We are the proud recipients of a SARE grant!

Hello and welcome to Wings of Natures blog.  We are proud to announce that we have been the recipients of a Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grant.  This grant is called a farmer/rancher grant.  It is a very cool concept where research  (regarding sustainable agriculture) is conducted not by scientists in a lab, but by farmers in the field.  This is a way of insuring that the research pertains to developments that practically effect famers/ranchers/beekeepers.  Our grant is titled The Honeybee Regeneration Project.  The grant focuses on creating a breeding program, increasing the viability of our stock, sharing that stock with other queen producers, and then sharing the knowledge of our research with other produces.  Please read grant below.  For the grant we will be producing a short video, hosting a field day and queen rearing workshop as well as publishing a manual.  Please check back for more information on these.  Also follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Wings-of-Nature-Bees and on Instagram at @wingsofnaturebees .  Happy beekeeping!

 

Name:

Honeybee Regeneration Project

Goals:

  1. Design a breeding program to create more resilient honey bee stock.
  2. Apply the breeding program to our own stock in our local environment
  3. Share both the honey bee stock we’ve created, as well as the guidelines for creating a similar breeding program, with other beekeepers.

 

Summery

The status of bees, beekeepers and their environment is in the most pivotal era in their entire existence.  The introduction of the deadly mite (varroa destructor), bacterial diseases, viruses, nutritional issues, and pesticide exposure (sometimes by beekeepers themselves) has left the state of honey bee’s health in peril.  We believe that though there are many band-aid approaches to all these problems, the honey bees themselves contain the solutions we are looking for hidden in their own DNA.  

 

In the beekeeping industry we have producers know as “bee breeders”.  In truth many of these bee breeders are often “queen producers”  Rather than actually engaging in the conscious and selective practice of breeding bees,  breeder queens are selected randomly by choosing the biggest hives in the yard in early spring.   This method of selection does not reliably take into account the history of the colony’s age, adaptability, or health.

 

With this grant we would like to design a breeding program to collect data, evaluate stock, and ultimately create hardier, and more resilient honey bee stock.  We plan to implement that breeding program beginning in April 2017, by monitoring test colonies over a year’s time, and then selecting the best performing 10% queens as our breeding stock for 2018.   We will  share our resulting honey bee stock with 10 other producers, and receive feedback on colony  performance from those producers.   We will not only share the honey bee stock itself, but share the knowledge of how a similar breeding program can be set up and implemented by other producers or beekeeping collectives, so that they themselves may increase the viability of their own stock.  We plan to reach out to other producers, as well as the general public by means of a field day, a workshop, slideshow presentations, articles, social media, a mini-documentary and a manual.

 

(please see separate sheet: Detail of Proposed Breeding Program for more information)

 

 

 

LIst of Objectives

  • Design breeding program
  • Select breeders and drone mothers
  • Graft daughter queens
  • Set up 50 test colonies
  • Monitor test colonies and collect data monthly (May-March)
  • Analyze data on test colonies and select 2019 breeder queens
  • Share 2018 daughter queens with 10 other producers
  • Teach queen rearing/bee breeding class (March 2018 and 2019)
  • Host Field Day (May 2019)
  • Produce mini-documentary about project
  • Write bee breeding manual
  • Create slideshow and poster board presentation about project
  • Maintain blog and social media posts about the process of the project

 

Relevance to sustainable agriculture

The Varroa mite is easily agreed upon as the number one nemesis of the honey bee at this time.  Despite the efforts of synthetic miticide application and quarantines to fully suppress the mite when they first arrived in the United States, the mite has prevailed.  One thing is for certain now;the mite is here to stay.  The question remains – what are the genetic attributes of honey bees that can keep mites at a tolerable level in the hive?  

The Varroa mite co-evolved with Apis Cerana (the Asian Honey Bee).  In the long evolution together they found a balance point in which the mite could survive as a parasite in the colonies,  yet the bees would remain healthy despite the infestation.  Having jumped species from Apis Cerana to Apis Mellifera (the European Honey Bee) only in the last century, the mite and the Western Honey Bee have not had near the time to find an equilibrium in their parasitic relationship.  Our commercial honey bee stock has shown very little tolerance for mite infestations.  The bee industry has turned to synthetic pesticides such as fluvalinate, coumaphos, and amitraz to suppress mite infestations.  These chemicals are dangerous for bees and beekeepers, and mites develop resistance  to these chemicals, so they are temporary solutions at best.  Colony loss levels for 2015-2016 were at an astounding 44%(Bee Informed Partnership).  This number is economically unviable for most beekeepers to maintain a functioning business.

By conducting this experiment we hope that we can find ways that beekeepers can reduce their dependence on synthetic miticides.  Beyond the dangers of the chemicals themselves, these miticides can be very costly for the beekeeper to purchase, as well as the labor to apply them.  We hope by selectively breeding for more resilient bees, and teaching others to do the same,  we can decrease colony losses amongst beekeepers.

Benefits and impacts to Agriculture

Honey bees contribute $29 billion to US farm income (national honey board).  The current state of our honey bees health is in uncertain standing.  It is critical that we as a nation pay special attention to the health of our pollinators, so that we may have healthy ecosystems, healthy agriculture and a healthy population.  We hope to use this project to work from the inside out by helping to breed more resilient bees without synthetic miticides.  We believe that only through conscious and selective breeding we will be able to  go far beyond a ‘band aid approach’  to the problems we face.  Thirty five percent of our crops depend on bee pollination.  Without healthy bees we cannot have healthy agriculture.

Educational outreach plan

We have several strategies to educate other producers about the findings and accomplishments of our study.  These include:

  • A field day
  • Queen rearing and bee breeding workshop
  • An article to be published in American Bee Journal by Mea McNeil
  • An article to be published in Kelly Bees by Melanie Kirby
  • Slideshow presentations given to local and state bee groups
  • A blog documenting the project
  • A mini-documentary about the project
  • A bee breeding manual published
  • A blog and instagram documenting the project
  • Sharing our 2018 daughter queens with other 10 other producers to continue the breeding program and facilitate stock exchange

We will plan on having a Field Day on May 19th 2019 at our home farm to share our findings from the project with other beekeepers, farmers and those generally interested in beekeeping and sustainable agriculture.  We will begin the day with refreshments, then we will give a presentation about our project and all we have accomplished and learned.  We will offer free manuals to those who have an interest in starting a similar breeding program.  At the end of the Field Day we will request that participants fill out a survey to see the general reaction and usefulness of the information shared.

 

We plan on having a queen rearing course on March 17th 2018 at our home farm.  For the past 4 years we have offered a queen rearing class.  We have had very positive feedback from our students and continue to keep in touch on queen rearing related projects with several of them.  We find the class is a great way to reach out to other producers in our area, share skills and create community.  We plan on teaching the principles of selective breeding we establish through our experiment at this class.  A survey will be given at the end of the class to judge the participants reactions to the information shared.

 

Educational material

We are very excited to have peaked the interest of two authors with the proposal for this grant.  Mea McNeil, writer for the American Bee Journal (America’s 2nd oldest publication, 15,000 subscribers) and Melanie Kirby who writes for Kelly Bees Newsletter (40,000 subscribers).  They have both agreed to author an article for publication at the close of the project in spring 2018.  These two publications are both an ideal way of conveying information and ideas amongst the beekeeping community.

We will be creating a slideshow with photos that we will have taken throughout the project.  We will use this slideshow as an educational tool to tell the story of our project and demonstrate how other producers can adopt similar breeding programs.  We have been asked in advance by several local beekeeping groups to give presentations about our breeding program.  Such groups include: Santa Cruz Beekeepers Guild, Gilroy Bee Association and San Mateo Beekeepers Guild.  These presentations will be given at the end of our experiment in spring 2018.

We will make a poster board as well with some of the same photos to explain the finding of our project.  We will do poster board presentations at: Bee Symposium, California State Beekeepers Association Conference, and the American Beekeeping Federation’s Conference in 2018.

We will be blogging about  process of the project throughout its course and posting the entries on both facebook and our website (www.wingsofnaturebees.com). We will also be creating an instagram account and posting photos to share about our experience.  

We will be documenting the project with video.  At the end of the trial period of the project we will put together the video footage we have accumulated, along with interviews, to create a mini-documentary.  The mini-documentary will tell the story of the project, as well as teach about the techniques learned.  We will make this documentary available on such websites as: youtube, vimeo as well as facebook and our own website.   We hope this video can provide a visual tool to inspire other producers to critically look at the techniques and philosophies behind selectively breeding for more resilient, locally-adapted bees.

We plan to publish a bee breeding manual.  The manual will describe in detail how to select breeder queens, manage drone mothers, setup a test yard, take samples, collect and analyze data and much more.  The manual will contain photos and be roughly 70 pages long.  This manual will be shared with other producers whom we share our queen stock with, and given out to those who attend our queen rearing class, and to those who attend our Field Day and slideshow presentations.  

 

Producer adoption

At the end of the year-long trial period the data collected on the queens will be analysed and the top five performing queens will be selected as the 2018 breeder queens.  In April  2018 we will make the first daughter queens off of these newly selected queens.   From this new stock we will share queens with other esteemed producers.   These producers have been chosen because they all queen producers.  These producers will include:

  • Queen producers annoymous

In Addition to the queens will be given a free copy of the breeding manual as well as a survey to be filled out by the producers after integration of the queen stock we have sent to them in their operations

We will be offering free training and consulting to any local beekeepers or beekeeping collectives who are interested in starting their own selective breeding programs.  Beyond offering training we will be able to offer some of the queen stock we’ve produced through this experiment as a genetic starting point for other producers wishing to select for the similar results.

The surveys we will provide at our field day, queen rearing and bee breeding workshop as well as at any presentations we offer will reflect how other producers adopt the principles and practices of selective breeding we’ve refined through this experiment.