Selective Breeding of Honey Bees for Multiple Traits with a Priority on Nosema Disease Resistance

I’m pleased to announce a honey bee breeding project I will begin in 2012 on my farm. The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) arm of the USDA has agreed to fund a 2 year project on my farm to improve honey bee stock.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll go over the details of this project, then I’ll provide updates as the seasons progress. So, lets begin with a little background info about my farm and SARE!

Here is one of my instrumentally inseminated Carniolan queens from Glenn Apiaries. She has captured the attention of her attendants.

Daughters of Carniolan queens from Glenn Apiaries will be the base, starting point for my SARE breeding project. These queens are Carniolan and bred with Carniloan drones. The Glenn’s have crossed Sue Cobey’s line of Carniolan bees (including some germplasm from recent imports) with VSH bees (Varroa Sensitive Hygienic) to produce the Glenn Apiaries line of Carniolan bees. These bees are a dark bee known for being winter hardy, capable of rapid spring build up, and have strong tracheal mite resistance.  Since the Glenn’s have already crossed these bees with VSH and the drone producing colonies these daughters will mate with at my mating yard are daughters of pure VSH queens, the progeny produced during this project should have good varroa mite resistance.

I have been in the business of beekeeping since 2006 and have been a beekeeper since 1999. I keep between 60 and 100 colonies at 5 apiary sites in East Tennessee. I have raised queens from various stocks and currently utilize queens from Glenn Apiaries. As excellent as some of the offspring of these queens are, it is reasonable to believe that my location is very different from where these bees were originally bred and breeding bees for my own location and needs will be advantageous.

SARE has been a major influence and supporter of my beekeeping farm and my education. Through relatively small grants, SARE can encourage people like myself whom want to improve farming to do so while keeping the risks associated with the costs of trying things down to manageable levels. In exchange, I will try and convey what I learn to others to repeat, or avoid, or simply add to your knowledge base. AND, ideally I’ll be helping to improve disease resistance and economic improvements of honey bees used in or near Tennessee, since most of my queens sold are within a 1/2 day driving distance.

Other SARE projects I’ve worked on

From 2007 – 2009, I conducted a SARE producer project to test a beekeeping practice of natural comb management. I learned and shared that ‘natural comb management’ is not for me, and likely many other beekeepers that have similar needs. I also learned that drone producing colonies don’t necessarily have more mite problems than colonies where drone production is restricted by worker sized comb cells. This is opposite of the conventional thought on drones and varroa population growth.

Through 2009 – 2011, I conduced a SARE graduate student project through the University of Tennessee for a Master of Science degree. During that project, I explored many area farms determining what bees were providing pollination. I found that native bees are very important pollinators on local farms, but how much and which ones depend on the type of crop. Here is my thesis. Wilson, Michael Edward, “Bee Visitation to Crops and other Flowers Planted as Bee Food. ” Master’s Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2011.

SARE news

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