Teaching Generative Apiary Practices for Effective Beekeeping in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $124,034.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipient: They Keep Bees (Formerly Yard Birds Farm & Apiary)
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Angela Roell
They Keep Bees (Formerly Yard Birds Farm & Apiary)

Information Products


  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification

    “Bee Informed Partnership” (BIP) reports that in 2019 Northeast beekeepers lost an average of 29% of 12,502 colonies managed by 515 beekeepers.  Beekeepers in the Northeast have been combatting the ongoing pressure of the Varroa mite on an annual basis (Kulhanek, 2019).  

    In 2014, Erin MacGregor-Forbes discovered honey bee hives populated by northern-adapted queens survive winter nearly twice as well as hives with southern queens.  This suggests that rearing northern queens could improve the biological and financial sustainability of beekeeping in the Northeast. 

    In a 2018 survey of 116 Northeast beekeepers, 109 beekeepers expressed interest in learning queen-rearing for a small scale apiary (Roell, 2020).  We understand there is a regional demand for queen-rearing education. 

    Currently there are limited options for beekeepers within the Northeast region to pursue an extensive queen-rearing program.  While Cornell University offers a Master Beekeeping program and “Northeast IPM” offers great information on Varroa interventions, there currently is no explicit program offering queen-rearing and hive production methods, how to breed through the issue of Varroa, and how to use and mimic bee biology to increase hive survival.      

    Solution and Approach 

    We propose the development of an educational program that teaches students “generative beekeeping practices”.  We will teach both innovative (48-hour cell method, and the “Walk-Away Split” method) and traditional (10 day) queen-rearing techniques.  Students will collaboratively manage hives through the entirety of the queen-rearing process.  To culminate this process they will raise and overwinter their own hive, becoming invested in the queen rearing process as a result.  As a long term goal, the process will become regenerative as the advancing class raises bees provided to the next cohort.

    We hypothesize that our alternative queen-rearing methods (48-hour, “Walk-Away Split”) will contribute to a reduced Varroa mite population.  The extra time queenless extends a break in the bee brood cycle and thus interrupts the mite reproduction process.  These methods can ensure a percentage of hive survival, especially while breeding for local adaptation.  We are inviting new beekeepers to create and continue their own adaptive apiary, generating new queens every year.  

    Our program will offer two cohorts of beekeepers a preliminary introductory workshop- a season-long, hands-on experience of learning the intricacies of the queen-rearing process & hive care, as well as a post-skill building workshop to discuss the financial  feasibility of a queen-rearing and nucleus colony production enterprise.  Participants from the first cohort will be invited back the second year to share their knowledge and experience with the second cohort as a means of strengthening and expanding the regional beekeeping community.  

    We anticipate these workshops to encourage beekeepers within the region to share knowledge and resources both during their participation in the workshops, and beyond.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    100 beekeepers will adopt “generative beekeeping practices” which includes innovative methods of hive expansion and mite control: the 48-hour queen cell approach and the simplified alternative “Walk-Away Split”.

    Each of the 100 beekeepers who complete the program will produce 50 queen bees from their own selected stock over the course of 2 seasons. In total participants will produce 5,000 Northern hardy queen bees or $175,000 in potential revenue from queen bee sales in the Northeast region.

    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.