Queen bee improvement program: Another step foward

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Always Summer Herbs
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Jeffrey Berta
Always Summer Herbs

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: general animal production
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships

    Proposal summary:

    Since 1993 Varroa mite infestations have caused substantial financial losses to beekeepers. Mite infestations are known to decrease size, strength, and productivity and are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. Currently the majority of the beekeeping industry uses chemical controls for mite and disease problems. It is not clear what affects theses chemical treatments are having on bees. Mite resistant honeybees would ideally eliminate beekeepers/farm hands exposure to pesticides. Recently, a honeybee behavioral trait defined as “varroa sensitive hygiene” (VSH), which effectively breaks the life cycle of the Varroa mite. This is vital tool for an IPM approach to the problem. In 2011 we were awarded a SARE grant for evaluating two breeds of VSH queen bee which are: OWA, and ‘Karnica’. The Karnica line appears to be stronger than both the OWA and the control. The OWA line failed to thrive in our climate, and will be replaced with Ontario Buckfast (OB) for 2012. The next step forward would be merging these genetic lines with the winter hardy Pennsylvania Survivor Stocks (PSS), and SARE 2011 survivors. This grant will conduct a trial that will empirically measure, and evaluate these lines of VSH queen bees, versus a control. The field trail will measure: colony strength, mite counts, honey production, pesticide residue, and winter hardiness. Overall data will be summarized, and analyzed. The results will be presented at several conferences/meetings, and online. Finally, by working with regional breeders, sharing queens, should ultimately improve the quality of our honeybees.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objective is to find, develop, and advance honeybee stock that is mite resistant/tolerant, and can survive a Pennsylvania Winter.

    The method that we have devised for this project are easy to implement, with standard equipment, and use some existing resources and facilities. The design concept for the experimental trail was collaboration with our technical advisors at Penn State.

    We plan on comparing two new lines of Varroa Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) queen bees, to ordinary queen bees with no such special claims. The VSH queen’s bees we plan on using are the OB and Karnica races of bees, and a control (C). At least ten queens of OB, Karnica, and C each will be purchased. These virgin queens will be introduced using standard apiculture methods into small nucleus colonies. After these colonies are established, at least one from each of the three lines will be moved to separate bee yards. We will use at least five separate bee yards, figure 1. The selections of colonies within the lines versus yards will be random.

    Empirical measurement of all the experimental hives will occur three times during the year. Colonies will be measured for hive strength and mite counts, and honey will be weighed if any is harvested. Data will be recorded in a “Rite in Rain” field notebook or directly uploaded into our online database using an iPhone. During the 2011 SARE grant we created an online database called “beetight” which can be accessed via the internet or any “smart phone”. Also, based on observations during the 2011 SARE study, we are adding a optional pesticide test to the protocol.

    The hive strength will be determined by counting and recording the number of frames of eggs and brood in the colony on that date.

    The mites will be counted by a the “powder sugar” method. As the powdered sugar coats the bees, they respond by grooming each other, which causes causes a percentage of the parasitic Varroa mites to fall onto the bottom board. A piece white IPM ‘counting board’ is placed on the bottom of the colony, and the number of mites will be counted and recorded.

    The ability for a colony to survive and northeastern winter is important. Adequate honey will be left on the colony for winter survival. Sugar and protein supplements will placed in the colonies for winter If the colony survives it be entered into the following year for evaluation, if it dies that will be recorded as well. The cause of death will be determined the best as possible.

    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.