SARE Grant Proposal: Test and Evaluation of the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method

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Statement of Problem, Rationale and Significance

State the problem being addressed in your project, rationale and justification for objectives and the potential economic, environmental, and social impact of the anticipated project outcome. Please begin the statement of the problem as: 'The purpose of this project is to'. (no more than 2000 words)

The purpose of this project is to test the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method, a proactive system of colony manipulation methods that may increase income, lower costs, reduce insecticide use and help small to medium sized beekeepers become self sufficient. This method will be evaluated to see if it is a profitable, sustainable beekeeping method suitable for both small scale rural and inner city farmers. 

Current beekeeping practices are not sustainable. Commercial, sideline and hobby beekeepers are experiencing heavy annual losses. These losses are often in excess of 40 percent per year due to a variety of stressors: varroa mite, Colony Collapse Disorder, bacteria, viruses, fungi, pesticides and monoculture. 

In 1947, there were 5.9 million beehives in the US. This number decreased steadily, leveling off at 4.1 million in the 1980s, but has declined to 2.4 million despite efforts by 135,000 beekeepers to increase the number of hives. Approximately 1.6 million hives are required to pollinate the almond crop. The introduction of one more parasite or disease may cause the supply of colonies to drop below the number required for current crop production levels. The efforts to increase the bee population can be seen in the demand and the price of nucs (nucleus colonies, which are created from larger colonies) which has risen from $35 each in 2002 to $155 each in 2017. 

Further proof of the lack of sustainability of current beekeeping practices is seen in the high dropout rate of new beekeepers. Popularity and interest in beekeeping has increased and the field attracts many new beekeepers each year. Unfortunately, enthusiastic new beekeepers invest time and money in classes, bees and equipment only to give up after losing their hives year after year. To the beginner or hobby beekeeper with two colonies, 40% annual loss means that in two years, both colonies will be dead and the beekeeper will be out of business or face the discouraging prospect of investing more money, often without having received any return on their initial investment. 

The Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method consists of three established hive manipulation methods, that when done in combination at the right time work together to increase honey production, produce excess replacement colonies, reduce swarming and lower the mite population without insecticides. Each original method (Disselkoen, Palmer and Wright) was intended to solve a specific problem, but the combination of these methods, and their implementation at the proper time, maximizes sustainable beekeeping as a whole. 

If this project establishes that the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method is successful, there are several potential economic, environmental and social impacts. Increasing honey production per hive increases income without increased capital expense. Planning for overwinter loss and creating replacement hives in advance in the local apiary reduces costs and helps ensure a good harvest. Less pesticide use is good for the bees, the environment and further decreases costs. Together, increasing income and lowering costs will increase profitability. Planning for overwinter losses and producing a surplus of replacement colonies each year will promote self reliance and achieve sustainability. 

In addition to providing more income to poor areas, both rural and inner city, this method has the potential to increase the amount of honey produced. Increased honey production will provide more of a wholesome, local food to the area and could stimulate local farmer markets. The increased pollinator population should improve backyard and community garden yields and could help in transforming food deserts into food hubs.

Sustainable Agriculture Relevance

How does the project and the expected results contribute to sustainability in the South? For a review of pertinent literature and relevant SARE Projects, search the database of project reports at Explain how your project is different from or complementary to other SARE-funded projects. (no more than 1000 words)

Sustainable beekeeping is a necessary step to achieve sustainable production of food and feed crops that depend on or benefit from honey bee pollinators. Increasing honey production per hive should also ensure economic sustainability for the beekeeper. 

Large commercial beekeepers produce queens and colonies to sell to sideline and hobby beekeepers. The Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method allows sideline and hobby beekeepers to produce their own queens and colonies to replace hives lost over the winter and even produce surplus colonies for sale to beginning beekeepers. If this method proves successful, the prices of nucleus colonies (nucs) should fall. The decrease in the price of nucs will lower the barrier to beekeeping and should help increase the number of beekeepers and colonies. 

The decrease in the cost of nucs may have an adverse affect on the large beekeeper that sell nucs and queens. However, this reduction in income from nuc sales could be more than offset by increased equipment sales necessary to house and manage an increase in colonies. 

Too many colonies may cause beekeepers to fight over available honey bee food sources and depress profits for commercial beekeepers, but any such negative effects on sustainability would be corrected in the free market and have no significant long-term negative effect on the sustainability of the honey bee colony or any other system. Any honey bee food shortage would actually promote attention to sustainable agriculture that provides a food source for the honey bee.


Enter a numbered list of concise project objectives. (no more than 1000 words)

The overall objective is to test the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method to see if it will help small to medium size beekeepers become more sustainable and increase their profits. This proactive method plans for high winter colony losses and produces replacement hives in advance of their need. "Sustainable" is defined as producing surplus colonies by creating more new colonies than die over a one year period. 

A secondary objective of the study is to introduce a number of STEM projects to students and allow them the hands on experiences in design, research, data gathering and analysis. This project based approach allows for multiple learning styles and reinforces the theory that the students are taught in class. Real world projects are designed to foster an appreciation for and an understanding of how science is conducted in the real world. 

To the backyard or sideline beekeeper, most income is from honey sales, not from selling wax, bees or pollinating crops. Most beekeepers lose sales because they can sell more honey than they can produce. They either run out of honey and stop selling until next year, which disrupts their income stream, or they buy honey from a larger producer for resale, which lowers profits. Increasing the amount of honey produced per hive will directly impact the bottom line. "Increase profits" is defined as producing more honey from the same number of hives. 

Loss of hives is a major economical constraint to any beekeeper and the development of a method of loss mitigation and hive reproduction/replacement is a requirement of sustainability and a major driving factor of the project. The added benefits of decreased chemical use and associated costs as well as increased honey production and added income will aid the beekeeper as well. It especially important to have a method that will encourage hobby beekeepers and allow them to be more sustainable. Many hobby keepers leave beekeeping in a couple years because of the costs involved with hive loss and replacement. More hobby beekeepers will allow for greater diversity and increased pollinator presence. 

Specifically the method will be tested to see if it: 

1. creates a surplus of strong healthy colonies with late summer queens (increases sustainability) 
2. controls varroa mites without chemicals (increases sustainability and profitability) 
3. increases overwinter survival rate (increases sustainability) 
4. reduces swarming (increases profitability) 
5. produces more honey (increases profitability)

Approach and Methods

Enter a brief description of research and education methods to be used for each objective. Number them according to their corresponding objective. Note which partners are involved for each objective. (no more than 3000 words)

To test and evaluate the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method, three apiaries consisting of 20 colonies (10 control and 10 test hives) will be set up in different geographic areas of the southeast -- on the Piedmont, foothills and mountains -- and in different environments -- Rural, Urban, and Mixed. Three different size honey producers -- commercial, sideline and hobby -- with different management techniques and styles will be used to manage each apiary. 

All 60 hives will be installed on HiveTool electronic hive monitors assembled and installed with the help of STEM students Each monitor will consist of a hive scale, temperature and humidity sensors. The data will be sent real time to a database server at via the internet and will be available as an open notebook project to be evaluated daily for changes by students. The scales and sensors will be used to detect swarming, measure daily weight gain from nectar flows and monitor the health of the hives continuously in real time. 

The control hives will be managed using best practices. The test hives will be managed using the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method: 

1. Two weeks before main nectar flow, the queen is removed from the test colonies and the queen, a frame of nurse bees and a frame of food is placed in a new hive. The original hive is left in place to create a new queen. Seven days later, in the original hive, all but two queen cells are destroyed. After nectar flow, when the colony is the strongest, the queens will again be removed from the test colonies and the queen, a frame of nurse bees and a frame of food is placed in another new hive. The original hives are left in place and will produce many new queen cells. Seven days later the colony is split into two to three more new hives and excess queen cells destroyed. These new colonies will be fed syrup and over wintered. The total number of surviving colonies will be compared to the control. 

2. Varroa mites populations of the original 20 hives will be measured periodically using sticky boards. Removing the queen from the test hives and having the hive go queenless will result in no brood. The lack of brood will interrupt the varroa mite reproduction. The varroa mite population should be significantly reduced in the test hives. 

3. The project will be run for 14 months to determine the over winter survival rate. By having new queens that emerge after summer solstice and reduced mite counts, winter survival rate should be higher in the test hives. 

4. The controls and original 10 test hives will be electronically monitored for swarming. 

5. The controls and original 10 test hives will be electronically monitored for weight gain (honey production) and colony health. All the hives will be weighed at the end of the season, the honey extracted and the amount of honey produced by the test hives will be compared to the controls.

Farming System

Describe the farming system under investigation and how your methods contribute to a whole-system approach. (no more than 1000 words)

The Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method was developed as part of a knowledge system: a synergistic combination of three beekeeping methods that work together to maximize honey and new colony production, minimize colony losses, enable a self sufficient apiary and ensure the economic survival of the beekeeper. Each manipulation method (Disselkoen, Palmer and Wright) under study was originally intended to solve a specific problem, but the combination of these methods, and their implementation at the proper time, maximizes sustainable beekeeping as a whole. Researching the effectiveness of this method would require further involvement of the knowledge system, by testing the method with different types of beekeepers, in different geographic areas with different climate and flora. 

Beekeepers divide themselves into three groups based on size and income objectives: hobby (1 to 50 hives), sideline (100 to 200 hives) and commercial 300 to several thousand hives. The hobby and sideline beekeepers are divided roughly evenly between the city and countryside. Different size of beekeepers tend to practice different types of management techniques. Commercial beekeepers can employ economies of scale and specialized equipment whereas the smaller beekeepers have more time to address the unique problems of individual hives. 

Beekeeping in the southeast region ranges from coastal plains to mountains. with a wide range of temperatures and rainfall amounts. Apiaries are located in cities, urban, rural and mixed environments. This causes differences in the type of forage, the timing and amount of nectar and pollen flows, which in turn affect the timing of manipulation changes under investigation. 

Definitively measuring the effectiveness of the Coweta Method will substantially contribute to the collective development of sustainable methods for beekeepers across the country and around the world. Regardless of the feasibility of the Coweta Method for any or all groups, this research will be a step forward in developing further sustainable practices and understanding which methods are effective and why. 

Researching the effectiveness of the Coweta Method requires close observation of hives, which may expose additional underlying issues of honeybee population distress.

Information Dissemination and Outreach Plan

Enter a detailed plan outlining target audience participating in project and the target audience for information/education and outreach components of project. Include evaluation procedures for outreach and information dissemination components, and for measuring the extent of end-user participation in the project. (no more than 2000 words)

This project uses a twofold approach in addressing the radically different interests of two audience groups. The first group consists of existing beekeepers, regardless of size -- hobby, sideline and large commercial operations. It is the goal of this project to present them with the knowledge and system to allow them to more sustainably maintain their apiary. The second group is that of the students involved. The study is designed to introduce them to beekeeping and to hopefully create some new beekeepers. Pedagogically it also presents a way to have students do significant scientific research hands on instead of just learning about the science from a text or lecture. It is a very labor intensive study that is well suited for a student workforce. Data interpretation and analysis will be overseen by the principle investigator. 

At the beginning of the project, and then once a month, reports will be sent to a 700 member e-newsletter group of beekeepers that are interested in the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method. Upon completion of the study, presentations of the research will be made at monthly meetings of local beekeeper associations in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The research will be published on the websites of the Center for Honey Bee Research, the Coweta Bee Keepers Association and SARE. The data and research will be placed on Open Notebook. 

Public outreach will be done through local media outlets, the Highlands Biological Station and information kiosks at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. We will also use the extensive ad hoc network of beekeepers that the investigators maintain to help disseminate information. 

At all presentations, and on the websites, we will ask anyone who adopts the method to self report and to keep the principle investigator informed as to their observations. A note of anecdotal reports will be added to the Center for Honey Bee Research site as an addendum to the research posted. The entomology, botany and Environmental Stewardship groups include students from around the world and as they will be principally collecting data and analyzing data, hopefully they will carry this back with them to wherever they come from. 

If the techniques is successful, it may be added to the beginner beekeeping courses held by the Center for Honey Bee Research, the Coweta Beekeepers Association, and Blue Ridge Honey Company.


(no more than 2000 words) Enter the plan to evaluate project process and outcome. This plan is mandatory. The plan must include mechanisms for self-evaluation and monitoring and/or external evaluation. Evaluation plan must also include mechanisms for project response to evaluation outcomes. Explicitly state the expected outcomes and how you will measure if they have been achieved.(no more than 2000 words)

The success of the project will be evaluated by comparing the data from the experimental hives to the control hives. It will be evaluated at both a location specific level and across the region at all locations. Anecdotal evidence already suggests that the techniques should work in the piedmont region of Georgia, but no definitive study has been done to date. Live streaming of data to keep track of hive conditions as they pertain to honey production and swarming will be available on a continuous basis and will be correlated to observed hive conditions as the apiaries are worked by the farmer cooperators. The study is designed in such a way that if the initial investigation proves successful it can be up scaled in future years to look at a larger geographic area and to provide more reliable information.

Mite counts will be done on a periodic basis by sticky board collection. Honey production will be measured both continuously by weight change of the hive on the streaming data as well as at the end of the season on a hive by hive basis. Hive strength will be calculated based on visual inspections by the cooperating farmer, student interns and other interested individuals. Documentation will be by completion of check sheet of significant observed characteristics for each hive. This data, along with the data from the instrumentation on each hive will be combined to give an overall hive strength rating. Overwinter survivability will be measured the next year and correlated with hive strength measured above.

Success in meeting the sustainability goals of the project depends on the overwinter survivability of the hives. Traditional best practices currently result in a 30% to 40% over winter die off. It is the intent of this process to reduce hive loss to less than 20% with a corresponding decrease in chemical application for mite control and increase in honey production. Any increase in honey production will be considered a success. Mite suppression will be considered successful if mite counts drop enough that in the opinion of the cooperating farmer, additional mite treatments are not needed. With this method, swarming should be avoided completely.

1. We expect this method to increase the number of hives in the apiary. The number of hives in the control and test groups will be compared the next spring. Last year, colony over winter losses were about 30%. We expect this technique will produce a surplus of colonies. This allows the beekeeper to maintain or increase the number of colonies even with high over winter loss. Excess colonies can be sold to increase profits. But more importantly, by planning for a 30% - 40% loss, and producing replacement colonies at little or no cost, the beekeeper can become self sufficient

2. We expect the mite counts be to lower in the test hives and higher in the control hives. Sticky board mite counts will be performed on all the hives periodically during the project. The mite counts of the control groups will be compared with the test group. When the queen is removed to increase honey production and to prevent swarming, the hive will go broodless for a period.

3. We expect over winter colony loss to be lower in the test hives than the controls. The project will be run for 14 months to determine the survival rate. By having new queens that emerge after summer solstice and reduced mite counts, winter survival rate should be higher.

4. We expect this technique to reduce the number of swarms Swarms reduce honey production and may be a nuisance to the neighbors. Swarming is easily detectable with electronic scales. The number of swarms in the control hives will be compared with the number of swarms in the test hives.

5. We expect this technique to increase the amount of honey produced by each hive. We expect this to happen because by removing the queen from the hive two weeks before main nectar flow, the nurse bees can become foragers, resulting in a stronger field force. Since the queen is removed, there will be no new eggs and larva and honey won't be consumed to feed the larva.

The amount of honey produced in the test hives will be compared with the honey production in the control hives. Honey production will be measured two ways: i) real time electronic scales, ii) amount of honey extracted.

(i) Real time electronic scales connected to the internet will measure, record and display the daily change in hive weight on a public website. Manipulation changes (ie adding a super) will be filtered out and just the weight gain (or loss) from the bees will be measured.

(ii) Concern has been expressed that honey will be packed into the brood chamber and the beekeeper will not be able to extract it. So, in addition to the daily electronic scale data, we will also extract the honey from the hives and compare the amount of honey that can be sold.


Budget Justification Provide a budget justification for each item listed.

Please note that all billing and disbursements will be done through Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School.

A. Salaries and Wages 
 2. Other Non-Faculty Personnel
  d. Pre-baccalaureate Students
   160 hours for mite counts and hive inspections x $7.25 per hour = $1160  School will not be in session during the summer so to attract students to the project when school is out, they will be paid minimum wage.  The mite counts and hive inspections are necessary to determine the success of the project.
D.  Non Expendable Equipment
  Electronic hive monitoring systems 60 x $250 = $15,000 Necessary to measure honey production, detect swarming.
E. Materials and Supplies 
  These supplies are necessary to set up the three apiaries with 10 control hives and 10 test hives:
  Nucleus hives 60 x $155 = $9,300
  Screened bottom boards, supers, frames, foundation, tops, feeders, hive stands and
  Additional nuc boxes, bottom boards, supers, frames, foundation, tops and feeders for splits  $17,213
  Honey supers (120 x $22.50 = $2,700) supers  1200 frames w/ foundation (1200 x $2.75) = $3,300
  Feed (sugar syrup) 2700 gallons $3 a gallon = $8100  Necessary to build the hives up in early spring and in the fall.
  Sticky Boards for mite counts 240x$4.25 = $1,020 These are necessary to determine if the project does control mites.
  Miticide to treat control hives $162  Necessary to treat mites in the control hives.
F. Travel 
  Farmers Coordination Meeting  Travel: $260 Motel rooms $180 Necessary to coordinate delivery, manipulation timing to insure all control  hives are managed using best practices and test hives are managed according to the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method.
  Mite count/inspection training  Travel: $367 Motel rooms $180 Hive inspection, reporting, and accurately counting mites are skills that must be taught and practiced in order to get reliable results.
  Delivery of nucs, woodenware and feed $572  Necessary to delivery the hives and supplies.
  2nd Delivery of woodenware and feed $572 Necessary to deliver additional supplies based on need and fresh feed.
H. Computer (ADPE) Costs 	
  Internet access for real time data monitoring and recording.
  $40 activation fee + $20 a month for data for each apiary or $120 activation fee and $60 a month for data.  Necessary to monitor the weight gains and detect swarming.