Promoting Sustainable Beekeeping Practices through local production of nucs (nucleus colonies) and local queen honeybees

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $14,736.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Karla Eisen
Prince William Regional Beekeepers Association


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: parasite control, herbal medicines
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, workshop
  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management, prevention
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Honeybees are crucial to successful agriculture and environmental health, and the overall decline of honeybee health has become front-page news for much of this year. The Apiary Inspectors of America estimate that the recent phenomenon of “disappearing bees” or colony collapse disorder (CCD) is responsible for the loss of over 25% of all hives nationwide. In researching CCD scientists have discovered that honeybees carry many pathogens and viruses effecting their overall health and survivability. In 2006, the “Study of the Plight of Virginia Beekeepers” (Senate document no. 20) found that honeybee hives were reduced by more than 50% in the past 20 years and wild/feral honeybees have nearly disappeared. The annual mortality rate in Virginia has more than tripled to approximately 30% in large part due to the parasitic varroa mite. Beekeeping costs are increasing due to the need to replace dead hives and unproductive queens with greater frequency combined with increased cost of packaged bees, queens, specialized equipment, medications, and transportation. Currently most Virginia beekeepers rely on purchased “package bees” and queen bees to restart their hives or establish new hives. These generally come from commercial suppliers in Georgia, Alabama, Texas or California and are often less suitable for the local climate and are less effective in honey production and pollination. Many hives started with packaged bees do not survive the winter. Packaged bees are randomly “shook” out of existing hives and put together with mass produced queen bees without any regard for sustainable characteristics. They are also increasingly at risk of being affected by serious pests such as small hive beetle (SHB).The ever increasing potential for the accidental introduction of Africanized Honeybees (AHB) into Virginia would not only affect bees, but could pose a significant danger to domesticated animals and the general public. The decline of honeybee health and survivability in Virginia directly affects not only the sustainability of beekeeping and honey production at all levels (hobbyist, sideliner, and commercial pollinator) but the production of specific agriculture crops that rely on honeybees for pollination (such as cucumbers, melons, apples, etc.). Our solution to address the weakened state of honeybees, recent losses due to CCD, potential for Africanized bees, and threat to sustainability of beekeeping is to use beekeepers from our existing organization as well as recruit beekeepers from neighboring long standing beekeeping associations in the northern Virginia area to: 1) Increase the knowledge and skill of local beekeepers in producing nucleus colonies (nucs) from existing hives and to test the viability of hives made from locally produced nucs to those made from “packaged bees” 2) Engage local beekeepers in the study of queen rearing and initiate local queen rearing efforts. 3) Promote sustainable beekeeping practices overall by emphasizing integrated pest management (IPM) and organic beekeeping practices throughout all of our educational and outreach efforts. Our proposed solution addresses the producer grant focus areas of increasing the sustainability of existing farming practices and organic agriculture techniques that make use of “on-farm” natural cycles. The project and expected results will contribute significantly to the sustainability of beekeeping in Virginia and beyond. The project is designed to positively influence the natural resource base upon which beekeeping and local pollination depends and to support the viability of local beekeeping operations. Many beekeepers feel that the sustainability of beekeeping hinges on new ways of operating that depend on our ability to produce a consistent supply of local honeybees. There is an active movement in Virginia towards strengthening the local supply of honeybees through the use of nucleus colonies (nucs) made from existing local hives and reducing dependence on packaged bees from out of state sources. A local supply of honeybees directly contributes to sustainable beekeeping and increases the potential to develop “survivor stock” (bees that are better adapted for the local conditions). Additionally, the Virginia beekeepers study recommended that local queen rearing programs develop throughout the state in order to produce a pest and disease resistant line of honeybees that is highly productive, sustainable and free of the aggressive behavior of AHB. Promoting the creation of local supplies of honeybees among beekeepers and studying how to rear queen bees as a group, we expect to dramatically shift the odds of honeybee survival in our favor.

    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.