Heather Higo on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Heather began working with honey bees in 1987 at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia, Canada and completed a Master’s degree in bee research under Mark Winston. On completion she took on the position of SFU bee research coordinator, managing the university’s honey bee colonies and bee research lab, and mentoring students until the lab closed. In 2007, Heather began running a small queen rearing operation in Langley, British Columbia, Canada and continued in the bee community giving talks and teaching queen rearing and IPM workshops in the Fraser Valley while also working in Plant Health for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). In 2011, CFIA assigned her to work on the Bee IPM Project with University of British Columbia (UBC) and Agriculture Canada to improve honey bee mite and disease resistance through breeding and testing. After a short time back at CFIA, in 2015 Heather returned to bee research with UBC as the BC Field Manager for the Marker Selection and Beeomics projects, where she led a team sampling and testing colonies throughout BC as part of a five-province effort to develop new technological tools to enhance our breeding selection capabilities and improve the bee industry. In 2017 she was awarded the prestigious Fred Rathje Award by the Canadian Honey Council for her years of service to Canadian beekeepers. Heather is currently working for UBC on queen selection tools and other research projects in addition to rearing queens.

Listen in to learn more about how you can get started rearing your own queens, the many facets of it’s preparation, and Heather’s tips in getting started.

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“Basically you can rear queens with one queenright, a queen starter colony, and a few mating nucs, so it doesn’t have to be atrociously expensive.” – Heather Higo

Show Notes:

  • What Beemasters is and who it’s for
  • Why people go to the trouble of rearing their own queens
  • Why the preparation of queen rearing is so crucial
  • How to get past the daunting task of grafting
  • Some of the specialized tools you need to start rearing your own queens
  • The general timeline of queen rearing
  • Why separating the different queens is so important
  • What are typically the first days of life for a new queen
  • What to do if you end up with extra queens

“A calendar is really important with queen rearing. You need to be organized, you need to have a calendar, and you need to know what’s happening on what day.” – Heather Higo

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John Gates on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

John Gates has been a beekeeper for 43 years. He served as the Apiculture Specialist British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Apiculture Program 1975-2002. He was a full-time commercial beekeeper from 2002-2015, specializing in bee breeding, stock production and pollination. He has lectured widely in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean. Today, John joined us to talk about how you can build your own stock and offset colony losses by making nucleus colonies (nucs).

Listen in to learn about how John got started with nucleus colonies, how he has influenced other beekeepers, and what he saw change in his bees over time.

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“I started with Dr. Laidlaw’s book in one hand and a grafting needle in the other, trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. It took a while until I was successful grafting those first few larvae.“ – John Gates

Show Notes:

  • What a “nuc” or nucleus colony is
  • What got John into making nucs
  • Reflection on John’s time working with British Columbia beekeeping legend John Corner
  • Why John’s operation of developing nucs brought in even more income than expected
  • The timeline of a nuc-making operation
  • How queen rearing fits into nuc production
  • John’s work with the British Columbia government revealed the importance of nuc-making to a profitable business
  • How stock improvement integrates into John’s beekeeping system
  • The importance of queen rearing workshops in getting the ball rolling

“I guess there had been some people producing queens in the past, but we didn’t really know much about it, so we just wanted to see if it was possible here. Can we produce good quality queens that will winter well, will be productive and gentle?“ – John Gates

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Dr. Meghan Milbrath began working bees with her father as a child over 20 years ago, and now owns and manages The Sand Hill Apiary, a small livestock and queen rearing operation in Munith, Michigan.

She studied biology at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and received degrees in public health from Tulane University and the University of Michigan, where she focused on environmental and disease transmission risk. Meghan worked as a postdoctoral research associate under Zachary Huang at Michigan State University, studying nosema disease, and is currently an academic specialist at MSU, where she does honey bee and pollinator research and extension and is the coordinator of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative.

Meghan is active in multiple beekeeping organizations, writes for multiple beekeeping journals, and speaks about bees all over the country. She currently runs the Northern Bee Network, a directory and resource site dedicated to supporting queen producers, and she is passionate about keeping and promoting healthy bees.

Today, we discuss queen rearing, keeping healthy bees, and how to make the best use of the Northern Bee Network.

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“We need this national system of bees because we need to eat food. My little backyard operation doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of that national system.” – Dr. Meghan Milbrath

Show Notes:

  • Why genetics is such an important part of how a colony performs
  • What queen breeding involves
  • How people go about trying to make bees that can better handle different diseases
  • Why demand for queens is unbelievably high
  • What the Northern Bee Network is and how they provide access for bees in their area
  • Why Northern backyard beekeepers don’t need bees from the South
  • How to get involved in the network
  • What to do if you want to sell local queens
  • Other things you can do on the Northern Bee Network website
  • How bees are bred to develop resistance to diseases
  • Resources for small scale queen-rearing operations
  • How the trading and exchange portion of the network functions
  • What they are going to do with the Northern Bee Network in the future
  • Why it’s important when you’re starting out to find people who are raising bees really well

“The most important thing is to talk to people and work with someone who is already keeping bees really well.” – Dr. Meghan Milbrath

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