Establishing and Maintaining Mite Resistant Nucleus Colonies for the Sustainable Apiary Using USDA Russian and VSH Queen Bees

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $16,980.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2019
Grant Recipient: San Juan Apiaries
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
John Gagne
San Juan Apiaries


  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, genetics
  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination
  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, disease vectors, genetic resistance, integrated pest management
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, sustainability measures


    Currently there is limited access and availability to nucleus (nuc) colonies utilizing Varroa
    Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) queens. The demand for the importation of package bees specifically
    has increased dramatically because of the continued loss of viable colonies due to the devastation
    of the varroa mite. Large scale commercial package bee operations are hard pressed each year to
    maintain an adequate supply of bees and queens to satisfy the demand. There is also limited focus
    on varroa resistant breeding within this commercial environment and many of these package bees
    don’t survive the first year. While numerous studies have been conducted, and controlled breeding
    endeavors are gaining focus, there is still a minimal emphasis on utilizing and breeding for
    genetically proven VSH queens. Within the beekeeping industry today, it is widely accepted that
    the continued use of chemicals and miticides to combat the varroa mite is not a long term viable
    solution to a healthy beekeeping industry. Economically speaking, todays mixed race queens and
    bees are raised as quickly as possible in an attempt to satisfy the demand for bee colonies within
    the commercial market, as well as supplying the general public.
    Alternatively, maintaining healthy and vigorous mite resistant nucleus colonies is now attainable
    through the use of available queens such as the Russian and USDA-VSH strains, that possess
    significant mite suppressive traits. Through the use of controlled breeding, monitoring and
    evaluation, over-wintered nucleus colonies headed by VSH expressive queens can be responsible
    for eventually impacting the local and regional communities to a more sustainable and profitable
    climate. This grant will demonstrate to others how to establish and maintain vigorous nucleus
    colonies for sustainable growth within the apiary. An outreach program will be established to
    provide instructional site visits to the bee yards, as well as educational presentations within an
    academic setting. The availability of over-wintered colonies headed by VSH mite resistant queens
    offers numerous possibilities for shared genetics within the community, and future breeding
    programs to benefit all beekeepers.

    Project objectives:

    1. Establish and maintain two separate nucleus colony bee yards consisting of a minimum of
    24 colonies each. One control group will be established using USDA Russian queens and
    the other group will be established using commercially available queens with high levels
    of VSH.  (Two different test yards were established in May of 2018.  VSH and Russian queens were received and introduced in each yard from May 14 through the 18th.  Queens were mixed into each yard randomly.  Queen acceptance was well above normal with only (2) queens rejected in one yard, and (1) queen rejected in the other.  Because of variables during the mating process of queens, and potential issues with introducing mated queens into queen less colonies, this is considered normal.  
    2. Maintain and evaluate each colony in each group, and perform mite count testing after
    spring/summer colony growth, prior to overwintering and at the beginning of the following
    spring. Compile and maintain a data base for each colony showing vital statistics and
    pertinent information. Mite count testing was performed on each colony on June 26, 2018 and again on September 27th and 28th.  See attached charts for testing results. 
    3. Schedule on site instructional seminars in the bee yards with other producers to share and
    discuss benefits of the program. Educational outreach seminars will be scheduled at San
    Juan College, Farmington N.M. as well as Santa Fe Community College. These events will
    be hosted by the producer as well as Dr. Don Hyder, Professor of Biology and Dr. Jose
    Villa, Retired USDA-Research Entomologist.  The first educational outreach seminar was held on March 24th, in Santa Fe, N.M.  A key focus of the presentation was nucleus colony management and sustainable beekeeping. John Gagne / Producer was the keynote speaker at this event (see attached brochure).  The second event was the New Mexico Beekeepers Assoc. annual summer conference.  This statewide event combined the Santa Fe Community College event to a more centralized location to accommodate a large attendance. Keynote speakers were John Gagne/ Producer, and Dr. Jose Villa, technical advisor to the grant.  (see attached brochure). The last educational outreach program was held on October 20th., 2018 at San Juan Community College, Farmington, N.M. Keynote speakers were; John Gagne/Producer, Dr. Jose Villa, Technical advisor, and Dr. Don Hyder, Technical advisor to the grant (see attached literature). 

    4. Assess bee populations and honey stores of all colonies at the beginning and end of the
    overwintering period.  Currently ongoing, to be included in final report. 

    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.