Tocal college runs queen bee breeding program funded by NSW Government

CHALLENGING TIMES: Elizabeth Frost who will head the Queen Bee Development Program.
CHALLENGING TIMES: Elizabeth Frost who will head the Queen Bee Development Program.

Queens are expected to be regal and dignified, perhaps even a touch aloof.

But for Tocal’s Elizabeth Frost, they’re the furthest thing from her mind.

She wants her queen to be gentle and disease resistant – and produce good honey of course.

Elizabeth is Tocal’s Honey Bee Development Officer and has just been put in charge of a new program that’s about to kick off, a queen bee breeding program.

The state government-funded $1.3 million program was announced recently by the NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair, and it will run over five years.

“The program will involve 200 production hives and 50 breeding hives, and I’ll have a beekeeping technician working under me,” Californian-born Elizabeth said.

“There are plenty of people out there with hives, but very few queen bee breeders, so this will give us the chance to do some really valuable research.”

And just as dog, horse or cattle breeders are looking to strengthen their stock, so it is with bees.

“We’ll be looking for specific traits that we want to encourage,” she said. 

“The hive is an expansion of the queen. In effect they’re all her offspring.

“So we’re looking for a hive that produces a lot of honey, we’re looking for gentleness, which basically means a bee that stings less.

“We’re looking for bee that is more disease resistant as well. Those sort of things.”

In short, the quest is under way to develop a super bee.

It will be, without question, the most detailed research in Australia yet.

Genetic testing will be part of the program, along with a standard test for hive efficiency. While the program will have Tocal as its hub, it won’t be restricted to there.

“For a really healthy hive the bees need a variety of nutrition, which means different floral resources,” Elizabeth explained.

“So we need to offer them that. So we will be taking our hives to the different food resources around the state at various times of the year.

“Almonds are a really good source of food for bees, so we’ll probably start by taking them to the Riverina for that, then we’ll head to the central west of the state to take advantage of the canola crop and so on. All the while we’ll be testing and recording, adding data.”

If it sounds straight forward enough, spare a thought.

“One of the things we’ll have to do is artificially inseminate the queens, which can be a bit tricky.”

Queens mate on the wing - yes, as they’re flying – and it can involve as many as a dozen males (drones).

Now there’s food for thought.