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UW-River Falls biology department tests beekeeping model

March 11, 2015

The UWRF biology department recently received funding to test a honey bee management strategy for non-migratory beekeepers in hopes to maintain and increase regional beekeeping.

For the next two years, UWRF biology professor Brad Mogen and his wife, Kim, will lead researchers and students in the project. The project will evaluate the overwintering capabilities of small beehives called nucleus colonies or “nucs.”

The “nucs” can be used to replenish winter losses of bees or hives. The “nucs” can also be produced over the summer by splitting existing hives and keeping them over the winter where the bees can replenish the following year’s hives.

“I actually tested it a little bit at my own apiary after doing a fair amount of research on it and it looked promising,” Mogen said.

“Nucs” will be created over the summer and headed by five queens from different genetic lines. The research will be done to see which genetic line can best survive the winter. According to Mogen, the project is meant to test the regional adaptation of the bees. The hives that are a part of the research project are small and meant for research, they are not expected to produce much honey.

The majority of Wisconsin’s honey producers run small, non-migratory beekeeping operations. With annual mortality losses between 30-50 percent of bees over the winter, most beekeeping operations have trouble replenishing their hives after a few years. Diseases and pesticides also contribute to the troubles that beekeepers are having, as it is expensive to replace hives.

Annual replacement costs are expensive and are making beekeeping unprofitable for many non-migratory operations. According to Mogen, a single package of bees which comes with three pounds of bees and a queen can cost around $120. Even if operations sell the produced honey it still would be tough to make a profit.

With the nucleus colonies, many of those costs are eliminated, since you no longer have to purchase bee packages anymore. Beekeepers are able to select desirable traits such as enhanced winter hardiness, to make it easier for bees to survive the Wisconsin winters.

The research project was funded by a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection for a total of $30,438, with the source of the funding coming from the United States Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant.

The research project will also let a select few UWRF students participate in the research and gain experience with collecting data and learning bee management procedures. Charles Hayes is one of the students who is going to be involved with the program.

“I thought it sounded like a really interesting way to get involved in the research community,” Hayes said. “I hope to get valuable research experience from the program, and now that I have started working with bees I really do enjoy it and it is incredibly satisfying.”

For Mogen, the involvement of students is one of the best parts of the project.

“The funnest part of this whole project quite bluntly is seeing the students get excited about it,” Mogen said.

The “nucs” will be located at Mogen’s home in his apiary during the two years of the project, where he is getting ready to begin the research. When the project is done, Mogen hopes to be able to write a recommendation for this model for beekeepers. Project results will be presented to regional honeybee clubs and to the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association when research is finished.