09 Dr. Meghan Milbrath – Northern Bee Breeding Network


From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. Today's episode focuses on honeybee stock improvement, and I'm so excited to be welcoming Dr. Megan Millbrath from Michigan State University.

I think a lot of you may know Dr. Millbrath. She's active in multiple beekeeping organizations. She writes for a lot of the beekeeping journals, and she speaks about bees all over the country. In the last year, I've gotten to know Dr. Millbrath, and she is a very good scientist who has this really amazing capacity to take complicated ideas and make them very approachable to non-experts.

That's what we're going to be talking about today, one of her initiatives that does just that. It takes the complicated areas of honeybee queen-wearing and boils it down into a very usable platform. It's the Northern Bee Network.

It's this directory and resource site for people who want to raise their own queens. I hope you enjoy the episode. I'm really happy to have you here today, Megan, on the Pollinator podcast. Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to talk to you. Well, I'm really excited to hear more about the Northern Bee Network.

I think for some of our listeners, pretty diverse interests. Some people are interested in butterflies and wild bees. For honeybee colonies, why is genetics such an important dimension of how a colony performs? Sure. Genetics are a really important part of how a colony performs.

For very many reasons. Obviously, they're animals, and so their genes are going to describe how they're going to interact with the world and how they're going to succeed in a different location. For honeybees, it's particularly complex for a couple reasons. One of them is that they came from historically or where they're native from is a very, very broad range. Within that range, they had a lot of heterogeneity and they developed a lot of subspecies. In the United States, we keep them in the same level, or a huge range as well, with a huge amount of diversity. We have them really homogenous. We use the same bees in a lot of different scenarios. We could have a lot better success in some cases when you can have bees that have different characteristics that make them succeed better.

I'll just give you one example. For me, I live in Michigan and we have a pretty short growing season. I need bees that are going to build up really, really quickly, whereas someone else maybe wouldn't want them to build up so quickly because that makes them harder to manage for swarming. Right. Or someone maybe would need, want something that can maintain a really large population. If you live in an area that has a pretty big dearth, then all of a sudden, that's a lot of mouths to feed while it's empty.

Where there's not enough food, sorry. Yeah. Back in its range in Europe where it had all that diversity that was adapted to local conditions, here we've got this added layer of people have different management regimes as well.

Yeah, exactly. I mean, we keep bees for many different reasons in the United States. If you're someone who makes their money off of pollination contracts, you're going to want to have bees that go out and collect a lot of pollen. If you're a back air beekeeper, you may not care if they build up a boatload of honey, but you're going to be really concerned that they're very, very gentle.

Yeah, right. But there is one thing that really affects everybody, which I think is driving a lot of how we are dealing with breeding bees today. That is the ability to handle diseases, and especially the diseases that are associated with the viral in my. Well, let's come back to that question because I think that is such a big area. But just coming back to a basic level, how is bee breeding? You're talking about the way in which we use all the same bee. Can you paint us a picture of what bee breeding is like presently?

Or even queen production? What's involved with breeding? Like what to have a breeding program?

What are you supposed to do? Yeah, so there's the term breeding program and bee breeding gets kind of used to cover a wide range of things. I like to kind of split it into two, where breeding programs really refer to the things that are happening at universities or at private research places and queen urine with good stock selection is what's happening at a smaller scale. And what I mean by that is so queen breeding, a lot of that is trying to pick out a particular trait and a lot of that is done with inbreeding through instrumental insemination. And so you're really, really focused on creating a line or to amplify a particular trait.

Okay. And so that's the stuff that's done where we developed the VSH line or a lot of succobes work with the New World Carniolans or the Minnesota Hygienic. Those things are really focused on breeding bees. There are a lot of people though that are raising really good queens that are doing them open mated, but they're doing more of very good stock selection, meaning that they're going to take a diversity of bees and then they're going to, or colonies, they're going to monitor them and then they're going to raise new bees based off of the very best ones depending on what they're monitoring for.

And what they choose to monitor for depends on what kind of bee they want in their area or for their type of operation. So it strikes me the differences between this sort of breeding program and the stock selection is there's a broader kind of, you may not even know all the traits you're selecting for you, but you're bringing sort of just a general improvement to the stock. Exactly. And sometimes too, one of the issues with a particular breeding program is historically a lot of them tried to create a particular line. And that's really, really hard to maintain because you have to have a person that's constantly doing that, but every time a queen is replaced and if they go out and get open mated, then you have a totally different genetic scenario in that hive, one generation, which is usually the next summer or even a couple months later. And so the idea with stock selection, instead of trying to create a particular line and say, I have the best bee for this area, you basically want to have all of the bees in that area get better by constantly breeding from the good ones and replacing the poorer performing queens as quickly as you can. There's, if you picture a bell curve, I mean, you may have to edit this part out because I'm not going to be sure if I can actually do this without drawing. But if you picture a bell curve and have a bell curve in my mind, okay, and to the right is going to be the good part, right?

Okay. So we want to have better bees. So we want to shift it to the right. And if you look at, if you make a line right down the middle of the bell curve, that's your average. Yeah, I picture that. Yeah.

Right. And so if you're doing stock selection, you keep the bell curve in the same place, but you basically have raised the left hand side and kind of bump up the right hand side. And so you can shift the line to the right that way. So you're actually kind of changing the shape of the curve.

If you're doing actual breeding programs, if you start with that same regular bell curve with the line down the middle, you might be able to make some big jumps and you can actually kind of shift the whole curve, like pick it up and move it somewhere, preferably to the right, so that you still get some diversity, but you can actually make these big jumps. Yeah, okay. Yeah. And so that's the, I don't know if that, that's why they're both really important is you need this breeding programs to find these genes or to make bees that really, really express these behaviors really well, because that's where we're going to make the really big jumps. But then you need the stock selection to make sure that that's really what's out there in the environment.

And that's really what the other bees, when they go out to open mate, that are the drones that they have access to you are still the really, really good ones. I'm almost in my mind picturing tears where there's something that's, there's a like a pyramid where there's the, if all of the stock in the United States was the big base of the pyramid, you're kind of wanting to move all of that across and you can't do it with this, this really small, these jumps and selecting for a single trade. It's sort of like it, it's a scale problem.

Yeah. I mean, they compliment too, one of them is just kind of an implementation problem. You know, when you try to take a line and put it out in the world by nature, it's going to change.

And so, and unless you have one person that's absolutely dedicated, you know, for, for keeping that selection exactly, exactly the same. So, and that actually kind of gives us, it's nice because it's, it's nice to have your role when you want to take part in how do we make better bees? And we definitely need the funding to support the people that are finding out which genes translate to which behaviors and how do we develop these lines of bees that are better able to handle these things. But then we also need the small scale queen rears to go out and make sure that the things that are on the ground, that the lines that are actually maintained in practice in their areas are ones that are still expressing really good qualities.

Maybe just as a follow up to that, what's the current situation in the US? How do these different parts connect and how much breeding is actually going on? Well, there is a lot of breeding going on. There's also a lot of queen raising going on. And one of the biggest issues in the United States right now is that demand for queens is unbelievably high. And there is a lot of pressure just to produce. And I mean, the nice thing about it is the people who are raising queens, you're not going to be successful in long term if you don't do a good job. So it's not like a lot of other industries. Well, I don't even know if a lot of industries, but it's not a case where just garbage is coming out because people will buy anything. But you've got good production, but that doesn't necessarily translate into a breeding program.

Yeah, exactly. So you can have people who are raising, raising, raising really good queens or they're raising really good queens that work for them. But for us, a lot of the major queen producers are in the South and they're raising really good queens.

You know, they're well fed, they're big, and, but they may not be exactly what I need in my stationary operation in Michigan. But a lot of times too, they're the only place that you can get them because they're the ones that are producing them highly. With that, with, with the breeding, though, is that there isn't necessarily an enormous demand for people to have particular traits. So going back to the Varoa thing, people are very desperate to have queens when they need them because of all the issues with queens, because of the huge demand in beekeeping, because of the timing of when they're available. There's just an enormous demand of queens. And a lot of times people just need a queen in their colony and they'll evaluate it and they'll switch it out. But there isn't necessarily a huge demand at time of purchase that that queen is more Varoa resistant or expresses hygienic behavior or things like that. It's just that I need to get a queen in this hive.

Well, that was great. So I got a picture now of some of the challenges with, you know, getting good genetics into your colony. And one of the things that came up earlier was you were talking about being located in the northern area, but yet the queen production is focused on the south. Can you tell us a little bit about the northern bee network and how you've tried to tackle this problem? Sure. So for it started from a group of people in Michigan that were looking for access for bees in their area.

And there. So what the northern bee network is now is a directory of resources and it's it's map based. So you can go to your area and see who's selling queens in your region and who's selling nukes in your region, bee clubs and people that are willing to work with you and then people who trade queens. And so it's a directory basically of local bee resources in the area.

It started because people were looking for local resources. And a lot of times there were queen rears. I mean, there are lots of people raising queens in Michigan, but you had to know the guy at the bee club who had the phone number of the guy in his pocket, which is true.

I mean, that's literally how I got my first local or Michigan nukes. And but if you go online or if you go to the bee journals or the catalogs, the only places that you get bees from are from the south. And like I said, there's nothing wrong with the southern bees. And but people in Michigan and a lot of northern states just automatically buy bees from the south in the spring.

But then and it's funny too, because a lot of those same people are the ones who are really, really adamant about eating local food, you know, but the bees come up from the south and there's nothing inherently wrong with them. It's just that they're on a completely different schedule. And we had a really big issue last year where we had a really, really, really late frost. And a lot of the beginners who had packages, you know, that had come off these hives that were doing really well and had been had split and gone up north. And then they just all froze to death because of the snow.

And because they were on foundation and they were brand new and it just, you know, and the the timing is really difficult. And so it isn't necessarily that, you know, we need this national system of bees because we need to eat food. You know, need bees in the south to build up for almonds. We need them for fruit.

We need them for that. My little backyard operation doesn't necessarily need to be part of that huge national system. You know, especially for smaller producers or for people who are doing it as a hobby or cybeline beekeepers, you don't necessarily need, if you're not buying a thousand nukes, you don't necessarily need to be tied in with the system where people are buying thousands of nukes. Unless, you know, you need to do a huge expansion or and you need to get a lot of bees. So by definition, we don't have as many bees available in the early spring, but we still have lots of bees available.

It's just at a different timing. So who is the who is northern? What is the who? How do you become a member of the network? Who does the network encompass? So if I were starting over again, I would probably call it the local bee network.

OK. Or the North American bee network. All right. The title was kind of given to me when I got when I started looking into it. So I was working with another group of beekeepers who were actually looking into starting a breeding program in Michigan. So we were going to try to find a Michigan survivor bee or like a best local bee. And it was at a time where a lot of people were starting breeding cooperatives. And so I talked, I said, well, I would work on the project, but I wanted six months to really talk to people first. And so I talked to all the people that I could find that were doing different breeding cooperatives or trying to raise a local bee or had tried to do one and failed. And really what I saw was that issue of, you know, if you get really restrictive of how you're going to let's say you want to create a Michigan bee.

And I'm going to breed the best bee for Michigan that I can find. Well, then you get in that case of who determines that it's the best. And then what if someone wants to use formic acid, but everyone else wants you to not just use splits or what if someone and I had no interest in policing how everyone does that, plus you have the issues of maintaining a line. The other issue that I ran into was that we had a lot of people who were already doing a good job in Michigan. It was just hard to find them. And so it wasn't necessarily that we needed to find or we needed to create.

You know, this new system, a big problem was just access. Like if I'm getting into bees, how do I find the guy next to me who's selling bees? And so that's kind of how it got started.

I don't think that there is a southern limit. The goal is really to have resources that are near you. So you can use those first. And then if there's nothing in your area, then you can branch out or you can branch out because you want to and that's because it's your only option. So if I was a beekeeper in Georgia and I wanted to get on board with this, or let's say you're a beekeeper in Oregon, I think there's lots of people in Oregon who'd be really keen and have this very problem of wanting to find local stock and just not knowing how to connect. How would somebody connect in with a network? So all you have to do is go to the website, which is northernbeenetwork.org.

And if you go on to the directory, there's a place it's all map based. So you can look if you just want to buy bees. You basically have a directory of people that are near you that are selling bees.

And there's no middleman or anything. It just lists those people. The one thing that is on there is it does require that the people fill out a profile so that you can scroll through and actually get a sense of how they raise their bees, what stock they use, whether or not they're inspected, things like that. So you can get a sense of the thing, a little bit of background about the Queens before you actually purchase.

That's great. The other thing that so if you're a person who has Queens, what you can do is if you go to the website, there is a whole portion that says sell local bees and you can sign up for a free listing. And then there's a really easy form where you just put in your information and you can add your website, your Facebook group. And then you answer the questions. What happens with this is that this actually gets sent to us and we post it and the reason we do it that way is I do want it to be something that's very static so that it's very, very uniform and not something where people post opinions or use it like basically to double as a Facebook.

It's really supposed to be just a directory, but it can link to your other things. And my reason for doing this is twofold is one is this also acts. So one is it allows to find for people to find resources that are really uniform so they can compare. The other reason is that it can act as a website for people who don't want to have a website.

So that's yeah, that's great. So if you're a really, really small Queen producer and let's say you do 50 Queens a year, it's not really worth it for you to go through the whole thing of setting up your here's my bees, here's how you contact me website, but you can fill out this form for free. And then you'll have and you could actually some people can actually buy you could buy your own domain name.

So you could have Oregon's best bees.com and have it link to your profile. And so and that's $15 a year. And so a beekeeper who maybe wants to sell some nukes can actually just have this free website for $15 a year. Or if they don't want to have their own domain name, they just do it for free. I can see listeners at this time just like signing out Oregon's best bees.com.

They're just scrambling. Too late, I just bought it. Oh, it'll be $5 billion. Okay, so that's how people become how many members are there and tell us a little bit about how it's being used.

So right now we're just starting phase two. So it started in Michigan and one of the other reasons that I started it is because I sell Queens and I am supply limited and so I run out and then and I hate it when I run out because people say well if you don't have any who do I call and then I scroll through my phone and I text them numbers which is a huge pain and now I can say well I'm not going to sell Queens. Well I'm out of Queens, but you can just go to look on the northern B network. So I did a lot of work trying to get it set up in Michigan, basically for that selfish reason so that I didn't have to feel bad when I ran out of Queens, but also so that people I mean this is where I live and work and so to make sure that it's a resource here. It started to get attention from other states and which is why we realized we needed to make it more accessible and larger and have more so I think so when we read the website it was about 100 people or 100 different profiles that we're listing.

So it's now has spread out to Oregon and Massachusetts and other parts of the country as well and so the goal now is to take it and really have it be you know it's just a platform and it's just a directory so really absolutely anybody can sign on and use it. The one thing that I'm always interested in lots of beekeepers are interested in as we talked about earlier is disease and might resistance. Can you walk us through what you know what that what that means and is that something that's possible is what's involved with making these resistance disease and parasites.

Sure, it's definitely possible and it's definitely for bees to develop resistance to parasites I mean that's how all host parasites relationships work in the long term. If we left them to do it on their own, it you know it would happen we'd probably be really really hungry hungry in between and never see it in our lifetime. And so it is something that we have to actively work towards where we are now is that most bees really can't handle. I mean for always the big one and they really can't handle for on their own. And that's why it really does require this effort of people selecting stock and demanding good bees and breeders continuing to get funded for the research to do this research because it is the only lasting strategy is to have bees that can handle it on their own. We're really not there yet.

We do though have a couple really interesting paths or things that we're following. So I mentioned the Varroa sensitive bees and those are bees that can recognize when there's Varroa in the cells and they remove the affected pupa out of the cell and they break that reproduction of that particular might and they also make that might more susceptible of getting groomed out. It's really similar to the Minnesota hygienic. So this is breeding behavior of bees that go in when the mites are reproducing in the cat pupa and pulling them out. And and that's a behavior that's really that's found naturally in the population. And so anybody can go through and do a hygienic test and find their bees that have more of that behavior.

And so a small scale queen rare can do that. The University of Minnesota has a system that you use liquid nitrogen and you freeze a portion of the bees. But in Germany and in a lot of other places they just mark a little square with a known number of cells and then prick them with a pin very, very small. And then you put that back in and you come back in six hours and you see how many have been cleared out. And if it's just a couple, then they're not very hygienic.

If they've cleared out all of the damaged pupa, then that's a sign that that colony is hygienic. And so you don't need a big tank of liquid nitrogen or all that. You just have a nice little set of pins. Exactly. And that's something that any queen rare can do. And this is and so one of the big things, one of the big focuses of the Northern Bee Network is to provide resources for smaller level queen rears or actually for any level queen rears so that they can help them in their stock selection. You know, so you don't have to have necessarily insemination tools and a bunch of undergrads. You can just go out and find your best bees really, really systematically.

Another really good behavior that we have. And again, this is something that shows up naturally, but you just have to find which bees express it is the ability to actively recognize and aggressively groom for mites. And so Greg Hunt and his group at Purdue University has been doing this. They developed people call them the leg chewers or the mite biter bees. And the idea there is that they recognize when the furrow are in the hive and they more aggressively groom them off. And the way that you recognize that is by putting sticky boards underneath and seeing the percentage of the mites that have fallen that have their legs chewed.

You know, so some of the mites just drop because they get groomed off or they fall, but then a certain proportion of those are going to actually be attacked by the bees and they'll have little legs ripped off. Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, we like that. I guess that's true. They're extending ethical consideration to the mites.

It's still sad. But that's another thing that you can do. And so, or you can go on Northern Bee Network and find people who have access to that stock and say, I want to incorporate some of those behaviors into my apiary. So there are things that you can, there are things that we're working towards. I mean, there's also a lot of things happening with the viruses and other technologies and things like that. But there's definitely these behaviors in the bees that we can look for and select. It does just take time to make sure we're breeding from the bees that express these behaviors. Well, Megan, let's take a break because I want to come back and want to ask you a little bit about this ability to exchange genetic material across the network. Sure. So let's just take a quick break and we'll come back and talk with Megan about more about the Northern Bee Network.

Let's pick up that last thread in the conversation we had earlier. If you're a beekeeper and you wanted to get some bee breeder and you wanted to get some material from somebody else, how would you do this in the exchange? How does this work? And this is something that's set up so that the people who are already producing queens that want to add more diversity to their yard or want to try out a particular stock, they basically just list that there's someone who's interested in trading. And in all honesty, most of the people who raise queens are interested in trading.

So it is a little redundant with the queen producers one. But basically indicates that I'll share some of my bees with you if you share some of your bees with me. And this is one of my favorite parts because I really, really like trying out new bees and I really like seeing how bees from all over act very differently or sometimes they all act the same or how some do better than the others and just trying out bees from people. And so what I've done in the past and I actually already yesterday called someone and we set up a trade for this year is that I'll send him 10 of my queens and he'll send me 10 of his that he thinks are his best and I can monitor him and try him out in my area. It's one of the least economically successful for me because instead of selling queens for money, I keep trading them for more bees. But it's really fun because I get to try and it makes sure that I have a lot of diversity in my area too. How do you, how do you as a breeder but also others, you know, you've got stock that you're working on. How do you fold in new stock into yours?

Do you have a system for that you like or one that someone in the network is using that you think is really good? Yeah, I mean, for me, I don't claim to be a one of the expert breeders working on a particular line. I'm really passionate just about having better bees available. And so what I do is I get bees from all over and I put them in yards that are, you know, away from my mating yard. So I have a central mating yard, and then I have drone yards around it. And then I have outyards. And usually what I'll do is I'll set up, you know, part of an out yard with 10 queens from someone and I'll just watch them. And then what I'll do is all of my bees at the beginning of the year are fair game to be part of my selection program. And I monitor them.

And if one of them, for example, has chalk brewed, then it's out of the program. And then if one of them I particularly like, it gets a little star on the page. And I also, so I pay attention to things that are really important for me. So for me, that is, I mean, first and foremost is disease.

And so whether or not they're managing Varroa, and then if any other sign of disease shows up, so if Nozima or if they chalk brewed or sac brewed or something like that, it's just an automatic out. And then the second thing is gentleness and calmness on the hive. And that's just important because I sell to a lot of bad people, but also I like to work without a lot of stuff. And I like to have happy bees.

That's not something that's super important to other people. And then for me, honey production too. Where we live in Michigan, even if you're not a big honey producer, you have to have a colony that gets a lot of honey just for them to make it through the winter. And I happen to love honey and I do sell honey. And so I like bees that make a lot of honey. And there's other stuff that I mean, sometimes I'll make marks. So I do keep track of every single colony. They all have ear tags on them. And basically they kind of just by the end of the season, you can really get a sense of which ones are getting whittled out and which ones are really standing apart.

And then at the very end, sometimes it's things I like a quiet cluster in the winter. And the one that's better doing that. And sometimes this queen is just particularly prettier.

This other one, I just didn't like the cut of her jib. And so at the very end, out of my 150, 200 colonies, I'll end up with a couple that really make it through. And so those are the ones that come out of my own stock. And those are ones that they have to have overwintered usually as a nuke and then overwintered again the second year.

And so there are really only a couple that make it through those criteria. So I make those available. But again, that's not a true breeding program because maybe whatever hives those ghosts, that switches every year. But then every time that I cut a bee, that if I say or cut a colony, then those gets replaced with queens from colonies that I like. The other thing that I do is I'm getting a VSH queen.

So one that's from the VSH poll line and then one from the Purdue ankle biter program. And so because I think it's really, really important that we bring these traits into the population. I'm still waiting for someone to buy me an island. So I have a totally isolated mating yard.

I'm not there yet. But so I'm still at the mercy of people around them. So I do, I do flood the area with my bees.

I have multiple drone yards, but they're still getting open mated. And I just like the theory or like to think about that, you know, in Michigan, that I'm going to send my bees out in the world. And the bees that are all around them are going to be much more likely to have these traits because we're just making bees better in the state overall. So I make, so I really try to bring in these bees that other people are working on who are doing these true breeding programs and are, you know, doing a good job and making sure that those are available. That's great.

It sounds like a really, I can imagine different people are doing this in different ways. But they, you know, imagine what you've just described as people who really care about bee breeding have some really intricate and interesting systems for increasing diversity and also just keeping that stock improvement going. Some of the best I had, I bought 10 colonies from a guy from Florida and watched them for three years and they absolutely keep living. And, you know, and I didn't think I was going to really like them. I was just again, just trying them out.

And now this year, I'll be grafting out. I mean, they've been in Michigan for three or four years now. And they're absolutely amazing.

And then that one was a complete surprise for me and some that I've gotten from other people that I thought would be great just didn't take off or didn't, you know, turn out the way that I would. So it is kind of nice having this huge national network that I can draw from to find new things, you know, and just keep trying to find the good ones. Well, this is really exciting.

I'm really excited to hear the Northern Bee Network expanding into a second phase. But when you look ahead and you other members of the network look ahead to the, I don't know, the next 10 years, like, what's the limit? What's possible? What do you kind of see as the the really the real potential of that could come of this really innovative program? Well, I think when I set it up originally, it was really to fill the need that we had Queen producers and how we find them or how we make them and their resources available to other people. And that definitely needs to be spread nationally and it would be great if people just had access to the resources that were in their area. But a really clear next step has come the more I talk to people and that's developing resources so that people can develop their own breeding programs because we definitely need more people raising good quality queens. And like I said, there's an absolute shortage and, you know, it's it would be so much nicer if you could just drive to go pick up a queen instead of having her shipped across the country. And so the next step that I see that we'll be working on over this year is developing resources. So if you're out in Oregon or if you're out in California and you've got a bunch of people in your area and together you have a lot of Queen's or a lot of colonies that you're watching. And you think that you can start doing some serious stock selection and raising some Queens off of your best ones and making them available even to your B Club.

And that's kind of a daunting task for a lot of people. And so I want to provide resources that can help a group of people who are interested in creating a mechanism for having bees available to actually get where they feel comfortable doing it. And then also to make sure that they have the quality things in check that they are, you know, once you're making bees for sale that we are making sure that we're moving forward in the best way, you know, so that we're getting not just more bees out there but more high quality bees out available to people.

That's great. And one thing that we do with all our all our guests, we have these three constant questions and we want to ask you. And so given that we're talking about breeding, one of the things we ask is what's your favorite bee species. But I think in this case it'd be more what's your favorite type of honeybee breed or race.

Tell us, do you have one? Well, I call my bees Michigan Muts. And so I think those those are the those are the best bees that I have. I really, I think the best, I don't, I think the best bee is the one that does really, really well in your location.

And I know that's kind of a soft answer, but I mean, high high 43, the queen of high 43 was my favorite this year. Well, we out in Oregon, we're going to have to come up with the equivalent of the Michigan Muts. That is a great. That's a great name.

Yeah. Another question we ask our guests is if there's been a book that's been really influential to you that really helped shape your thinking about things. Is there a is there something like that or a book that you would really recommend somebody who wants to get involved with bee breeding?

I don't know that there's a particular book. I think for me, I mean, I read everything that I can get my hands on really good to bees. And that's the only thing I allow myself to buy it every bee count.

I think the only thing I allow myself to buy it every bee count is to have a book that I read every bee count. And I think that's really important to me. I think that's really important to me. I think that's really important to me.

I think that's really important to me. There are so many little itty bitty steps in there that you may not automatically think of when you just didn't catch on. So I think just finding people who are doing it well and talking to more people. But doing that after you read the books so that you're not just walking up to them and saying, teach me queen rearing.

The last thing I was going to ask you is, is there a is there a tool that you over the years and doing queen breeding that you've really either it's just a standard tool that anybody uses or it's something that you came across that has just become Megan's really unique tool for queen breeding? Oh, man. I'm trying to think of all the junk that's in my garage. I know when it comes to queen rearing, there is a lot of stuff.

I mean, I think I must have a gender kit sitting somewhere collecting cobwebs. Yeah. I mean, that's the thing is I've tried.

I've had, you know, custom 3D printed parts. I've had, I mean, I love, I mean, this is, okay, this is the other thing that I think I've learned the most is just trying everything. I mean, the worst case scenario is it doesn't work. And like the absolute worst case scenario is your queen is bunk and you pinch her and you learn how to check to see it.

Check her sperm a thinker. You know, like you can, there's just never a situation where you try something out and you're not going to get something out of it. I have, I think the most important thing that I have is getting a little tiny room built in the back of my garage so that I have my own space for all of my stuff that can't get taken over by any of the rest of the woodworking things. I can totally picture that. And I also really dislike grafting in the car.

I just don't like doing it. I have to. Yeah, that that's steering wheels.

It's, I mean, it's at a pretty convenient angle though. Well, this is great. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to record this with us. And thanks so much, Megan. Thank you.

That was really fun. Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

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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And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

“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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