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

    Proposal summary:

    The tropical fruit growers of the Big Island of Hawaii rely heavily on the pollination services of feral honeybee hives. With the recent arrival of Varroa destructor, one of the most serious pests of honeybees, the feral bee population will decline and eventually disappear, making managed hives a necessity for large-scale pollination in agricultural landscapes. On the island of Oahu, where the mite was detected in 2007, vegetable farmers have already noticed a decline in yield, possibly due to the collapse of feral hives. The Big Island of Hawaii has yet to experience the effects of the decline of feral colonies simply because the spread of V. destructor has just begun. 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 is still an abundance of feral colonies that swarm every year. These swarms could be captured and transformed into managed hives that could 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 unaware of and ill-prepared for the detrimental effects of the varroa mites. Small- to medium-scale farms/producers, which are the target audience of this project, will need their own bee hives in order to continue to maintain adequate yields. These growers contribute to Hawaii's diversified agriculture and agricultural export industry. This Farmer/Rancher grant-funded project will provide farmers with the necessary beekeeping knowledge to capture and manage feral hives for pollination. Because the collapse of the feral bee population is unavoidable, there is only a narrow window of time in which we can capture these feral hives. Development of protocols, techniques for hiving feral honeybees and managing colonies will be created with consideration to the local needs and resources. Swarm traps, with bee lures as bait, will be placed on the participants' farms, as well as in other known swarm locations. Once a swarm is caught, the project leader and a hired beekeeper will demonstrate to the farmers/producers how to move swarms into hives. The participants will attend training workshops where they will receive safety instructions and beekeeping techniques. Farmers will be given equipment, tools and protective wear, as well as surveys and data forms to collect data about their new swarms. Part of the impetus for this project is to provide pollination services with a reduced cost to the producers. Buying beekeeping equipment from the mainland U.S. is almost prohibitive for a small-scale farmer. A basic set-up can cost more than $200 per hive plus an estimated 40%-100% shipping to Hawaii. For this reason, finding an inexpensive alternative is needed. Locally made bee hives from recycled wood can reduce the costs and encourage producers' self-reliance. This project will provide designs for bee hives that can be made with inexpensive local materials and will be easy for the farmers to replicate to increase the size of the apiary as needed for sustainable pollination and increased production on their lands. Knowledge gained will be posted on the Internet and a number of workshops will be offered to Hawaiis' farming communities on how to relocate swarms and integrate honeybees into sustainable farming strategies, giving producers the tools to sustain their farms and community.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 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 their viable hives for their farms pollination. 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 region.

    6/2010 - 6/1/2011: Swarm traps placed and monitored (swarm season runs from March - November, depending on area)

    7/2010 - 6/2011: Captured feral colonies placed in manageable hives and to moved to farm sites

    7/2010 - 6/2011: Hive management and teaching beekeeping principles to farmers on site, monthly surveys by farmers and beekeepers to asses manual/educational material

    Technical Advisor visits: Three visits throughout duration of program 6/1/10 - 6/3/10, 11/1/10 - 11/3/10, 5/15/11 - 5/17/11 (dates may change)

    Objective 2:

    Design, collaborate and construct inexpensive, sustainable hives from local materials and reusable products that are manageable for modern beekeeping practices.

    6/10 - 12/10: Hiring of construction labor to design and construct inexpensive locally made hives

    12/10 - 2/11: Develop plans for inexpensive hives into handouts and post on the Internet

    3/11 - 4/11: Workshop that will present information and plans for inexpensive hives to farmer and the beekeeping communities

    Objective 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. (6/2009 - 6/2010)

    Objective 4:

    Disseminate information on the relocation of feral swarms into established pollination hives with handout and booklets, workshops and Internet information. (3/2011 - 6/2011)

    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.