CATCH THE BUZZ – Sentinel Apiary Program – Find Out How You are Doing, and How Everybody Else is Doing. It’s The Wave of the Future. Sign Up Today!!

Bee Informed Partnership:

Sentinel Apiary Program: Calling all beekeepers!

What is the Sentinel Apiary Program?

The Sentinel Apiary Program is a colony health monitoring program that helps inform beekeeper management decisions, while simultaneously providing the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP, with some of our most valuable data. Beekeepers enrolled in the Sentinel Apiary Program monitor 4 or 8 colonies in one apiary for 6 months. Each month, participating beekeepers take a sample of about 300 bees from each Sentinel colony. They also provide us with information about their colonies including queen status, brood pattern, and frames of bees, as well as any management they have recently performed, such as feeding, treating, supering, etc. Samples are then mailed to our lab at the University of Maryland where we process them for Varroa and Nosema. Beekeepers receive a report of their results within 2 weeks so they can make timely management decisions. To date, 189 beekeepers in 31 US states have taken almost 7,000 samples from Sentinel colonies! For more details, please visit our website:

2018 Program Summary:

The 2018 Sentinel Apiary Program was the fourth year of the program and was a great success. The program included 64 beekeepers sampling 418 colonies, for a total of 1,901 samples. We were thrilled to find that 2018 Sentinel Participants had significantly lower Varroa loads than the historical national average, and the lowest Varroa loads of any year of the program. This speaks clearly of the value of monthly monitoring and actionable, near real-time data.

Figure 1. 2018 Sentinel Participants (red) compared to the historical national average (gray) monthly mite loads.

Why Join the Sentinel Apiary Program? 

Enrollment in the program includes all the materials you need to take your samples, pays for all the labor for us to process your samples in our diagnostics lab, and for the helpful handouts on how to evaluate and track the health of your colonies. Our participants say that Sentinel acts as extra incentive to do thorough colony health checks every month, and that their record keeping and beekeeping have improved as a result. We all think we will remember that the second colony from the left was queenless and the third from the right needed feeding, but once you leave the yard, sometimes it’s hard to even remember your hive tool. Sentinel data sheets and reports are designed to help you keep track of exactly what’s happening in each of your colonies so you can perform optimal management. This program is perfect for individuals and ideal for bee clubs as the sampling and colony assessments are perfect opportunities for training new beekeepers and the monthly results provide an excellent platform to share and discuss at each meeting. Sentinel helps you be the best beekeeper you can be.

 Contribute Valuable Data to Honey Bee Science:

Sentinel Apiaries produce some of the most valuable data BIP collects. No other database has this much detailed information on this many colonies for this amount of time. Sentinel is unique because participants track the same colonies for at least 6 months, if not multiple years. These longitudinal data allows us to ask specific, interesting questions about landscape effects on colony health and the efficacy of beekeeper management practices. Longitudinal data is considered the gold standard for research in our community.  We would not be able to do this research without Sentinel Apiaries. Here are some of the ways we have begun using the 4 years of Sentinel Data we have collected:

  1. Investigation of inter-apiary Varroa Sentinel data revealed rapid increases in Varroa populations that cannot be explained by normal mite reproduction, indicating a possible outside source of mites. This has led us to begin investigating the extent to which Varroa from highly infested/crashing colonies spread to nearby apiaries across the landscape.
  2. Correlation of internal physical symptoms to mortality using historical Sentinel samples. We save ~10% of all Sentinel samples as a historical record, and recently a PhD student in our lab, Anthony Nearman, has made exciting headway in correlating internal abnormalities (such a sting gland swelling, see image) in these bees to colony mortality. This could pave the way for a new method of colony sampling to better predict mortality. 
  3. Collaboration with NASA-DEVELOP to investigate landscape effects on Sentinel colony health using NASA-Earth satellite imagery. This summer we had the amazing opportunity to work with NASA to develop a tool which can intake information about your Sentinel Apiary and show us a variety of landscape factors around it such as precipitation, soil moisture, and land cover. This will allow us to make correlations between the landscape, colony health, and how the effectiveness of management practices varies across space.

Beekeeper Testimonies:

“It was very valuable for our beekeeper association to participate in the Sentinel Apiary Program. We learned how quickly Varroa mite numbers can increase in late summer and into fall, and how important it is for the beekeeper to monitor for Varroa both before and after treatment. “Before” because we want to know the number of mites per colony to see if we are at or close to the threshold for treatment and “After treatment” because we need to know if the treatments have been effective”. — Lindsay, Maryland

“Participating in the Sentinel Apiary Program has brought a discipline to our practice of beekeeping for monitoring Varroa infestation not only in a single hive, but the whole apiary. We have learned if we treat a couple of hives in the apiary, we need to treat them all to have any sizable impact on Varroa due to drifting or robbing. Our apiary participating in the Sentinel Apiary Program is a teaching apiary and the sampling program has been a very effective teaching tool in developing better beekeepers.” – Scott, Missouri

 How to Join:

We are accepting new and existing participants for 2019! Please visit our website at to fill out an application form and submit payment. Pricing is at cost (we do not profit off this program) at $275 for 4 colonies and $499 for 8 colonies. Email the program director Dan Reynolds at with questions.

ABF Members:

ABF has partnered with BIP to provide a $100 sponsorship to 50 ABF members. Check your email for a notice from ABF titled “ABF wants to Sponsor YOU!” for a special sponsorship code. 


P.S. – Have you seen our newest column in Bee Culture? It’s called ALL AROUND THE BEEYARD. Simply put, it’s a page of good ideas sent in by readers to make life in bees faster, simpler, easier, cheaper and better. Good ideas home grown and shared by those who saw a good idea. If you have a good idea you’d like to share, give us a paragraph or two on what it is, and a drawing or photo of what it looks like if that is needed to better share the idea. Send it in an email to, with All Around in the subject line. Best of the month wins $100.00. The others get a free 1 year subscription. How cool is that?