On the job, Steve Sheppard looks through hives with a smoker and runs the lab at WSU. (HSING-HAN CHEN | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE)
On the job, Steve Sheppard looks through hives with a smoker and runs the lab at WSU.


Bees on the move

New facility will hold close to double previous bee hives, professor says

January 29, 2020

After almost 20 years working out of temporary quarters, WSU’s Honey Bee and Pollinator Research and Education program will be moving much of its work to a new facility in Othello.

Entomology professor Steven Sheppard said the new building alone will allow for more than double the number of bees currently housed at the WSU Pullman campus.

“When the facility in Othello is up and running we anticipate that alone will have about 400 to 500 bee colonies,” Sheppard said.

The ability to maintain so many more bees will allow for more experimentation and, as a result, more research, he said.

“In the past what we had to do for large-scale field projects was collaborate with commercial beekeepers and do experiments in their beehives,” Sheppard said. “One of the disadvantages of that is while you can be doing the experiments on a certain crop — say almonds in California — they move all around the country.”

Though Othello will provide many benefits for research, including allowing for more remote research in places like California, the entomology department will be keeping some bees in Pullman due to the ease of selected mating.

Because Pullman is full of wheat, which can’t be used to help bees produce honey, there aren’t many bees in the area. This allows beekeepers to select certain desirable traits including disease- and weather-resistance.

The target of much of the selected mating is the queen because, ultimately, the genetics of the queen will affect the entire colony.

“The queens need to be productive,” Sheppard said. “During the main part of the season they may be laying 1,500 eggs a day, so you need a queen that can really crank out that many eggs.”

Sheppard said they won’t be able to start research at the facility until bee season. The department is in the process of transferring equipment over and preparing the facility for the bees that will soon inhabit it.

The facility will have an opening ceremony featuring the dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences as well as many donors, beekeepers and growers. 

The ceremony will take place on March 6 in Othello.

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