Bruce, SD | March 21, 2022 – Six Edmunds Central students and two teachers explored Adee Honey’s queening and colony formation site in Woodville, Mississippi, on Friday. The educational trip was the second installment of a three-part Specialty Crop Block Grant funded field experience made available through the USDA. The field experience series has focused on the remarkable impact that South Dakota’s bees have on our food supply. After exploring the fields and orchards of Bakersfield, California, in February to understand the scope of Adee Honey’s pollination efforts, Edmunds Central was again onsite to learn about the remarkably complex and technical process of producing a massive number of new hives each year.
In order to be able to maintain all of the hives that Adee Honey needs to meet its pollination and honey production needs, a large operation that is capable of producing new hives on a very large scale is necessary to replace all the hives that are lost each year to any number of factors ranging from a combination of various chemicals we spray on crops and a whole host of other environmental and ecological issues, that taken in their totality, are make beekeeping increasingly more challenging with each passing year. When a sizeable number of hives are lost each year, the same number of hives need to be produced to replace those that were lost. This is where Adee Honey’s Woodville, Mississippi, site plays its important role in providing this critical function. In all, the facility in Woodville produces roughly 35,000 new hives over the course of just a couple of months from the end of February when operations start to loading the last hives out in early June with the bulk of the production occurring in March and April as lost hives come in from California’s almond pollination to be replaced. Kelvin Adee along with his wife, Darla and two of his sons let us tag along throughout the day to watch the entire process of queen and colony production that when done in sequence takes place over a series of weeks to produce a new queen and a colony that is able to sustain itself with sufficient nectar and pollen. We were able to see each step of the process in one day since all steps are occurring at the same time to ensure a steady supply of new queens and new bee colonies during the brief season the facility is in operation.
The first phase of new colony formation that we were able to see that morning was transferring queen cells produced in the queen yard. Queen cells look like a small, protruding lobe made out of wax comb. It is a special chamber built on an artificial cell cup that allows the larva to develop into a queen after a number of days when fed a diet of royal jelly. Most of the queen cell is made of wax, but the very tip is made out of bee bread allowing the queen to emerge from the queen cell once she is mature by eating her way through the bee bread tip. These cell cups must be placed into a hive where no other queens have access to them while having a steady supply of nurse bees to feed them royal jelly. This is a logistical challenge since the queen bee needs to be excluded access to the developing queen cells. A queen will kill any other queens in the hive. In order to ensure a steady supply of royal jelly for the developing queen cells, nurse bees are constantly rotated into the same box as the queen cells. These queen cells are eventually moved to another hive to further feed the developing queens while preventing the worker bees from ever catching on to the fact that there is more than one queen developing within the same hive. This rotation is kept up until the queen cell is complete and ready to transfer to a new hive for emergence.
Later that morning we took the queen cells out to a satellite site to the queen yard to transfer the queen cells to new five-frame boxes that were just split from another hive. These five-frame boxes do not have a queen. This allows us to insert a queen cell into the hive box and, hopefully, leads to a successful, self-sustaining colony. Eventually, these hives will be transferred into standard 10-frame hive boxes.
In order to have new colonies, you not only need new queens, but you need bees to take care of the new queen. This is where colony splitting comes into play. In visiting this site next, we emerged from the Mississippi woods onto a large pasture dotted with thousands of hives that Adee Honey uses for colony splitting. The pasture is seeded with mustard and other forbs to provide a robust source of nectar and pollen. Ten-frame hives are split into five-frame hives. This allows the bees to conserve heat more efficiently and allows for more hives to be produced at a faster pace. It was great to see a bunch of Roscoe people again helping with this process. Many people employed at the Roscoe facility help out with the colony production process in Mississippi.
In the afternoon during our visit, we explored the beginnings of the process through Adee Honey’s queen grafting operation back at the queen yard. While queens are naturally produced in a hive, allowing for bees to swarm and split a hive on their own in a natural colonial reproductive process, this process left on its own would never produce enough new hives to meet current needs. During this process plastic cell cups are used to transfer queens in their larval state from the frames with a very small device that has a flexible scooping tip to scoop up the tiny white larva along with some royal jelly and transfer it very carefully into a cell cup using a plunger with a fine paint brush at the end to nudge the larva and royal jelly into the cup. Our students had a chance to try it themselves. It is much more difficult than it looks! Once these larva are transferred, the cups are attached to a frame and placed back into a hive where they will be fed royal jelly and rotated around until a queen cell forms around the developing queen that can now be transferred to a new hive. Altogether, this was a tremendous learning experience for these students with a special thanks to the Adees and employees of Adee Honey Farms who were so generous with their time in coordinating our visit and to show us the ins and outs of Adee Honey’s queening and colony formation operation.
**Story and photos provided by Spencer Cody; written for publication in the Ipswich Tribune**
Kelvin Adee pulls out a drone from the five-frame hive. In order for a queen to produce eggs, it must mate once with a drone. From that point on, the queen will be producing eggs from that one mating by storing the drone’s sperm.
The process of hive splitting is demonstrated for Edmunds Central students. In order to produce queens, hives must be produced, as well, since the hive takes care of the queen. Eventually, this five-frame hive will receive a queen, and within a few weeks will be a self-sustaining hive.
Edmunds Central students try their hand at queen grafting. Queen grafting involves the transfer of a larva from the frame and into a small plastic cell cup with a small amount of royal jelly. These cell cups will be inserted into a hive on a frame that will allow enough room for worker bees to build a queen cell over the opening to the cell cup once the larva has been fed enough royal jelly to develop into a queen.
Kelvin Adee shows students what bars of developed queen cells look like. Each queen cell has a pupating queen developing from a larva into a flying mature queen. These queen cells will be planted into recently split hives to allow for these hives to produce their own offspring to keep the colony going.