Update of the Apiculture Program at NCSU
The Apiculture Program at NC State has three main core missions: Extension, by providing information, advice, and other services that help beekeepers at all levels; Research, using the scientific method to test hypotheses about honey bee biology and ways to help improve bee management; and Instruction, by teaching and disseminating knowledge about honey bees and apiculture through formal classes and academic training. This past year has involved a great deal of activity in the program, which I will summarize below.
There have been numerous extension activities within the past year. Program members have provided over 48 presentations to regional, state, and local beekeeping organizations, as well as an additional 11 workshops or beekeeping field days. Moreover, the Master Beekeeper Program (MBP) now has a total of 3,212 members join since its inception in 1982, 1,601 of whom have been active within the past 10 years. Since June 2004, there have been 394 MBP participants who have progressed within the program. Most (331) of these participants are new members, which is a 265% increase in the annual enrollment averaged over the last 10 years. These numbers bode well for the continued success of the program.
We have also published eight extension articles on topics ranging from how to set up an observation hive, a comparison of different honey bee stocks, and honey judging. These are in addition to the monthly online publications that review recent scientific research on honey bees and bee management, as well as other materials that have been posted on our web site.
We have also been involved in several other miscellaneous outreach activities. For example, we co-developed "BeeLinked" with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The web site is an online market for growers who require honey bee pollination and beekeepers who have hives for rent, where each party can post advertisements about their availability or need for hives. The web site can be found at:
We encourage all beekeepers who are willing to rent their hives for pollination to post an advertisement on the site, and we will continue to work with growers to do the same. Another recent outreach event was conducted by NCSBA member and former State Senator Fountain Odom, who presented a pair of honey bee colonies to the chancellors at both UNC and NCSU to hive at their respective residences. This is a clever and unique approach to promote the importance of honey bees to NC agriculture, and it is comforting that the beekeepers in NC have such strong support from our state's higher education system.
Perhaps the most significant component of our extension program within the last year has been the New Beekeeper Cost-sharing Program. Funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation, its purpose has been to bolster the honey bee population in the state by helping to attract new people to beekeeping. We have received almost 2,800 applications to the program, and we have distributed pairs of starter hives with bees to 250 new beekeepers across the state. These participants have been required to join a county chapter of the NCSBA, both to provide them with a support network of experienced beekeepers and to help grow the organization at the local level. The program has generated significant interest in the media, including CBS Evening News, USA Today, and National Public Radio, all of which has promoted the value and importance of honey bees and beekeeping. We are currently pursuing additional funding to continue the program (albeit in a different form) so that we may continue the positive momentum that the project has generated.
Our research program has developed on several fronts. We have developed a rearing system for the Small Hive Beetle (SHB), which will enable us to conduct research into their potential control using natural plant compounds. We are also in the middle of a two-year project comparing Russian and Italian honey bees. We have established separate apiaries of each stock in each of the Mountain, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain regions of the state, and we have taken monthly samples of each colony to calculate the levels of varroa infestation. By the end of the 2004 season, we detected statistically significant differences in mite levels between the two stocks (Russian colonies: 5.4% average infestation; Italian colonies: 8.3% average infestation), as well as significant differences across the three regions. We also found that Russian colonies were significantly more likely to survive the winter compared to the Italian colonies. While we still need to complete the second year of the study, our data suggest that Russian bees have just as many or fewer varroa mites compared to Italian bees, depending on their location.
One of our larger research projects has been to continue an investigation into the link between the genetic diversity within colonies—as a result of a queen's mating number—and the prevalence of disease. This past year, we used instrumental insemination to control the mating numbers of queens and allowed their colonies to grow. We then placed the hives in isolated areas for the entire season, and then measured the levels of any diseases that they acquired. Of the 20 colonies studied, 80% contracted at least one brood pathogen and 75% contracted at least one adult parasite. We found significant differences between colonies headed by either a singly inseminated or multiply inseminated queen for the prevalence of chalkbrood, as well as for the total prevalence of all brood diseases combined (chalkbrood, sacbrood, American foulbrood, and European foulbrood), with both variables lower for the colonies headed by a multiply inseminated queen. We also found that colonies headed by multiply inseminated queens were significantly more populous, gained more weight, built more comb, and had more brood by the end of the season. Our findings demonstrate that colonies can benefit significantly by having their queen inseminated with an adequate number of drones.
Finally, after a hiatus of several years, we conducted the Advanced Beekeeping course at NCSU (ENT 401). The course was offered with a lab as well as lecture, and had an enrollment of 12 students. While we had surprisingly bad luck with the weather during the lab sessions, the students performed very well and we had a lot of fun.