Caring for the bees

Mikayla E. Wilson

Most of the beekeeping at Rosecomb Apiaries is done by owner Mikayla Electra Wilson, with occasional helpers being very important. Mikayla began keeping bees in the late 90’s in Clinton, TN where her grandfather also kept bees and ran a small mini-farm. The farm is about 7 acres, however, bees will forage an area of about a 3 mile radius from their home. Honey bees are semi-wild as they exist both within hives managed by beekeepers and in hollow trees and other places in the environment. Only some of our colonies are at our farm, while other apiaries are established on other peoples land whom are happy to provide a home for the bees.

Sustainable Agriculture and the Farm-to-Table movement connects the food we eat to its source. Many people find importance in knowing where and how the food we eat is produced. We do what we can to let you know that we take great care in producing a pure and natural, locally produced food.

In recent years, honey bees have suffered from the effects of changes in our environment. As semi-wild creatures, they are highly susceptible to changes in the landscape. This has not been friendly to all types of bees. It is harder to keep bees today than it was back in 1999, although it really wasn’t that easy back then either. The way Mikayla approaches this problem is to help the bees help themselves. We will use organic treatments to keep the bees from dying from parasitic varroa mites when necessary, but our main strategy is to select colonies that perform best to mother future generations. Each honey bee colony has a diversity of genes that is not possible in many other organisms. We select colonies, to mother future generations, that have the right mix of genetic diversity to allow them to succeed  in their environment. Selected mother colonies will be naturally resistant to diseases and pests. This is how we help the bees help themselves.

Research on the Farm

We are always looking for ways to help the bees help themselves. Research on the farm has been supported by the USDA, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program on 2 separate occasions for 4 years. Without outside funding, we have continued to try new things out and better understand the bees. Our first foray into bee research occurred  back in 2007 when we began to investigate an idea spread via internet that a common beekeeper practice interfered with honey bees natural comb building process. This management technique does in fact interfere with their natural process, but the question was if this interference caused beekeepers to loose colonies they otherwise wouldn’t and results in beekeeper using more chemicals to reduce those losses. Our investigation proved this theory was in fact not true, but we learned a lot about the bees in the process. A final report about this research can be found here.BeeAtEntrance

In 2009, we began a bee research project that was more certain to improve the health of our honey bees. We began using queens selected for natural resistance to disease by the USDA, Baton-Rouge Bee Lab. These bees were selected to succeed without treatments by the USDA. Once we had incorporated this stock into our population, we began selecting our own colonies based on performance. Once again the USDA, Sustainable Agriculture  Research and Education (USDA-SARE) helped out. In 2012, SARE began funding measures on our colonies to select the best performers without treatments. A full report on this project can be found here. The summary is that we were able to improve the health of our colonies without the aid of chemicals. We continue, on a yearly basis, to select colonies to mother future generations that perform the best with minimal intervention. This results in bees that can handle our modern, hostile environment with as little inputs as is possible.

We have continued research on the farm and improvement of sustainable practices with a science fair experiments for our resident 5th grader to measure the effects of collecting pollen, and our resident 3rd grader investigated drone drift, an important factor in bee breeding and disease transmission.

Then, late in 2017 and into spring 2020, we worked with a few other beekeepers to execute a grant project with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant. This project called, Sentinel Apiary Monitoring to Increase Honey Production is reported on this link.

National Bee Health

In addition to making a positive effect on the local level, Mikayla’s primary career  is to support national initiatives to improve bee health. The Bee Informed Partnership works with beekeepers that may own just a few colonies, to beekeepers with tens of thousands of colonies. This project collects large amounts of data on colony health and beekeepers practices effects on colony health. Mikayla manages the web-based database programming needs of this project to efficiently organize, analyze, and report back to beekeepers. These database reports give interpreted information back to beekeepers about anything from pesticide levels, colony strength, pest and disease levels, molecular analysis of virus levels, colony losses, and possible management effects on these measures. Mikayla got into this work through her career in Information Technology at the University of Tennessee after gaining a Masters’ degree in Entomology, again studying the health of bees in the local environment, thesis linked here.

LinkedIn resume here

Rosecomb Apiaries is committed to caring for the bees that sustain your world.