Comparative influences of hive architecture in Apis mellifera fitness.

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Dr. James Harding
Green Mountain College
Valerie Hetzel
Green Mountain College

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, participatory research
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainable and ethical farming practices are being developed everyday as more and more people realize that sustainable and chemical free agricultural methods are better for our food supply, our livestock, and our ecosystems. Honeybee management and hive architecture are no exception. Honeybee management and colony health are critical for sustainable farming, but because organic bee practices have not been studied in detail, it is difficult to state with certainty which methods and/or hive types optimize colony health and function. This study examines hive architecture, and accompany comb building by comparing top bar hives (TB) with Langstroth hives (L). Proponents of TB beekeeping suggest the hive, the bars, and the TB's inherent hive design of deeper nest cavity, sloped sides, and bars promote better bee health. more organic bee keeping practices and are more ethical for bees. This study with analyze top bar use and will compare TB hives with standard Langstroth hives. HIve structure may play a role in colony health and over-wintering success, and important aspect of beekeeping management hive in New England. Does biomimicry in hive architecture reduce energy expenditure, reduce pathogen loads, lowering stress in the colony and does natural comb building improve pest management? This research could be called a biomimicry study in the one could ask if hives closely mimicking what is found in nature can improve honeybee fitness. Results of this study will be share in Massachusetts bee clubs, and results will be submitted to national bee journals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Approach and methods Five apiaries for this project will be created in Western Massachusetts. Hampshire College (Amherst, MA), Sunset Farms (Amherst, MA), Red Gate Farms (Buckland, MA), and Small Ones Farm (Amherst), MA), Natural Roots Farm (Conway, MA) and at researcher’s residence (Amherst, MA, funded separately). All apiaries will have southeastern exposure to encourage early foraging behavior and winter warmth. Protection from northern winds will also be established with a windbreak (building, shrubs, or staked tarp). Each apiary will be protected by a fully charged electric fence. Each apiary will be randomly divided into two treatment groups containing four (T)B hives and four (L)angstroth hives, for a total of eight hives per location. Each hive will contain a new 3 lb. package of bees from Warm Color Apiaries of the same sub species; Italian. Wax foundations with 5.4mm cell diameter will be purchased from Warm Color Apiaries. Hives will be built to conform to standard Langstroth dimensions using ¾” pine construction, including two medium brood chambers, bottom board, entrance reducer, honey super, telescoping lid, and stand (see photo below). Top Bar hives will be built in traditional trapezoidal shape dimensions with lids and stands (see photo below). C).

    All lids will be pine with metal sheathing. Foundation wax will be sampled prior to bee installation for future lab evaluation of toxins. Equipment for each colony

    • 10-frame Langstroth equipment
    • Wax–foundation • Honey supers
    • Inner cover & lid • Bottom board
    • Paint hive bodies/supers different colors (to reduce bee drifting)
    • Top Bar Hives
    • Lid
    • Stand
    • Bars 35 mm Bee sources
    • Bees-Warm Color Apiaries (S.Deerfield, MA).
    • Queens- Warm Color Apiary Apiary layout
    • 8 colonies per apiary
    • Colonies kept at least 1.5 meters apart Feeding colonies
    • Feed packages immediately following installation:
    • Sucrose syrup
    • Protein supplement Colony Maintenance
    • Frames of bees or brood will not be swapped between colonies.
    • Colonies will not be equalize once experiment has begun.
    • Sugar syrup and protein supplement as needed.
    • Swarm management limited timely supering and bar additions.
    • No disease/pest treatments except powdered sugar dusting
    • Over-wintering success (% colony survival) of each apiary will be recorded. Pest sampling:
    • For Varroa mites, collect about 200-300 adult bees in glass jar with size 8 hardwire mesh top.
    • Add enough powdered sugar so the bees are white. Roll jar to be sure the bees are coated.
    • Let the jar sit for 1 min.
    • Shake jar vigorously into white dish o make the mites easier to see-photograph.
    • Deformed Wing Virus will be measured using the bees from the varroa mite collection and will be searched for on the ground as they are often thrown out of the hive by healthier bees.
    • AFB and Wax Moth will be assessed upon visual hive and brood inspection.
    • Temperature and humidity and weight of the hives will be measured monthly.

    Bees will be installed early on the same day. Re-queening will only be done within one month of installation. Hives, minus the bees, will be weighed before installation and the packages of bees will be weighed prior to installation. Combined weight of hive plus packages will establish a baseline for each colony’s fitness. Temperature and humidity monitoring of apiaries will be performed for both ambient air temperature and humidity levels inside and outside the hive, monthly using Extech 445713 data logger. Since weight is being used as the primary indicator of bee fitness, monthly weighing of hives will be done at in the late afternoon and foraging bees will also be counted monthly. Mite levels will be measured two times a year in spring and fall and sugar rolls on sampled bees (200-300 count) along with hive inspection, Testing for tracheal mites and Nosema will be done two times a year sampling brood comb, using a 400x microscope at the Averill bee lab at the University of Massachusetts.

    American foul brood will be evaluated during twice a year inspections and photos will be taken. If swarming occurs, swarms will be removed, if accessible, to another location outside of the experimental site. Wax, honey and bee samples will be taken from hives at the end of year one and year two for pathogen levels and frozen for future lab work outside the scope of this budget. Cell size will be measured on brood and honeycomb at the end of project. Hives will be seasonally wrapped with two inch expanded polystyrene-extruded insulation ™on all six surfaces, leaving reduced entrances exposed. Data will be collected beginning in April 2012 and continuing through late spring 2014. An analysis of variance will be performed for statistical analysis and data interpretation, (e.g., 3-way anova with apiary, hive type, and treatment category as factors; cf. Anderson et al. 2002, Little and Hills 1978).

    This study is the basis of our co-investigator and graduate student’s thesis, and will be evaluated for publication in bee and agricultural journals. Co-investigator/graduate student is involved with Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture (CISA), in South Deerfield MA and belongs to the Franklin County Bee Keeper’s Association in South Deerfield, MA; this allows publication in their newsletters. Co-investigator/graduate student will design a pamphlet for local farm stands about the importance of pollination in general and honeybees and their value, and the results of the study. She will send updates and findings to collborators, fellow students, faculty, and staff of GMC, Hampshire College, and UMASS and to other local colleges assisting in the research. Collaborators will diseminate information in their communites, events, and workshops and Findings will be disseminated through speaking engagements at beekeeper associations, the CISA, Northeast Organic Farming Association and local colleges. Publication of findings will be reviewed and submitted to bee and agricultural journals, such as American Bee Journal, Journal of Economic Entomology, Journal of Sustainable Agriculture Bee Culture, Agricultural Journal and Food Chemistry, and Apidologie. Samples of natural comb and manufactured framed comb with queen cells, and honey, brood, and pollen stores, will be put on reserve for classroom discussion on campuses at a local elementary school to demonstrate the process and purpose of comb design and honey bee processes at the end of the study.

    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.