Investigating techniques for successful overwintering of honey bee queens in bulk

Project Overview

OW20-356
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,796.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Oregon State University
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ramesh Sagili
Oregon State University
Co-Investigators:
Ellen Topitzhofer
Oregon State University

Commodities

  • Animals: bees

Practices

  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research

    Proposal abstract:

    Among many stress factors currently experienced by honey bees, beekeepers report queen failure as one of the highest contributors to colony loss (Kulhanek et al., 2017). It is important for beekeepers to obtain early-season queens to minimize impacts of queen failure while preparing colonies for almond pollination services in California. However, there is a nationwide shortage of early-season queens.

    To address this queen supply problem, we propose to conduct a study investigating the technique of overwintering honey bee queens in bulk and their impact on queen reproductive quality and survival. This technique involves overwintering late-season queens (September) for use in January. Beekeepers can introduce these queens into failing colonies to boost colony growth or into newly divided colonies to increase their amount of suitable colonies for almond crop pollination. Our project will determine whether this is a reliable technique for beekeepers that overwinter their colonies in Oregon and transport them to California for almonds and the Pacific Northwest for fruit crop pollination services. The technique will potentially increase availability of early-season queens for beekeepers, which is crucial for the beekeeping industry and sustainable pollination services. We will (1) assess queen survival rate, (2) evaluate queen reproductive quality, and (3) determine colony acceptance and supercedure rates of queens overwintered in bulk for three months in eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California.

    Our long-term goal is to encourage widespread adoption of overwintering queens in bulk to increase sustainability and profitability of the beekeeping industry and agriculture industries dependent on honey bee pollination.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Assess the survival rate of honey bees queens overwintered in bulk in Oregon: We will determine the percent survival rate of queens overwintered in bulk for three months in eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California (October 2020 - December 2021 and October 2021 – December 2022). We will record percent survival rates before and after transit to California for almond pollination services (January 2021 and 2022) and compare results between queens overwintered in eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California.
    1. Evaluate reproductive quality of honey bee queens overwintered in bulk in Oregon: We will analyze total sperm count and sperm viability of queens overwintered in bulk for three months in eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California. We will sample queens for reproductive analysis shortly before winter begins (September 2020 and 2021) and after they overwinter in bulk (January 2021 and 2022). We will compare results between queens overwintered in eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California. We will also assess differences in results before and after the overwintering process.
    1. Determine colony acceptance and supercedure rates of queens overwintered in bulk in Oregon: We will introduce queens that overwintered in bulk from eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California into candidate colonies during almond crop pollination (February 2021 and 2022). We will determine the percent acceptance rates of these queen introductions. We will track the location of these queens and record percent supercedure rates by observing them at two intervals in the spring (April and June 2021, April and June 2022). We will compare acceptance and supercedure rates of queens overwintered in eastern Oregon, western Oregon, and California.
    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.