2018 COMB Stakeholder Meeting

On November 30th 2018, 33 beekeepers and researchers met at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Boalsburg, PA to discuss results of the first year of the COMB project, and next steps for beekeeping management decisions for year two of the project.  The day was filled with updates about how the project went in its first bee season.

In summary, the packages were installed in late April 2018 in all four regions of the study (figure 1), and became well established. We gave plastic foundation to each colony, so bees had to build their comb from scratch. On average, 3 full boxes of comb were drawn in time for storage of winter feed.  Varroa mite numbers were low throughout the season, but increased in the fall, as expected. Untreated colonies had more mites, at about 3.5 mite per 100 bees in early October (compared to <1 in treated colonies). As expected, preliminary results show that Nosema ceranae levels were higher in the spring than in the summer in all management systems.

Figure 1. Map of apiaries in COMB

While in 2018 our primary goal was to successfully establish all colonies, 2019 will be a critical year for data collection to answer the main research questions of the project. Our main goals with this project are to both (1) monitor the health of colonies under the different management practices, and (2) assess the economic impacts of each system in terms of inputs (costs) and honey production (revenue). During the second part of our stakeholder meeting, each group discussed protocols for their management system that would allow us to manage colonies using the practices used by beekeepers in the different groups while maximizing economic gains. Some of the topics that were discussed include how to handle winter and spring feeding, splitting and swarm control, and varroa mite control.

Two new research projects have emerged as part of the COMB project. The first is a study of the microbiome of bees and bee bread before and after treatment of colonies with ApiVar and Formic Pro. This project is led by PSU graduate student Brooke Lawrence. Specifically, she is interested in characterizing how in-hive chemicals change the microbiome of the colony and how that may impact honey bee health. The second project is an investigation of differences in sperm viability in queens from weak and strong colonies, conducted by Ali McAfee of the University of British Columbia. Preliminary results indicate that the two groups have different ovary weights, but it is not clear whether that is a result of or cause of the differences in the worker bee populations.

The meeting was a full day of learning and discussion that brought together beekeepers from across the spectrum of beekeeping management systems.  We are all eager to see what the 2019 bee season brings!