Tennessee beekeepers have had 27 – 51% of their colonies die annually since 2010, according to a national survey by the Bee Informed Partnership (beeinformed.org). This is similar to the level of loss experienced nationally as 26 – 45% for the same time period. The parasitic varroa mite is the most common, widespread, and severe problem beekeepers experience. The mite reproduces in the developing brood of the honey bee and their population peaks usually late in the summer after a full season of brood production. Many treatments exist to reduce mite levels, but the mite population quickly rebounds in many cases. These varroa transfer viruses that can cause sudden death and reduction in populations even after treatments have been applied. Therefore, beekeepers need to continually monitor their colonies throughout the season to determine if management practices are controlling the parasite at low levels, before damage by viruses has occurred. Many varroa treatments only work under certain temperature and lifecycle conditions and may not reduce levels sufficiently. Varroa monitoring requires counting the small mites after dislodging them from adult bees. This can be a time consuming process.
Nosema disease can also be a widespread problem, but may not always be present. There is only one treatment for Nosema at this time, the antibiotic Fumadil-B. The only way to diagnose this disease is with a microscope, which few beekeepers own or know how to operate. With monitoring, a beekeeper can determine whether or not Nosema is a problem, avoiding costly and wasteful treating of an antibiotic when it is not necessary.
To produce honey, beekeepers need to know their disease levels to inform management as well as to monitor the growth in their colonies to determine when to add honey supers. Alternatively, colonies that area not growing during the honey producing season, can be an indicator of poor health. Starvation can also kill many colonies outside of the honey production season. Monitoring the weight gain, or loss of the colony can provide an indication of colony health and the nectar flow in the environment. This provides better feedback on when colonies need management to improve honey production or colony health. New, electronic hive scales can provide colony weight reported through web interfaces and mobile devices, however the initial cost of these monitoring systems is a barrier and their practical usage is not well tested.
The Bee Informed Partnership has developed a Sentinel Apiary monitoring program to provide annual sample processing for 8 months during the season to determine varroa and Nosema parasite levels (bip2.beeinformed.org/sentinel). This grant set out to establish Sentinel Apiaries in Tennessee and test out electronic hive monitoring, and other colony monitoring technology and services to monitor disease and colony growth over time. Beekeepers not in the program are able to follow results online to inform regional trends in parasite levels and nectar flow.
Eighteen Sentinel Apiary kits were purchased from the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) over a period of 3 years. The Sentinel Apiary kits provide data forms and sample bottles to sample up to 8 colonies over 6 months. In one year, supplementary colony data was collected using the Bee Informed Partnership mobile app in addition to Sentinel Apiary sampling kits. Varroa mite sampling and hive metrics were collected both using the Sentinel Kits and ‘in-house’ mite counts to provide a comparison of utilization of the Sentinel Apiary Kit service in contrast with ‘in-house’ mite sampling and utilization of the mobile app. Nine electronic hive scales from two separate vendors (Broodminder and Solution Bee) were deployed to multiple apiaries. Apiary management software was licensed from the commercial vendor HiveTracks, which provides a mobile app and web interface to record management and condition observations at apiaries. The HiveTracks app was used to collect management data in 9 apiaries by 1 beekeeper. These 4 adopted innovations were used to collect data through the season and this information used to inform management decisions the beekeepers made.
The project collected 779 colony observations through the Bee Informed Partnership Sentinel Apiary program and Bee Informed Partnership mobile app, including hive strength measures (frames of bees), disease observations, and Varroa and Nosema diagnostic samples. The BIP colony measures were taken in 23 apiaries among 3 Tennessee counties managed by 3 different beekeepers.
Analysis Highlights: Nosema
Varroa and Nosema levels from BIP sampling programs showed consistently in all apiaries that Nosema levels tended to be low and of little importance. On average during the 2 year period, about 250 colonies were managed among the three beekeepers. A standard beekeeping practice is to control Nosema disease in apiaries, by feeding 1.5 gallons treated feed to each colony in spring and fall as a prophylactic, without monitoring for the disease. For the colonies in the monitored apiaries, this would be 1.5 gallons X 2 seasons X 2 years X 250 colonies = 1,500 gallons treated feed. The Fumadil product costs $200 per 500 gram bottle to make 110 gallons of feed. 1,500 / 110 = 13.6, requiring 14 bottles at $200 per bottle = $2,800 for the treatment product. Sugar to mix with water to make feed syrup is prepared at the rate of 50 pounds per 10 gallons = 750 pounds to make 1,500 gallons. The price of sugar varies depending on source, but we can figure materials for treatment plus sugar = at least $4,000 plus labor for a treatment that would have been unnecessary if applied without sampling due to the assumption normally made that Nosema disease is a common enough problem to treat prophylactically. The evidence in this study area is that sampling is economically warranted as opposed to treating prophylactically.
Analysis Highlights: Varroa
We found that in all apiaries, Varroa infestation was a significant problem. All apiaries in all years exceeded economic damage threshold of 3 mites per 100 bees in numerous colonies in each apiary. This information informed us to treat for this pest and to continue monitoring and treating to control it. In instances where one or more beekeepers decided not to treat, the monitoring provided feedback to us about the results from lack of treatment and would explain any colony losses and damages suspected as Varroa mite issues, to be confirmed as such from the data, informing future management. This was clearly an invaluable activity to undertand Varroa population trends in the colonies. I added reports and figures from each apiary period as supplementary information on the web version of this report linked as Additional Information for other beekeeper so peruse and see the results of varroa testing for themselves.
In one operation, we did numerous mite counts on our own before sample processing was available via the BIP sampling program to provide supplementary data, and comparisons in labor from in-house mite counting compared to BIP sample processing. Anecdotally, we found it convenient to use the same protocol and the BIP sampling putting the bees in sample bottles for later processing. We then processed those samples later, using a similar alcohol wash protocol. The labor involved was not complicated but did take some time, and it would be a reasonable choice to either justify paying for sample processing at this scale, or to do it in house if sufficient labor is available, which can of course be very difficult in agriculture businesses.
Analysis Highlights: Operational data
The number of colonies in apiaries fluctuates seasonally as colonies are divided up as normal management, or lost to disease or other causes, or moved. Both the BIP mobile app and the HiveTracks app allowed for tracking this operational data, as well as management practices that is useful for general logistics of understanding when colonies were treated, where they are, and when and where the perished in any events. Visualizations of this data can be very helpful for beekeepers as scale of any operation increases. Utilizing mobile apps for this purpose can offer many benefits beyond more traditional pen and paper data collecting methods.
Analysis Highlights: Hive Scales
Use of Electronic hive monitoring hardware was not considered particularly useful as used by this program. Problems were encountered early on with software functioning for connected the hive scales to a unified BIP portal due to limitations in the hive scale hardware as opposed to their advertised ability to do that. In addition, some hives scales were previously used, and therefore a few years old and encountered hardware and software failures early on. Therefore, some program participants data was unavailable for analysis, but at least some data would have been accessible per participant. Another problem was, in the instances where hive scales were used in a way analysis could be done on the data, hives were chosen that ended up dying, or under performing, resulting in data results that were just not very interesting. Considering the high cost of electronic hive monitoring hardware, and the questionable utility of using them in this case, there seemed to be much greater affect in the monitoring and sampling programs instead.
The following Supplementary Reports, Figures, and Charts are provide here for your pursue. All of these materials were provided through the Bee Informed Partnership Sentinel Apiary sampling program. Some of these figures are publicly available at Research.beeinformed.org, while other reports are copies of the reports received by participating beekeepers. All beekeeper identities are protected in these reports. The following copyright information must accompany any reuse of these reports.
Bee Informed Partnership Copyright and Reproduction Agreement: Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) is responsible for all source data and holds the copyright for all information presented here. All of the results generated by BIP and published here represent an unbiased assessment of any product or process, and BIP results are not endorsements of commercial products, protocols, or services. Unless stated otherwise, BIP supports the reproduction and reuse of these results, publications and figures for scientific and educational purposes, at no cost, provided that BIP’s ownership, copyright and non-endorsement status are acknowledged. When citing any of the information, figures, or other material sourced from the BIP website, unless it has been published elsewhere as a journal article, please also include in your citation: the year published (when available), title, web address and date obtained.
Our Sourwood Honey comes from Sourwood Trees. Here you can see one in the early stage of flowering at one of our apiaries in Morgan County, TN at the end of June, 2016.
Sourwood or sorrel tree, Oxydendrum arboreum can produce good amounts of nectar the bees turn into a distinctly delicious varietal honey. These trees usually only grow in high enough numbers to produce honey in higher elevations, although they do make nice ornamental trees at any elevation in our area. They are a native tree, and can occur fairly densely in oak-heath forests of the Appalachian and Cumberland mountains. However, good sourwood honey producing locations can be hard to find, and a good season is not guaranteed in any year. This makes true sourwood honey fairly rare, so buyer beware if you see it in large chain stores. Sourwood honey has a buttery taste and it color is usually hazy, and often tinged with red, perhaps from sumac that flowers near the same time. It is never clear. It can be extra-light to amber in color, but should still have some haze to it, in my experience. It is extremely aromatic with a distinctive rich honey flavor. Anything we sell labeled sourwood honey, is just that, and its taste is distinctly different from other honeys. Not that our other honeys aren’t just as awesome too!
This article is from a Science Fair 5th grade experiment display board we did here at Rosecomb Apiaries, spring 2015.
My project is to determine if collecting pollen from honey bees will effect their honey production.
Pollen is a food for the honey bee. It provides proteins for the honey bee. To get the pollen from the honey bee, beekeepers have to get things called pollen traps and it knocks some of the pollen off of the bee’s legs where they carry their pollen from the flowers. We studied sixteen colonies. We weighed each of the sixteen colonies before we began and estimated how many bees were in each colony. Then, we collected pollen from half of them using pollen traps. The other half did not have pollen collected from them. After nearly four weeks we weighed all sixteen colonies again and estimated the number of bees. We then looked for the differences to tell if pollen traps effect weight gain and population gain. Colonies without a pollen trap faired a little better than colonies with pollen traps.
Pollen is the main source of protein for the honey bee. The larva eat the pollen to grow into honey bees. Pollen is a form of honey bee bread. Pollen is produced by the stamen in a flower which is the male reproductive parts of a flower. People collect pollen because it’s very healthy. Also it helps with allergies.
Nectar is another thing bees get from flowers to survive. Nectar turns into honey after it goes through the bees’ process of collecting, converting, and digesting the nectar. The colonies weight gain will mostly be from honey.
I think that collecting pollen will effect honey production in a negative way.
One bee hive scale (digital postal scale)
One electronic hive monitor (hive scale that monitors weight changes every 15 minutes.)
Eight beehive pollen traps
Sixteen honey bee colonies
We chose sixteen colonies with about the same strength. Then we weighed each one and counted the frames of bees in the colony. After that we put eight pollen traps in half of the colonies. After 2 weeks, we checked for swarming and removed any swarming colonies from the study. Then, after the full four weeks of the study (April 11th – May 7th, 2015) we weighed them again, counted the frames of adult bees, checked for at least one frame of stored pollen in each colony, and checked for swarming.
Frames of adult bees were converted to an estimate of adult bee population using the average number of bees that cover a frame. This allows us to account for different frame sizes. The formula used is AdultPopulation=(#MediumFrames X 1,570bees)+(#DeepFrames X 2,430bees). Finally we calculated weight gain and population gain in every hive to see if the colonies with or without pollen traps gained more weight and adult bees. More weight means more honey and bees. That is a measurement of how strong or weak the colony is. Therefore, I will know if the pollen traps affected the strength of the colonies.
Two weeks into the study we found 2 colonies that were preparing to swarm. One had a pollen trap and the other did not. These were removed from the study because swarming would affect the resulting weight and population. After four weeks, every colony had at least one frame of stored pollen. One colony without a pollen trap was preparing to swarm, but had not yet swarmed. While one other colony with a trap had swarmed before we weighed it, therefore we noted which colony that was in Figure 1 and removed it from the results discussion.
All colonies in the study gained weight and increased in adult bee population during the 4 weeks. The minimum and maximum weight gain in colonies without pollen traps was 16.7 and 76.3 pounds. In the colonies with pollen traps the minimum and maximum weight gain was 2.5 and 29.2 pounds. The minimum and maximum change in adult bee population for colonies without pollen traps was 8,260 – 32,970 bees. For colonies with pollen traps the minimum and maximum population gain was 7,290 and 41,120 bees. To better show the differences in the groups of colonies we made a graph using Google Charts, see Figure 1.
All colonies had at least one frame of stored pollen, therefore pollen trapping allows for some surplus pollen to still enter the colony and be stored for future use. Colonies are equally prone to swarm with a pollen trap than without.
The final result was that the colonies performed better without a pollen trap. However, no colonies declined in strength with a pollen trap and some colonies without pollen traps performed worse than some colonies with pollen traps. Beekeepers should consider that pollen traps reduce honey production some, but allow for the collection of pollen. This does not seem to harm colonies because they still gained some in weight, population and were able to store pollen.
Delaplane, K S; van der Steen, J; Guzman, E. 2012. Standard methods for estimating strength parameters of Apis mellifera colonies. In V Dietemann; J D Ellis; P Neumann (Eds) The COLOSS BEEBOOK, Volume I: standard methods for Apis mellifera research. Journal of Apicultural Research 51(5): http://dx.doi.org/10.3896/IBRA.1.51.
Ellis, A., Ellis, J., O’Malley, M., and Nalen, C. Z. 2013. The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees. University of Florida Extension Bulletin: ENY152 (IN868), one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology Department, UF/IFAS Extension.
This article is from a Science Fair, 3rd grade experiment display board we did here at Rosecomb Apiaries, spring 2015.
The purpose of my project will be to mark drone honey bees in their parent colonies and see if they end up in other colonies.
Drones are males. They do not collect honey. They fly to mate with a Queen. We marked drone honeybees in their parent colonies to see if they end up in other colonies. We put a dot of paint on their backs. We marked between 75 and 110 drones in 3 colonies. Each colony had it’s own color. We checked marked and unmarked colonies after 2 weeks to see where they were. Knowing the parentage of bees helps beekeepers breed better bees. Drifting of bees from one colony to another can also affect the spread of diseases.
Drones are born from unfertilized eggs. Drones are fed by the worker bees. On a warm afternoon, they go out to mate. They die after mating. Drones that don’t mate live for about 4 month’s. Some beekeepers will select which colonies they want to be parents for future colonies. Sometimes beekeepers will confine drones to their parent colony to make sure they are selecting the drones from that colony and not drones that have drifted from another colony. Other beekeepers feel like drones do not drift enough to require this step.
Drifting of drones from one colony to another can also affect the transfer of diseases. Drones take longer to develop into adults than worker bees. This makes them more likely to be effected by parasitic varroa mites. The varroa mites reproduce and feed on the brood stage of developing bees. They can become infected with viruses during this time, and could carry these viruses and mites to other colonies.
I think drones will end up in other colonies other than the ones they were born in.
• 16 colonies of honey bees divided among 3 locations
• 3 paint pens of different colors
• tape measure
• bee suits, hive tool & smoker
• notepad, pen & camera
On April 12, 2015 we picked a colony from each of the 3 sets of colonies and assigned each a different color the drones would be marked. We opened these colonies and pulled out each frame, marking the drones we found. We decided beforehand, we would stop marking drones if we reached 110. In one colony we only found 75. The other 2 colonies had 110 drones marked. Two weeks later, on April 24th, 2015, we opened each of the 16 colonies in the experiment and counted the number of painted drones found in each colony. Each frame of each colony was removed to look for drones. We also measured the distance between each colony and recorded the direction of the entrances of the colonies.
We tested 3 different sets of colonies. Each set had different colony entrance directions and distances between colonies. The set with drones marked red (see Figure 1) had entrances that pointed all the same direction and were placed close together. These colonies had the greatest amount of drift with more drones found in the colony next to the parent colony than was found in the parent colony (25 vs 22). Two drones were found in another colony in this set. The set with the drones marked green (see Figure 2) had entrances pointed in different directions, but were placed close together. It had only a little drift with 1 drone found in 2 other colonies and 31 found in the parent colony. In the set with drones marked yellow, the entrances pointed in different directions and there was a greater distance between colonies. In it no drift occurred. There were 0 drones found in other colonies and 33 found in the parent colony.
The distance between colonies and the way the entrances are pointed can affect drift. If you have them right next to each other and both entrances are the same you will get a lot of drift. We found there was a little drift when we had the colonies close to each other, but their entrances pointed different directions. When they were far away from each other, and their entrances pointed different directions, we did not get any drift at all. To prevent drifting between colonies, the colonies should have entrances pointing in different directions and have a greater distance between them. This can help prevent the transfer of diseases between colonies.
Connor, L. 2012. Beekeeping Instructors’ Guide. Drone Bees. Fourth in a Series. Bee Culture. April 2012, pp. 44-46.
Currie, R. W. and Jay, S. C. 1991. Drifting behavior of drone honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) in commercial apiaries. Journal of Apicultural Research. Vol 30(2) pp. 61-88.
Maple trees (genus Acer) are very important in our area for honey bee colonies to build up in strength during spring. The maple flow generally starts with Silver Maple, then Red Maple. Today, March 30th, 2015 these two trees are mostly done flowering and we are now in the beginning of the Acer negundo, also known as Box Elder, bloom as well as the Sugar Maple bloom. The Box Elder producing the flowers pictured here was a ‘buzz’ with bees today.
Two and three days ago the night time temperatures dipped into the 20s F. The flowers of this tree, like other maples, are very cold hardy. No noticeable freeze damage occurred. These trees are frequent in forests and suburban areas making it a major source of food for bees this time of year. Honey from maples is very sweet with hints of maple syrup. It is light in color and crystallizes very fast. Pure maple honey is very rare due to its early season flowering. Most colonies are not built up enough in strength to store surplus honey from maples, plus the weather varies greatly in spring and nectar is not usually converted to honey when temperatures dip close to freezing and rain is frequent. Instead, it most often gets fed to bee larvae as the colonies rapidly grow this time of year. However, after inspecting some colonies today, some nectar is getting converted to honey. Maybe we will have some hints of maple syrup in this year’s early honey crop.
Along with Box Elder, the Sugar Maples are flowering at about the same time. Sugar Maples have similar flowers, but distinclty different if you look close. Sugar Maples are the source of maple syrup. This tree is generally more associated with the northeast, however its natural range dips down into East Tennessee as its most southern natural habitat on some habitat maps, while other maps show its range going much further south.
A Red Maple in my yard began flowering today, March 11, 2015. This is one of the most important spring nectar and pollen plants for honey bees in our area. Its flowering marks the main start of the season. Maple trees are important to build the colonies up in population by providing a large supply of carbohydrate, nectar and protein from the pollen. Colonies don’t often produce surplus honey from Maple trees due to rainy cool weather, but these trees are still one of the most important plants for a good honey season.
Nov. 20th, 2014. Yesterday’s high was 45F with a low of 17F, while today’s high was warmer reaching into the upper 50s, although the wind made it feel much colder. Yet, tonight’s low will be in the 20s. We are running 15 degrees or so below the average, but averages are just that. So, this is really probably normal. But, the thing that we might think of as unusual is that bees were flying today and flowers were blooming, or at least a few.
Several colonies were active today and I wondered, why they were ‘wasting’ their energy? Well there were at least a few flowers still here and there that I supposed enticed them. Also, they will remain somewhat active while they can through winter to defecate outside the hive and defend their entrances from intruders. Many of the bees I saw active today didn’t stray far from the entrance, while others took off with great speed for what appeared to be some far off destination. Towards the evening as the temperature was dropping quickly, bees were clearly coming in from far distances. I didn’t see any pollen coming in, but didn’t observe that long. It could be the bees were mostly getting water to dilute stored honey.
Spring 2014 marked the end of a 5 year effort to bring in varroa and tracheal mite resistant stock, and improve them for nosema disease resistance and adaptation to my local environment. The last 2 years of this period was partially funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education arm of the USDA. This project helped me measure performance, and select breeder queens for the following generation. I am extremely pleased with the results and am sharing them here with the final report submitted to SARE below. The web-link to the SARE database is http://mysare.sare.org/mySARE/ProjectReport.aspx?do=viewRept&pn=FS12-263&y=2014&t=1
The main goal of this project was to improve an available mite resistant honey bee stock by selecting daughter colonies on their performance in a localized setting. Performance measures were based on nosema infection levels, varroa infection, and colony strength. In addition ratings based on visual observations of brood disease, deformed wings, brood pattern, temperament, and runny on comb were conducted. For each year of 2 years a new generation of daughter queens was started. Selection measures were combined in a selection index to aid in determining top performers. The top performers were then selected as breeder queens for the next generation.
To determine if progress was being made in selection, pest levels were compared across 2 generations. Colonies were kept without nosema treatments. In the second year, spring nosema levels were significantly lower in the second generation than first generation colonies indicating that selection on low levels of nosema may be genetically reducing nosema levels in the population. However, without a control population, this determination is not conclusive, but is promising. It was attempted to keep colonies without varroa treatments in the first year, but it became obvious too many colonies would be lost without varroa treatments and they were treated in the second year. Therefore, it was not possible to determine if improvements were made in mite resistance or colony survivorship over winter. Fewer colonies died in the second generation during winter, but this is as likely due to mite treatments as genetic improvements in the stock. Before the 2 years of this project, European foulbrood was a problem in the starting population. For the first and second generation daughter colonies of the starting population, this condition was no longer observed. The starting population breeder queens were selected to be free of European foulbrood and no preventative treatments were given. This is another promising indication that genetic improvement may be occurring in the population based on the reduction of incidence of European foulbrood.
There are two primary outcomes of this project. One is improved stock that is being distributed to local beekeepers in a similar environment. The second is the distribution of a realistic protocol of evaluating colonies for breeding purposes by part-time beekeepers. This protocol is outlined within this report, on my website at rosecombapries.com, and through presentations given to regional and state level beekeeping conferences.
Losses in managed honey bee colonies have increased and remained high in recent years. It has become a consensus that multiple causes are responsible for colony losses and many of those causes are related to issues with the parasitic varroa mite and a gut parasite called Nosema. Over the last several decades, major advances have occurred in breeding bees to be resistant to varroa mites by selecting for hygienic behavior. Hygienic, mite resistant bees are being propagated and distributed through many bee breeding programs including the USDA-ARS Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) bees. However, few of these programs have incorporated selection for nosema disease resistance in parallel to mite resistance. In addition, bees produced in these programs may be adapted to their specific location or conditions not shared by all beekeepers.
Nosema disease is caused by two species of microsporidia, Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. These unicellular organisms reproduce inside adult honey bees negatively affecting the mid-gut epithelium, hypopharyngeal glands, corpora allata (juvenile hormone), as well as oocytes in queens. Nosemainfected bees have a shorter lifespan, dysentery, nutrition digestion problems, cannot produce essential hormones correctly, and in many ways cannot function to maintain productive or surviving colonies. The microsporidia produce spores in infected bees and after defecation, these spores are picked up by un-infected bees to continue the disease cycle. Nosema disease is normally controlled by feeding the antibiotic fumagillin dissolved in syrup during spring and fall. Treatment is normally done without prior sampling to determine if Nosema spore levels are high enough to warrant treatment. In the past, there was a single species involved, Nosema apis. Now, a new Nosemaspecies in U.S. honey bees, Nosema ceranae, causes much more problems than previously observed. This may explain why nosema disease resistance has not already been incorporated into many historic, large scale breeding programs.
Spore sampling for Nosema requires microscopic examination of bee samples and could possibly be used as a selection measure. Although there is some expense to microscopic examination, the procedure is relatively basic compared to other microscopic work. Monitoring varroa levels by mite sampling on adult bees is understood to aid in selection for varroa resistance. In addition to selecting for disease resistance, selecting bees by their performance under the same localized conditions they are to be used is long understood as an effective method to breed honey bees as evidenced in Brother Adam’s, “Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey”.
Nosema disease is an impediment to organic production in honey bees. Formal recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board to the National Organic Program in 2010 point out that antibiotics are not permitted for any type of livestock. It is unlikely the antibiotic fumagillin will ever be included as an allowed organic substance. There are numerous essential oils on the market for control of nosema disease, however none of these have been shown to work. There is some evidence of variation in response to Nosema by colonies and populations. Some colonies clearly are susceptible to Nosema and die from it while others thrive under the same conditions. There are effective organic treatments for varroa infestations, but not for nosema disease. Selecting colonies for resistance to nosema is likely to effectively control this disease as evidenced by recent work at the USDA Baton Rouge bee lab.
Objectives / Performance Targets
Establish a realistic protocol to measure colony performance that evaluates disease resistance and productivity.
Establish numeric data visualization techniques to make comparisons on performance measures.
Document improvement in the population across generations.
Distribute stock to local beekeepers.
Conduct outreach through my website and beekeeping conferences.
The starting population of honey bees for this bee breeding project consisted of ~ 50 colonies at one location. These colonies were headed by daughter queens of Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) inseminated breeder queens from Glenn Apiaries. These genetics came from the USDA Baton Rouge bee lab. Inseminated VSH queens had been used as mother queens for 3 years prior to the start of this project. Queens raised in this project were open mated, meaning the daughter queens would fly and mate with the drones they encountered in the environment. It was attempted to saturate the area with drones of VSH daughters by adding drone comb in the ~ 50 colonies and another apiary ~ 2.5 miles away that also had VSH daughter queens. Over the 3 years prior to the start of the project, and during the project, queens were distributed to local beekeepers to also influence the drone population. At the start of this project, 3 New World Carniolan inseminated queens from Glenn Apiaries were used to start new colonies to be evaluated as potential breeding stock for the next generation. These New World Carniolans were bred by Glenn Apiaries to be mixed with VSH queens and to have varroa mite resistance from both the VSH genetics and varroa resistance bred into the original New World Carniolan stock from Susan Cobey and others. For the first generation daughter queens from these New World Carniolans, it is assumed they were bred to drones that had VSH genetics. The group of queens raised in the first year of this project will now be referred to as first generation queens. The first generation queens were evaluated as explained later and 3 queens were selected as breeder queens for the 2nd generation. The 2nd generation was evaluated in fall 2013 and spring 2014 to select 3 queens as mother queens for the 2014 season.
For each season of the project, colonies to be evaluated were started as nucleus colonies with 2 frames of brood, 1 frame of honey, and 2 frames of foundation on medium sized frames. Extra bees were shaken into each box. The nucleus colonies were given a caged virgin queen that was no more than 4 days old. These nucleus colonies were checked in 2 weeks for a laying queen. Any nucleus colony that had evidence that the virgin queen was not accepted and raised their own was removed from consideration.
During Spring and Summer 2012, 50 nucleus colonies were started as the first generation. It was attempted to start all colonies at the same time, but it was not practical for this beekeeping operation to start that many at once. Of these 50, 15 were culled by July 10th, 2012 since they did not build up well in population during June. The other 35 daughter colonies were given the opportunity to build their own combs and populations and overwinter without treatments for mites, nosema disease, bacterial infections, or any other conditions. Of these, 14 died before March 2013. Measures in strength, disease and pest levels were taken periodically from July 2012 to March 2013. It was attempted to make evaluation on 4 different occasions, but this became impractical as some colonies were only recently established in summer, while others were established early in the spring. So, for evaluation, only three evaluations were used per generation. For the first generation, one evaluation was used in October 2012 that consisted of measures for varroa and nosema infestation, colony strength, and an evaluation based on visual observations of brood disease, deformed wings, brood pattern, temperament, and runny on comb were conducted. In February of 2013, an evaluation of colony strength was done by estimating frames of adult bees. In March 2013, the same measures used during October 2012 was repeated.
For the second generation, the same measures were conducted during the same months of October 2013, Feb. 2014, and March 2014. The second generation was started with 79 new queens that were daughters from 3 selected breeder queens. Of the 79 daughter queens that successfully mated and were laying eggs in their new colonies, 20 were culled before measures were made by visually determining how well they seemed to be doing in their nucleus colonies. Another 9 were introduced into new nucleus colonies too late in the season to be successful enough to consider their performance on a genetic basis rather than environment. Of the 50 colonies that subsequently had selection measures performed on them, 31 were introduced into new nucleus colonies and allowed to build up to full size colonies on their own. Another 19 were used to requeen existing, full size colonies to allow for all 50 of the production colonies at the location to be evaluated. Unlike the first generation colonies, the second generation colonies were treated for varroa with Apiguard after the October 2013 inspection. This was due to prevent the number of losses seen the previous winter when no varroa treatments were given. No other treatments were given and there was enough varroa population growth over the winter to have variation in infection for spring evaluation.
The measures used to evaluate colonies are explained in more detail here.
Varroa infestation estimate: roughly ½ cup (~300 bees) was collected into a mason pint jar with #8 hardware cloth on the lid. These bees were collected from brood frames. A tablespoon of powdered sugar was added and allowed to sit for 1 minute. Then, the powdered sugar was shaken out of the jar onto a white plastic bucket lid for 1 minute. A spray bottle of water was used to dissolve the sugar and the mites could then be easily counted on the white background. This count was later converted to mites per 100 bees.
Nosema infestation estimate: 10 bees were collected from under the lid or inner cover of each colony into a plastic zip bag. These bees were then frozen for examination at a later date. The bees were allowed to thaw and the abdomens were removed from and placed back in the bag. 10ml of water was added to the bag and the abdomens were crushed with a rolling pin. Then a drop of the liquid was placed on a hemocytometer and examined under a microscope at 100X. Spores in 5 of the large squares were counted and converted into millions of spores per bee with the formula: (Count X 4,000,000) / 80
Adult bee population estimate (Colony strength): Each frame was removed from the colony and the coverage of frames by adult bees was determined by a visual estimate. Counts of ‘frames of bees’ was converted to adult bee population with the following formula: (medium size frames of bees X 1570) + (deep size frames of bees X 2430). Frames of brood was also recorded, but not used in the final selection process.
Index of rated observations: While the frames of bees were being estimated, several conditions were looked for and rated 1 – 3 with 3 being the desirable outcome. The conditions noted were brood disease, deformed wings, brood pattern, temperament, and runny on comb. Brood disease was rated down to 2 if any dead or unhealthy brood was seen, or 1 if more than 3 unhealthy brood were seen. Deformed wings on adult bees is an indication of Deformed Wing Virus. Deformed wings was rated down to 2 if any bee was seen with deformed wings, or down to 1 if 3 or more bees had the condition. Brood pattern was given a 2 if there was no solid brood frame (some missing cells were acceptable) or down to a 1 if there was a spotty brood condition. Colonies that were honey bound (few places for the queen to lay due to excessive honey) were given a 2 for brood pattern, but a note was taken if the brood pattern problem was likely caused by being honey bound. Temperament was given a 2 if any bees tried to sting or run into the beekeeping veil during an inspection or a 1 if the colony seemed really defensive. If the bees were runny on comb, they were given a 2, or if they ran onto the sides of the frames and bunched up to the point where they would fall of in a ball of bees they would have been given a 1. No colonies exhibited this behavior. A perfect score on the index of observations would be a total 15.
Once all the data was collected, it was summarized visually in graphs to determine which colonies were overall ‘best’ when considering all measures. The graphs for the second generation are attached in .pdf. The graphs were also useful in determining the effect of varroa and nosema levels on overwintering colony losses and to see how much the varroa and nosema levels are correlated to the adult bee population. In addition to the graphs, a selection index formula was developed with the assistance of Dr. Arnold Saxton. The formula, shown below, attempts to calculate a baseline, acceptable colony at about 0. Colonies exceeding acceptable numbers of adult bees and having a perfect ratings score are rated higher, while colonies that have more than the acceptable amount of nosema infection or varroa mites get their score reduced. The formula is attached in a spreadsheet along with the second generation data. The spreadsheet allows for editing the formula so it can be adapted for other beekeepers.
There are two primary outcomes of this project. One is improved stock that is being distributed to local beekeepers in a similar environment. The second is the distribution of a realistic protocol of evaluating colonies for breeding purposes by part-time beekeepers. This protocol is outlined within this report, on my website at rosecombapries.com, and through presentations given to regional and state level beekeeping conferences. Some comparisons are presented below.
To determine if progress was being made in selection, pest levels were compared across 2 generations. Colonies were kept without nosema treatments. In the second year, spring nosema levels were significantly lower in the second generation than first generation colonies indicating that selection on low levels of nosema may be genetically reducing nosema levels in the population. However, without a control population, this determination is not conclusive, but is promising. Spring nosema levels where chosen for the comparison instead of fall levels, so that the colony had more time to go through generations of worker bees from the mother queen and gave longer time for the colony to show susceptibility or resistance. To compare generation 1 and 2, a single factor ANOVA was conducted using Excell. The number of colonies sampled, their average millions of spores per bee, and the variance is reported in the table below. The p-value was 0.010414, indicating the difference was statistically significant.
ANOVA comparing nosema levels
It was attempted to keep colonies without varroa treatments in the first year, but it became obvious too many colonies would be lost without varroa treatments and they were treated in the second year. Therefore, it was not possible to determine if improvements were made in mite resistance or colony survivorship over winter. Fewer colonies died in the second generation during winter, but this is as likely due to mite treatments as genetic improvements in the stock. However, An ANOVA analysis using Excel comparing the 12 colonies that died over the winter of 2012-13 to the 19 that survived did not find a significant difference in the mites per 100 bees between the two groups (died average 2.8 variance 6.3 vs lived average 1.9 variance 1.0). However, the variance in mite counts for those that died was high. 6 out of 12 colonies that died had mites counts at or higher than the accepted economic threshold of 3 mites per 100 bees, while the colonies that lived only had 2 colonies that exceeded the threshold at 3.3 mites per 100 bees for both colonies. Although not significantly different, it was decided to treat the 2nd generation colonies to avoid as high of a winter loss. For the second generation, 9 out of 49 colonies died over the winter (18% loss as compared to the first generation’s 39% loss over winter). Winter survival greatly improved in generation 2, but again due to the mite treatments it is not conclusive that this improvement in survival was due to genetic improvement.
Before the 2 years of this project, European foulbrood was a problem in the starting population. For the first and second generation daughter colonies of the starting population, this condition was no longer observed. The starting population breeder queens were selected to be free of European foulbrood and no preventative treatments were given. This is another promising indication that genetic improvement may be occurring in the population based on the reduction of incidence of European foulbrood. However, since this condition did not occur in either generation 1 or 2 where the condition would have been measured, no objective statistical comparisons could be made concerning European foulbrood.
The protocol used to evaluate colonies has been streamlined in a way that it can be repeated in unfunded years. The stock is improved as evidenced by a significant reduction in nosema disease. Before this project began, an antibiotic, Fumidil-B was used in this beekeeping operation to prevent nosema disease. Through the monitoring efforts during the bee breeding project, I was able to see that without treatments, nosema levels were at acceptable levels in many colonies. However, there were many colonies that had higher than acceptable levels of nosema disease. Greater than 1 million spores per bee is generally considered problematic. The colonies high in nosema levels did not seem to be susceptible to death or were they found to be low in strength (see attachment 2014 graphs). Therefore, I removed the practice of feeding the antibiotic Funadil-B in all of my beekeeping operation, not just the colonies being evaluated as potential breeding stock. This was a major accomplishment/milestone beyond the improvement of the bees themselves.
Many colonies evaluated during this project were suspected to not be selected as potential breeders early on in the season. I continued to do evaluations on these lower quality colonies to learn more about what effects varroa and nosema may be having on colony strength and survivorship. These ‘lower quality’ colonies were still good colonies because I had already culled the lowest quality colonies. Therefore, I also was not certain that these lower quality colonies would not improve by spring of the following year. For future evaluations, I will not try and make as many detailed observations on as many colonies. I believe colonies can be rated on adult bee population and the ratings observation scores in the fall and only a proportion of the best looking colonies could then be evaluated for varroa and nosema levels. This fewer proportion of colonies could then be evaluated again in the following spring. If some of the colonies that were culled in fall and not included in the detailed evaluation instead seemed like the best colonies in spring, these could be evaluated only once in spring to determine varroa and nosema levels. However, some of the weaker colonies should still be evaluated to be able to make comparisons of varroa and nosema levels between two groups, stronger and weaker colonies. Seeing the levels of varroa and nosema which can only be done by methods similar to those presented here informs management decisions greatly in addition to being able to use these measures for stock selection. More important than making frequent and detailed measures seems to be to have a larger pool of potential breeding stock. In 2013, I started 79 colonies to evaluate and only 3 of these turned out to be truly exceptional colonies. For a small scale breeding program, doing some kind of evaluation on at least 100 colonies seems like a reasonable number of colonies to find some exceptional colonies for breeding purposes. To evaluate that many, the number and amount of detailed measures needs to be reduced to be able to fit it in most part time beekeepers schedules.
I’ll add pictures soon, but here is the text. This assumes you bought a nucleus colony and have already placed it in a hive.
Once you have transported your colony home and set it up. Go ahead and open the entrance to a small opening (about an inch or two). You will probably be able to leave the entrance this small till the honey flow season of the next year. Keeping a small entrance on colonies through the summer and fall prevents other bees from robbing out the honey stores.
You should have already decided what your “overwintering configuration” will be. This is, how many, and what size boxes, your colony be for the winter. If your new colony is from a nucleus colony (5 or less frames of comb), or package bees, AND you will only be adding foundation frames to the box, I recommend you do NOT try and overwinter the colony in a “double deep” hive, and instead use a single deep plus one shallow or medium box. If you are already confused, keep reading, this is where the pictures will come in handy. I keep most of my colonies in a deep size box plus one medium size (or Illinois) box. However, I recommend using the smaller ‘shallow’ instead of the ‘medium’ to reduce back strain lifting the box. I do not recommend trying to start a new colony in 2 deep size boxes, if you are using foundation, because it is simply too much comb to expect a colony in Tennessee to be able to build through the Summer and Fall. Our honey flows (when bees really like to build combs) are early and short. You are highly unlikely to obtain bees before the honey flow starts in Tennessee to be able to take full advantage of the natural flow for your new colony to build combs. You will have to feed them through the summer and artificially get them to build new combs regardless of how you start your new colony (nucs or packages).
Which brings me to feeding: The same day (or at the latest the next day) that you setup your new colony at its new location, you need to feed it. I mix half sugar and half water to make a syrup for the colonies. The easiest way to do this is to figure 5 pounds of sugar makes 1 gallon of syrup. So, if you have a 1 gallon bucket, put 5 pounds of sugar in it, fill with water, then mix. Heated water is not necessary, but speeds the process. You will need to feed the colony continuously until every single frame in your ‘overwintering configuration’ is built with combs. It is possible you will feed this colony from the day you pick it up till it gets too cold to feed. However, it might not take that much. Sugar water will spoil. You don’t want to feed more than the bees can consume in 2 weeks. Especially in the summer, after 2 weeks, it will start to ferment and turn to alcohol, which your bees will consume, but it won’t be good for keeping them to the task at hand, which is to build up a big strong colony to overwinter. I recommend feeding 1 gallon to start then you can raise that to 1.5 gallons if they are consuming it all within 2 weeks. So, you will need to check the feeder every 2 weeks, if you have a 1.5 gallon feeder, which is the size I sell and use. When you check the feeder, also check how many frames have been built with combs. Once all but the outside combs in the bottom box have been drawn out with comb, you can add a second box. Since I recommend starting with a 5 frame deep nuc in a 10 frame box with a frame feeder (which takes the space of 2 frames), then you will be adding a second box pretty soon, or as soon as they build out their first comb. During the Summer in the Tennessee Valley (which starts about late June as far as the bees are concerned) the honey flow is over and nothing much is flowering. Its real important to feed the bees through this. The honey flow (or nectar flow, when plants produce nectar) picks up again when the goldenrod and asters start blooming in late summer / early fall. Continuing to feed them during the goldenrod bloom help them take full advantage of the natural nectar flow. They can tank up on sugar, go out and forage, and bring in a good crop to overwinter on. They need at least a full medium or shallow box of honey to make it through winter plus a little more. This will be the second box you put on your hive, and you want it completely full of honey (or syrup) and some more down below in the deep. A word of caution though. Always check the hive before feeding to make sure you are not over feeding. Overfeeding can result in a colony where the queen has no place to lay eggs because everything is full. You have to check and see how frequent to add more food.
Mite Treatments: The #1 problem, difficulty, and challenge with keeping bees is the varroa mite, which is a parasite that exists in every honey bee colony in the world (for all practical discussion), including yours no matter where you got it. The varroa mite is a parasite that feeds on the blood of the bees and transfers viruses and bacteria, which causes secondary infections. The majority of colonies in the USA will not survive 1 year without at least one mite treatment, if not more. However, some do survive without any mite treatments. Although I actively select for mite resistance in my honey bee breeding program, even the USDA professionals have not been able to develop a honey bee that is %100 resistant to the varroa mite. Most colonies die within a year without being treated with a pesticide designed to kill the varroa mite. So what to do? The question is not easy to answer no matter what your philosophy is. If you are someone that is happy to use pesticides in agriculture anytime you need, the answer is still very complex because most of the synthetic miticides are no longer effective. There are several organic controls that are very effective, however many conditions influence their effectiveness. I use and recommend either a thymol based product (Apigurad or Aplilife-Var) or a Formic Acid based product (Mite-Away). The difficulty for the new beekeeper with these treatments must be considered. First of all, they are hard on the bees. They reduce brood rearing in the colony and these organic treatments will kill small colonies outright. The reduced brood rearing will reduce the amount of combs they can build in their first year. I therefore recommend Apigaurd or Apilife-Var for the new colony because it is easier to regulate the dose of the mite treatment. You can cut it in half to treat the smaller colonies. The organics are also temperature dependent, which means you can’t wait till late November to treat for mites, because it will not work then. A full treatment of Apigaurd takes 4 weeks, so the temperature has to be warm for some time, but not too warm otherwise it will fume off too quick and possibly kill some of the brood. The organic treatments are essentially volatile, organic chemicals that kill mites but bees can tolerate more of these organic chemicals than the mites can. The formic acid product (Miteaway) is USDA Organic approved while the Thymol products (Apiguard and Apilife-Var) are approved in the European Union for Organic agriculture. The new colony should be of full size of the overwintering configuring before using these products, but if its too cold they won’t work. If they are too small, you can use half of the recommended dose. Hopeguard II is a new product that has been shown to be effective when little brood is in the colony (late fall).
Assuming you did all the above, and the colony responded well and is strong for overwintering, then you need to stop feeding liquid syrup after the first hard frost. If they need more food after that point, you will need to build a 1-2 inch spacer that goes on the top box where you can put solid food, usually hard candy or dry sugar. You can mix small amounts of water with dry sugar to make a paste, spread that on newspaper, and place it on the top bars which makes a pretty decent winter feed for colonies. Then, assuming they get through to spring, you might consider feeding them some liquid syrup in very early spring (late February in the East Tennessee Valley) and a mite treatment might be beneficial too, but many Tennessee beekeepers skip a spring mite treatment. After that, you can finally make some honey as the honey flow ramps up in mid-late March. April and May is the main honey flow in the valley, and you can make a decent amount of honey on overwintered colonies during this time, even if your honey supers have only foundation in the additional boxes to store the honey on. But, the colony will need to be large and booming with bees in at least 1 deep and a shallow box by early March to do much of anything with the honey flow. This is why you usdually don’t make honey on a colony you bought in the same year, in our area. The boxes for honey production go on top of your overwintering configuration. I always use, and recommend, a queen excluder between your overwintering hive and the honey supers. It takes a healthy, overwintered, strong colony to make honey in East Tennessee where we have a very early, strong, but short honey flow. The same is true for the higher elevations of Tennessee too, unless sourwood trees produce (an increasingly rare event) in the higher elevations. In that case, a weaker honey flow can last well through July in those areas and additional honey can be obtained in supers with drawn comb, but not usually in boxes with foundation.
After a few weeks of sub-freezing temperatures, we had a warm few hours in the mid 50’s F on Febuary 1st, 2014 where I was able to check the status of 50 colonies at my home I’m evaluating as potential queen mother colonies. Still being winter, I did not want to break up the cluster very much to do things like count varroa mites, so I only did a simple evaluation of adult bee population.
This winter has been pretty good to the colonies. There hasn’t been much fluctation in temperatures, which causes them to use up their stores too fast. Although I would like to see larger populations in the hives, most were strong enough and I’ve only lost 5 out of 50 (10%) so far. The national average, yearly winter loss hovers around 30%.
Here are some more stats. Of the 45 surviving colonies on Febuary 1st, 2014, they averaged in strength at 4.5 deep frames of adult bees (median value was 4 frames). The top 25% colonies had 6 or more deep frames of adult bees. While the bottom 25% had 3 or fewer frames of bees, wich leaves 50% of the colonies having between 3 and 6 frames of bees. The bottom 25% is concerning, but at this stage of spring, even those have a good chance of doing OK. The selected queen mothers for 2014 will most likely be chosen from the top 25% in this measure. However, its still too early to say. Some other colonies might really take off, or some of these might dwindle if they develop a virus problem from too many varroa mites.
Winter feeding of bees
Early Febuary is a good time to look for colonies that need emergency feeding. As the day length and temperatures increase and the colonies begin to raise brood, they can quickly use up the rest of their stores and starve as the cold, rainy weather sets back in after warm spells. The maple trees can produce a great deal of nectar here in Febuary, stimulating brood rearing.
Late divides and overwintering nucs, or small colonies.
As an experiemnt this year, I tried to overwinter 14 nucleus colonies I made late in summer. Only 2 are likely to survive. I tried to overwinter these nucs mostly because lots of other people get excited about the idea of overwintering nucs. I’ve always been skeptical of the utility of this concept in our area, not because our winters are exceptionally cold, but for other reasons. One is that small colonies in late summer, early fall often get robbed out by other bees and destroyed by hive beetles. Then, you can’t really treat them for mites with organic methods, because they are not strong enough. During winter, our temperatures often fluctuate and stimulate brood rearing in late January as the days get longer. If a small colony raisies some brood, they will not be able to get to the nearby stored honey or emerency sugar when the temperature inevitably drops again, and they starve. Finally, if they make it to spring, they will not be strong enough to both warm up a large enough area to raise much brood and have a strong enough field force to take full advantage of the maple tree bloom in Febuary.
A strong colony can raise many, many bees in early spring that can be divided later in spring multiple times and still make honey, while small colonies rarely grow to a size that can both be divided and make honey. I recomend if you want more nucs in spring, to overwinter more strong colonies, build them up early in spring with supplemental feeding, and divide them just before they swarm.