have been front-page news in the United States and across Europe for several years. Maine beekeepers, while not having been conclusively diagnosed as experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder, have also been experiencing high mortality levels in their wintering colonies for several years. These colonies are generally replaced at (significant financial expense to the beekeeper) with packaged bees produced in commercial bee breeding operations of the Southern or Western US.

    In recent years, the annual mortality rate of honey bee colonies in Maine has steadily increased due primarily to the parsitic Varroa mite and associated diseases. Additionally, beekeeping costs are increasing due to the increased cost of replacement colonies, queens, specialized equipment, medications and transportation.
    Package bees are, by definition, stressed colonies. They are far more susceptible to downturns in spring weather conditions, disease transmission, and pst and parasite infestation. Unfortunately packaged honey bees are the most widely used and promoted method of starting new colonies across the nation, including in Maine and New England.

    The project proposes to demonstrate that alternative replacement/starting colonies that come from local sources have a higher survival rate than commercially raised package bees.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project will start twenty four new honey bee colonies consisting of eight traditional commercially purchased package colonies, eight commercial packages in which the queen is removed and replaced with a New England raised queen, and eight New England raised overwintered nucleus colonies. These twenty four colonies will be split into two sets of twelve, and each set of twelve will be managed by an experienced Beekeeper and assessed several times over the season for health, strength and winter survival.

    Results of the project are expected to demonstrate the superiority of local alternatives to commercially purchased package bees in health and productivity and it is expected that the mortality rate of the local alternatives will be significantly lower than that of the traditional package colonies.

    Outreach will be ongoing throughout the project from grant acceptance to final report, with a series of at least four articles describing the project progress to be published in the newsletter of the Maine State Beekeepers Association as well as a final article and PowerPoint presentation prepared for demonstration at Regional Beekeeping Association meetings.

    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.