Relocating swarms for pollination: How feral bees can be integrated into sustainable farming strategies

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $29,975.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Jennifer Bach
Honeybee Education Program

Annual Reports


  • Nuts: macadamia
  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures


    The tropical fruit and nut growers of the Big Island of Hawaii rely heavily on the pollination services of feral honeybee colonies. With the recent arrival of Varroa destructor, one of the most serious pests of honeybees, the feral bee populations have significantly declined, making managed hives a necessity for large-scale pollination in agricultural landscapes.

    This farmer-pollination project provided four selected farmers with necessary beekeeping knowledge and equipment to capture feral honeybees swarms and relocate them into affordable hives to be used for their farm pollination needs. Part of the impetus for this project is to provide pollination services with a reduced cost to the producers. Affordable hive designs such as top-bar hives were made locally from recycled and store-bought materials. Even when made from new materials, the top-bar hive is less than a third of the cost of a conventional hive shipped from the mainland.

    Using swarm traps baited with lures has proven to be a viable means of obtaining or increasing pollination hives. Honeybee swarms transferred into top-bar hives had greater success establishing colonies over swarms put into Langsdroth hives.

    There has been a noticeable decline in feral colonies on the island since the arrival of a second serious honeybee pest, the Small Hive Beetle. Although no formal study has been done on feral populations, the decline has been significant enough to be noticed by both growers and the general public. Due to intensive honeybee pest pressure on Hawaii Island, it is recommended that farmers catching swarms should work under the guidance of an experienced beekeeper.

    Outreach activities included the creation of an informational website that farmers nationally have access to. Two workshops were given and were met with great enthusiasm. Farmers and fruit growers interested in keeping honeybees filled both classes, while more than fifty have signed up for future classes.


    On the island of Oahu, where the mite was detected in 2007, vegetable farmers have already noticed a decline in yields attributed to the collapse of feral hives. The Big Island of Hawaii did not experience a significant decline in feral colonies until 2010, when the arrival of a second honeybee pest, Small Hive Beetle, decimated both feral and managed colonies already weakened by Varroa and its associated diseases.

    Feral hives in Hawaii, under pre-Varroa conditions, will grow and produce swarms from March to November. A portion of these swarms will naturally become established and form new colonies that will contribute to crop pollination. Currently on the Big Island there are still feral colonies that swarm every year. These swarms can be captured and transferred into managed hives that can be monitored and treated to avoid hive collapse due to mite infestation.

    Many of Hawaii’s beekeepers and farmers of fruit, nut and seed crops are still unaware of, and ill-prepared for, the detrimental effects of the Varroa mites on honeybee pollination of their crops. Small- to medium-scale farms, which are the target of this project, will need their own bee hives in order to maintain adequate yields. The growers of such crops as coffee, macadamia and citrus are important contributors to Hawaii's diversified agriculture and agricultural export industry.

    Project objectives:

    1) Develop protocols and techniques to be used by farmers to hive feral honeybee swarms that will be used for their farm pollination needs. This project will work directly with selected farms teaching producers to capture, translocate and manage viable hives for their farm’s pollination needs. Each farm will provide feedback and complete surveys that will be developed into an educational resource to be used by other farmers of similar crops and regions.

    2) Design, collaborate and construct inexpensive, sustainable hives from local materials and reusable products, while still allowing for modern beekeeping practices such as mite treatments.

    3) Provide GPS location points of swarms to UH Honeybee Research Team, as well as provide a sample of bees upon request for honeybee pest virus interaction study.

    4) Disseminate information on the relocation of feral swarms into established pollination hives with handout and booklets, workshops and Internet information.

    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.