The Apiculture Program at NCSU: A Time of Transition
At the risk of repeating a presentation that I made at the NCSBA spring meeting in New Bern, I would like to briefly highlight some of the recent developments in honey bee research and extension at North Carolina State University (NCSU). Most of you are aware that there has been some significant changes in the program over recent years, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some of them with you.
The Apiculture program at NCSU has a long and storied history. In late 1946, Mr. W. A. Stephen ("Steve") was hired as the Extension Bee Specialist, who was later replaced by Mr. Frank M. Meacham as the part-time Extension Apiarist when Mr. Stephen moved to become the State Apiarist of Ohio. In 1974, the NCSBA successfully lobbied the NC State legislature to create a full-time apiculture position at NCSU, and on February 2nd, 1975, Dr. John T. Ambrose began work as the Extension Beekeeping Specialist. I will not even attempt to summarize the tremendous impact that Dr. Ambrose has had on beekeepers in North Carolina in general and on this organization in particular, since I could not do justice to his countless and outstanding contributions in a mere few lines. I will say, however, that he remains the model of honey bee extension for apiculture programs across the country, one that I will personally make every effort to follow.
Like all good things, however, Dr. Ambrose moved on in 2000 to become the Dean of the First Year College at NCSU, a program which has quickly become a respected vehicle for student education. His former Ph.D. student, Dr. Mike Stanghellini, ably served as the interim Extension Apiculturist before taking a position at Rutgers University last summer. I assumed the duties of Extension Apiculturist on September 1st, 2003, and I have been actively engaged in honey bee extension and research since that time.
The most significant change in the program has been its physical relocation. The on-campus office and laboratory space has moved from Grinnells Hall to Gardner Hall, the main building of the Entomology Department. This move has deepened the connection between the Apiculture program and other entomology programs, and will help solidify the central role that it has within the department. The off-campus facilities have also moved to the Lake Wheeler University Farm complex. The building is approximately 4,000 square feet and contains 10 laboratory and office spaces, a basement for equipment storage, two glass-walled porches, and a garage. The facility is located on five acres of property, surrounded by hundreds of acres of farm land, and therefore provides ample space to place many colonies of honey bees. The main building includes a library dedicated to apiculture and honey bee literature (open to the public by appointment), a conference center for presentations and extension-based activities, a chemical lab, a multipurpose lab, and a queen breeding/instrumental insemination lab. Much of our efforts have been to equip these spaces in preparation for this research season.
The program has also grown in personnel. We are very fortunate to be re-joined by one of Dr. Ambrose's M.S. students, Jennifer Keller, as the Apiculture Technician. Her duties will include everything from maintaining our bee colonies, to heading research projects on Small Hive Beetles (her area of expertise), to participating in various extension-related activities. Jennifer's abilities and qualifications are superlative, and her permanent addition to the program bodes well for its future success. We have also been joined by Dr. Jeffrey Lee as project director of one of our research projects, and Ben Crawley as an undergraduate researcher. Both Britt Hart, an administrative assistant, and Josh Sommers, a field research assistant, have been retained by the program. We should all be very pleased to have such a strong and dedicated nucleus of people within the program.
In contrast to the changes in space and personnel, the program will remain mostly unchanged in large part because its core mission has not wavered. The main purpose of the program will be to provide extension services to North Carolina residents through various outreach activities that promote honey bees and support beekeepers. Thus we will continue to publish "Beekeeping Notes", one- to four-page synopses relating to honey bee biology, management, and industry. We will also offer numerous workshops at the new bee facility, covering topics such as honey bee management, queen rearing, and instrumental insemination.
We will also continue the highly successful NC Master Beekeeper Program (MBP) started by Dr. Ambrose over 20 years ago. The purpose and function of the MBP will remain the same, but we will make several structural changes that will facilitate and enhance its administration. For example, we have already created a computer database containing all of the information of each participant, making it easier to keep track of each individual's current status. We also have plans on restructuring the test format to uphold the integrity of evaluations while ensuring fairness among participants, as well as providing detailed study guides for individuals and bee schools to adequately prepare for each examination level.
Our research program will be equally active. This season will involve three separate research projects that will address numerous diseases that afflict honey bee colonies. First, we will determine if increased mating numbers by queen bees reduce the likelihood that their colonies contract severe infections of Varroa mites, American foulbrood, and tracheal mites. This will be accomplished by using the artificial insemination of queens with known numbers of males and measuring the disease acquisition of their colonies over the course of the summer. Second, we will test the newly developed Varroa mite-resistant strains of honey bees for their efficacy across the state of North Carolina. Our goal is to demonstrate that these new stocks will be valuable to NC beekeepers, and the results of the project will help secure additional funds to increase the number of managed, mite-resistant colonies across the state. Finally, we will develop a potential control method of the Small Hive Beetle using protease inhibitors, natural plant compounds that inhibit the digestion of protein by beetles but do not harm bees.
At its core, the Apiculture program will remain largely unchanged, as will the close relationship between it, the NCDA, and the NCSBA. We hope to continue the success that the program has enjoyed in the past by making as seamless a transition as possible.