Update of the Apiculture Program at NCSU
The Apiculture Program at NC State has three core missions: Extension, providing information, advice, and other outreach services to 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, 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 in each of these areas.
There have been numerous extension activities within the past year. Program members have provided 48 presentations to regional, state, and local beekeeping organizations, including 13 workshops or beekeeping field days. Moreover, the Master Beekeeper Program (MBP) now has a total of 3,459 members join since its inception in 1982, 1,762 of whom have been active within the past 10 years. Since May 22nd, 2005, there have been 312 MBP participants who have progressed within the program, 227 of whom are new members. While these numbers are down from an all-time high last year, it still represents a 56% increase in the annual enrollment averaged over the last 10 years. We have implemented several logistical changes to the program this past year in an attempt to improve its delivery and integrity, and these changes will continue as a result of personnel changes in the Entomology Department at NC State.
We have also published seven new or updated extension articles in the last year, including two valuable publications on the recommendations for disease and varroa control. 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 featured in 15 media stories in the last year.
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 was to bolster the honey bee population in the state by helping to attract new people to beekeeping. We received almost 2,800 applications to the program, and we distributed pairs of starter hives with bees to 250 new beekeepers across the state. The program has generated significant interest in the media, which promoted the value and importance of honey bees and beekeeping. Our heartfelt thanks goes to all of the participants, the local chapters, and the mentors who have worked so hard over the last year. We can't thank everyone enough! The positive ramifications of the program are well known to NCSBA members, and we will be reporting the results of the program in an article in Bee Culture magazine later this year.
We have also been actively involved in our research program. This past year, we have published three peer-reviewed scientific papers and provided eight scientific presentations. We have just completed a two-year project comparing Russian and Italian honey bees. We 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. We found that Russian colonies had significantly fewer mites by the end of the first year and overwintered significantly better than the Italian colonies. During the second year, we found that the Russian colonies started out with higher mite levels, but by the end of the summer the Italian hives had significantly more mites. Our findings suggest that the Russian stock can help reduce mite levels, but they are not totally resistant to the mites and the magnitude of the effect depends on environmental factors such as location and time of year.
One of our larger research projects has been to continue an investigation into the link between a queen's mating number and the prevalence of disease within her colony. This past year, we used instrumental insemination to control the mating numbers of queens and allowed their colonies to grow. We then inoculated each hive with high doses of American foulbrood spores to see how badly the colonies contracted infection. We found that colonies headed by multiple-drone inseminated queens were far less likely to contract severe AFB infections compared to colonies headed by single-drone inseminated queens. We also found that colonies headed by multiply inseminated queens were stronger by the end of the season, as measured by brood area, adult bee population, and colony weight gain. In addition to our previous findings, this strongly suggests that colonies can benefit significantly by having their queen inseminated with not just an adequate number of drones, but genetically different drones.
Together with another research program at NC State, we have also recently secured a three-year grant from the USDA 'Gateway to Genomics' program to study the molecular mechanisms of mating by queen honey bees. We will be using state-of-the-art genetic tools to determine which genes get turned on or off in queen bees as a result of mating. Findings from this new project will help us answer some very important questions about how queens mate and why they are successful, which may provide valuable insights into ways to improve their insemination success.
Finally, we held our first two apiculture training sessions for Cooperative Extension field faculty. The first was an introductory short course that covered basic honey bee biology and management, targeted towards those agents who would wished to put on a bee suit for the first time and work some hives. The second was a more advanced course that covered honey bee diseases and their treatments, targeted towards those agents who have a decent understanding of beekeeping but wished to have an update in disease control. We had 18 and 14 agents attend the two sessions, respectively, and both were very well received. We should be thankful that we have such committed and enthusiastic support from our Cooperative Extension county personnel, and we look forward to holding similar training events in the future.
All in all, it has been a productive year, and we hope to continue our positive momentum into the future.