Apiary and Pollinator Services
Pennsylvania has a long history with beekeeping: from original introductions of honey bees during colonization, to the development of the Langstroth hive – the most widely used hive design by beekeepers today - to leadership in the North American beekeeping industry. Today’s beekeeping industry is broad, with many often-interconnected sub-industries including:
- Production of bee stock and equipment for both commercial and non-commercial beekeepers
- Migratory pollination services
- Production and sale of honey and other bee products
- Development of alternative pollinators as an agricultural resource
- Conservation of pollinator-friendly habitat and planting for pollinators
Apiary Registration and Inspection
The first law regulating beekeeping in the Commonwealth was passed in 1921. This law was passed primarily in response to a major outbreak of a highly contagious and lethal honey bee disease - American Foulbrood (AFB). Initial efforts of the Apiary Inspection Program focused on moving colonies from old fashioned "log" and "box" hives - which could not be inspected for disease, into modern removable frame hives. Apiary inspectors also educated beekeepers on the proper control and prevention of bee diseases.
The current Bee Law, passed in 1994, was a collaborative effort between the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers' Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry. To increase efficiency of the inspection service, the new law required all apiaries in the state to be registered. The current cost of registration is $10 for approximately two calendar years. The Bee Law continues to regulate the movement of honey bees, queens, and used equipment into and out of Pennsylvania in order to mitigate bee disease outbreak and spread. In addition, the Bee Law provides for quarantine action when potentially-threatening pests, pathogens and parasites are discovered. This action can be used to temporarily protect the beekeeper and beekeeping industry from potentially-harmful foreign organisms that are new to the region, allowing for time to assess and contain the issue before it is a problem.
The Apiary Section’s Apiary Inspection Program is charged with carrying out the Bee Law. When possible, a team of seasonal apiary inspectors is hired to inspect colonies throughout Pennsylvania during the active bee season (approximately May through mid-October). Inspections are prioritized in roughly this order: apiaries that had previous outbreaks of American Foulbrood (AFB), queen breeding and nucleus(nuc) production yards, interstate movement of honey bees, new beekeepers, apiaries that have not had a recent inspection, and then all other apiaries. When an inspector finds or suspects a case of AFB or other regulated organism, the apiary containing the colony is quarantined as samples are processed in Harrisburg to confirm infection. Beekeepers are notified of the diagnosis and, if positive, are provided a treatment order outlining appropriate treatment options. In the case of AFB, compliance must be completed within 14 days of receiving the order and apiaries are revisited twice per year for two years following treatment. Other types of inspections include: certification for queen and/or nucleus colony producers, compliance inspections for interstate movement of bees and equipment, and national honey bee disease survey inspections.
Honey packing and sale regulations are governed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Food Safety.
American Foulbrood (AFB) is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Paenibacillus larvae. The infection begins when nurse bees feed larvae food contaminated with the spores. The spores germinate into the active vegetative form of the bacteria in the larval intestines, rapidly spreading and infecting all larval tissue. The larvae die, usually after the cell is capped. This creates unfavorable conditions for the vegetative form of the bacteria. The bacteria then form millions of infective spores in the larval remains. The dried remains of AFB infected larvae are called scale and they become “glued” to the cell.
For more information, please read our guide on American Foulbrood (PDF).
An estimated 80% of our crops (by type not quantity produced) are dependent on insect pollination. Of those, honey bees are the most widely used and dependable of pollinators. However, it has been recognized that crop production in Pennsylvania is dependent on the presence of non-honey bee pollinators. The goal of the Apiary program at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is to support efforts to determine to what extent pollinators play a role in our natural and agricultural ecosystems.
The Pennsylvania Native Bee Survey (PANBS) was started in 2006 by the Apiary Section to identify native pollinators in the Commonwealth. In 2010, the first Pennsylvania Checklist of Bees was published, identifying 371 species known to have existed historically or currently found in the Commonwealth. As the PANBS has continued to expand in scope, a baseline of information is being developed to analyze bee population changes over time.
During National and Pennsylvania Pollinator Week in June 2011, a portion of Commonwealth property was set aside as the future site of a pollinator garden, highlighting the importance of natural habitat to support our pollinators. The planned site is adjacent to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Building in Harrisburg. The garden will be a coordinated effort between local and statewide organizations and agencies, developing pollinator resource and supporting ecosystem plantings, signs and displays regarding the importance of pollinators in the Commonwealth, and observation areas that will allow visitors to see the ecosystem at work.
As the Apiary Section moves forward, the focus will morph into a Pollinator Services program. This new focus will interact with the Commonwealth’s pollinator industries to address survey needs, regulatory activities and policy concerns, and coordination of pollinator outreach and education.