West Virginia Pollen Project 2015

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,990.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:


  • Agronomic: clovers
  • Nuts: chestnuts


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    The West Virginia Pollen Project 2015 is part of a much larger goal to understand the natural nutritional income of honey bees through the production season, that is, their pollen intake. There is a general over-emphasis on nectar / honey producing plants in pollinator-conscious thought, while in actuality pollinator health depends as much if not more so on pollen intake. Seven collaborating West Virginia beekeepers will collect and submit 229 pollen samples from eight locations around West Virginia over a 6-month period, according to standard guidelines. The project leader will also include pollen collected from two previous years. Through this grant the first selected 80 samples will be analyzed to identify the pollen types present. The questions we aim to answer include:

    • What pollen types are the bees collecting?
    • What is the percentage of each type at each time period?
    • When are the bees bringing in the highest and lowest quantities?
    • How much does it change from one location to the next?
    • How much does it change from one year to the next?
    • Which wild plant species or types are most valuable to honey bee nutrition and health?
    • What plants can be planted for special benefit to bees in this area?
      For afforestation
      For reforestation / land reclaimation
      For windbreaks
      For right-of-ways
      For ornamental purposes
      For park and city beautification

    This study will lay a foundation for understanding natural and sustainable pollinator health and for understanding which pollen types most need to be evaluated for their protein content so that beekeepers can gain a better understanding of how to optimize the health of their stock. Continuing to collect and analyze pollen samples for two additional consecutive years will be beneficial to obtain a larger perspective. The results will be spread throughout the state and neighboring states via relationships in the network of beekeeper associations and the internet.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project aims to lay a basic foundational knowledge of pollen intake on which further research can be based.

    There are 7 collaborating beekeepers committed to sampling pollen from 8 apiaries around West Virginia on a regular basis throughout the 2015 season. These samples will be sent to the project leader for analysis so that a valid relative abundance of each type of pollen in each sample can be established for each location. This will give us loads of reliable information on the available forage and the foraging habits of honey bees to help answer the questions listed in the project summary.

    Basic, fundamental, verifiable knowledge of pollen intake such as this lays the foundation for future studies in natural pollinator nutrition, such as finding the nutritional quality of the most important pollen types. Such work will be meaningful once the conclusions of this study have been established.

    This will increase our understanding of natural, sustainable nutrition not only for honey bees, but also for all native pollinators, and enable beekeepers and others to give better recommendations regarding pollinator-friendly land reclamation.

    If the project is successful, it could be replicated in other regions.


    Pollen Trapping: Through the 2015 season, collaborating beekeepers will collect weekly or bi-weekly pollen samples from the hive entrance according to the guidelines in the Pollen Collection Instructions sheet. This sheet was developed by the project leader after 2 years of experience to help the collaborators understand the standard procedure and verify their ability to comply to the standard procedure.

    Collaborating beekeepers will use the plastic front porch pollen trap style for collection of pollen pellet samples.

    Pollen will be gathered only one day at a time from early morning to evening, leaving the trap open (not trapping) between collection-days so that each sample replicates natural pollen gathering, minimizes altered behavior, and ensures the sample includes any pollen types that may only be gathered in mornings or afternoons.

    There can be some variation in the types of pollen collected by different colonies. Therefore collaborating beekeepers will, as much as practicable, collect pollen from a minimum of three colonies on each collection date, thoroughly mix the aggregate, and extract the 2-oz sample. This ensures a good overall picture of the pollen being collected by the bees on each sampling date. Beekeepers will be supplied with four pollen traps each to ensure at least three can be in use at all times.

    Collaborating beekeepers must have a minimum of four colonies, with 6+ colonies highly recommended. The reason for this requirement is that the beekeeper may need to move a trap to a different colony, which can take a few days. By having four traps, the 3-colony minimum is not compromised during the move.

    The beekeepers will choose the best day of the week to collect the sample, so as to avoid rain and make use of optimum temperatures. Each pollen source species has a typical bloom period of two or three weeks, so weekly or bi-weekly sampling gives the best picture.

    The pollen will be harvested the same day it was trapped, will be thoroughly mixed, weighed, and 2 oz removed for the sample. A sample record sheet will be filled out for each sample, including the date, number of hives harvested from, total weight collected, average weight per hive, times the traps were closed and opened, pertinent weather information, and optional notes about the bloom season (wild plants in bloom, starting, or ending).

    Once each month the collected samples are mailed to the project leader. Keeping the samples frozen in transit is not required. Each beekeeper will be given $5 per sample.

    The collaborators’ front porch pollen traps, vials, and digital scales will be provided by the grant.


    One sample consists of two 1-oz vials taken from the mixed pollen of 3 or more traps in one apiary, trapped throughout one daylight period, labeled with the date, and contained in a sealable bag with a completed Pollen Sample Record Sheet.



    Preparation of Samples: Once each month the project leader will select 20 samples (two from each of the 8 locations, plus two 2013 and two 2012 samples from Honey Glen’s previous collections) weigh 4 grams from each sample on gram scales and ship to Professor Bryant to be prepared for analysis at Texas A&M University. The samples will be chosen to form an optimal picture of pollen gathering at regularly spaced dates through the season. The remaining pollen of the 2-oz sample will be preserved for future reference.

    Professor Bryant's Preparation Procedure: (Details and justification in separate sheet "Pollen Preparation & Analysis Details") Mix the pellets, take 2 grams (>200 pellets) and dissolve and mix thoroughly. Extract 4-5 ml of the dissolved pollen solution and treat with sulfuric acid and acetic anhydride to remove lipids, waxes, cytoplasm for easy viewing of each pollen grain's "fingerprint". Stain the grains with Saffarin-O for visibility and photography, rinse, then mix with glycerine, seal in a vial and number. Samples are centrifuged at 3,500 rpm for 3 minutes for each step.

    Professor Bryant returns these vials of prepared pollen solution to the project leader.

    Pollen Sample Analysis: Pollen Analysis Procedure: Vials are mixed, one drop placed on a slide, diluted with glycerin, covered with a #1 glass coverslip and sealed with nail polish. Some slides will receive an adhesive grid or a correlative coverslip to aid in counting.

    Samples are examined at 40x and 100x magnification to identify pollen types present. A minimum of 200 pollen grains are counted and identified to establish a valid relative abundance of each pollen type, identified to the family, genus, or in some cases species level.

    Measuring Results: From the data collected we will attempt to graph an accurate, comprehensive, verifiable picture of pollen intake for each location where pollen was collected. Graphs will be geared to answer the questions listed in the Project Summary. They will show total amounts of pollen intake at each time through the season so that beekeepers can see clearly when high or low amounts of pollen are being gathered by the bees. They will also include percentages for each pollen type so that beekeepers can see which species are contributing most to their bees' nutritional intake at various times through the year. Graphs from different locations will be compared.

    This information will be included in the final report, and will also be supplied to the collaborating beekeepers which they can in turn share with other beekeepers in their local areas, who share the same ecologies.

    We expect to see variation in plant species and also in plant bloom times from one location to the next. We may discover the use of previously unknown plant pollen sources, and we may discover unexpected amounts of pollen from certain plants. Assuming future projects will make it possible to continue gathering data in future years, we will be able to compare and show differences in the makeup of blooming species from one year to the next.

    The project will be successful if we are able to give beekeepers a picture of what their bees' pollen forage looks like through the year in an easy-to-understand format.


    Pollen Trapping: As soon as the grant is approved in late winter 2015, the needed pollen traps, plastic vials, and weighing scales will be purchased and shipped to each collaborating beekeeper so that they attach pollen traps to their beehives by March 15 and begin collecting pollen by March 20.

    Each month collaborating beekeepers will collect pollen pellet samples according to their agreement, and according to the standard procedures outlined on the Methods page.

    At the end of April each collaborating beekeeper will mail their March and April samples to the project leader. Thereafter, each month's samples will be mailed to the project leader at the end of the month in which they were collected.

    Preparation and analysis: The project leader’s acknowledgment of receipt, sending and receiving of samples to and from TX A&M, analysis of samples, and reporting to collaborators and technical advisor is expected to take a month or more. Professor Trisel at Fairmont State University has agreed to allow access to lab and microscope for analyses.

    This NE SARE Farmer Grant is sufficient for analysis of 80 samples. This will include 20 samples each month for the four months of April, May, June, and July. For analysis of the remaining samples, additional funding and/or volunteer service will be required. At a minimum, as a result of this project, the project leader will be able to assemble comprehensive graphs of pollen intake for 8 locations around West Virginia for two thirds of the bloom season (April through July).

    Outreach: At the close of each month an e-mail update will be sent out to collaborators, interested beekeepers, the technical advisor, and NE SARE according to the outreach plan.

    By the end of September all analysis of pollen samples and graphs of pollen intake from April through July should be completed. The final report for each location will be sent to that location's respective collaborating beekeeper who submitted the samples.

    In September, the project leader will prepare a report of the results to date and deliver it at the West Virginia Beekeepers Association Fall Conference at Jackson's Mill, WV; September 25-26, 2015.

    All data should be compiled from pollen analysis and inserted into the charts and graphs by the end of October. If outside funding is made available and additional pollen samples are analyzed, the completion of the charts may be delayed closer to the end of the grant period (Dec. 31) for the sake of including more data. Compilation of the final report will also take place in November or December, and after review by the technical advisor will be posted on the Honey Glen web site and sent to the WVBA web master for posting on the WVBA web site.


    First, as each collaborating beekeeper's pollen samples are analyzed, they will receive the initial counts with comments related to that sample. Being the first to receive their reports is a benefit to them as a collaborator.

    At the conclusion of the study each collaborator will receive a summary of their apiary's total yearly pollen intake at each collection date in amount of pollen, types of pollen, percentage of each type, and related comments. Graphs and charts will be included to show changes through time.

    In September 2015 the project leader will prepare a presentation and deliver the results-to-date at the West Virginia Beekeepers Association (WVBA) annual fall conference in 2015.

    The project leader will make the final report and results available online via the Honey Glen and WVBA web sites for beekeepers and beekeeping associations to view. He will also share the results with the WVDA Apiary Program.

    Beekeepers who have requested to be kept up to date on the progress of the project, and provided their e-mail, will receive monthly updates as the project progresses and will be given a link to the final reports and results via e-mail. They will be able to share the results with their local beekeeping clubs.

    Relevant data from the project can be incorporated into beginner beekeeper courses, as Honey Glen intends to do. This should give new beekeepers a stronger basis of knowing what to expect of their colonies on a yearly basis as the colony responds to seasonal changes.

    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.