Erin MacGregor-Forbes, a master beekeeper in Portland, Maine, has cooperated with Northeast SARE and its Maine state coordinator, Ellen Mallory, to create a new video about her project, “A comparison of honeybee colony strength and survivability between nucleus and package-started colonies.”
MacGregor-Forbes had an idea about how to address the problems that arise when package bees are used to start or restart a hive—since most of these bees are from Georgia, Alabama, Texas, or California, many of the bees do not survive the harsh New England winters. Yet importing these bees has become a fairly standard practice in the Northeast, for certain practical reasons: Locally-bred colonies are hampered by a short queen-rearing season, and northern queens are generally not even available until June, which is after the pollination season is over. What’s more, the supply of commercially available cold-hardy and overwintered nucleus colonies is relatively small, and not enough to meet demand.
As you can see from the video, the real surprise was that the requeened colonies did so much better than expected. The standard packaged colonies with southern queens rated 42 percent average-to-strong after overwintering, and her northern-raised nucleus colonies rated 83 percent. But the requeened packages rated 90 percent, with much better honey production. This indicates that farmers can get the cold-hardiness they need, and improved honey output, using a hybrid approach to queen management.
Another unexpected benefit was the way the SARE grant helped her to think and talk about her beekeeping more cogently and easily, so that her outreach to other farmers was unusually strong. When speaking at producer gatherings, she says her focus, and perhaps her unambiguous results, made her a better teacher and presenter. “All you have to do is tell what happened. I learned so much about educating others and how to talk about what I’m doing.”
You can read more about MacGregor-Forbes’s work by searching the SARE reports database for FNE10-694.
Download MacGregor-Forbes's hive assessment tool (PDF).