SARE Preproposal: Test and Analysis of the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method

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Project Title

Test and Analysis of the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method

Project Status

Pre proposal approved. Invited to submit grant.

Principal Investigator Information

Information requested consists of principal investigator name, lead institution name, full address, telephone, e-mail and fax.

Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School

Cooperating Institution Information

Listing of cooperating institutions receiving funding.

Coweta Beekeeping Association
Center for Honey Bee Research

Project Duration & Timetable

Duration is limited to 3 years. Please develop a timetable for each year of the project. Timetable section is limited to no more than 250 words.

January 2017 obtain hive monitors and woodenware 
March 2017 obtain nucleus bee colonies and set up yards. Start feeding to stimulate colonies. 
April - May 2017 Perform mite counts. Remove queen 2 weeks before main nectar flow in test colonies. 
June 2017 Perform mite counts. 
July 2017 Remove queens from test colonies and perform splits. 
August 2017 Perform mite counts 
September 2017 Inspect and feed colonies to stimulate. 
March 2018 Inspect colonies and determine winter survival rates.

Abstract

500 words maximum

Current beekeeping techniques are not sustainable. Colony losses have been 40 percent per year. The Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method is a proactive system using a synergistic combination of several beekeeping techniques that produce a surplus of new strong healthy colonies with late summer queens, controls varroa mites with a natural biological method, reduces swarming, and increases honey production. This method can be used by hobby, sideline and commercial beekeepers to become self sufficient. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method works very well but the method has not been subjected to rigorous long term empirical studies. 

This research experiment would test the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method in three different location - Piedmont, foothills, mountains - by three different beekeeper categories - commercial, sideline, hobby - in three different environments - rural farming, urban, mixed. Electronic hive monitors connected to the internet would provide real time data on honey production, swarming and colony health. This experiment will be run as an Open Notebook project and all data will be accessible online by anyone.

Statement of Problem, Rational and Significance

Statement of the problem being addressed. Begin the statement of the problem as: “The purpose of this project is to”... Limited to 250 words.

The purpose of this project is to test the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method, a proactive system of hive manipulation that may reduce colony losses, create new colonies and queens and provide a natural biological control of the varroa mite. Current beekeeping practices are not sustainable. Commercial, sideline and hobby beekeepers have experienced annual colony losses in excess of 40 percent 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. These 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 $145 each in 2016. 

Approximately 1.6 million hives are required to pollinate the almond crop alone. The introduction of one more parasite or disease may cause the number of colonies to drop below the number required for current crop production levels. 

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.

Define the System –- Limited to 250 words.

Briefly tell us about the system your research defines or into which your research fits. Tell us how your research results would strengthen the system.

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 and ensure the survival of the apiary and the economic survival of the beekeeper. 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. Researching the effectiveness of this method would require further involvement of the knowledge system, by testing the method with different types of beekeepers -- commercial, sideline and hobby -- and in different areas with different climate and flora.

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 big 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.

Project Relevance to Sustainable Agriculture

State how solving the problem stated above and the expected results contribute to agricultural sustainability. Don’t simply tell us that your project addresses an element of sustainable agriculture, tell us HOW your project will address it and make it more sustainable. Tell us how you will use systems research in your project. Make sure that your work -- even though it is making a part of a system more sustainable -- does not make the whole system or another part of it, less sustainable. Does your project use genetically engineered varieties or organisms? If so, state how their use will contribute to your project and make agriculture more sustainable. Limited to 250 words.

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. 

Sustainable beekeeping should promote sustainability of food and feed crops that depend on pollinators for reproduction. Increasing honey production per hive should also ensure economic sustainability for the beekeeper. 

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.

Objectives

A numbered list of concise project objectives limited to no more than 125 words. You should be able to accomplish your proposal with no more than five -- and fewer are perfectly adequate -- major objectives. Make sure that farmer/rancher cooperators are involved in the planning and implementation of the project.

Test Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method to see if it is effective. Sustainable is defined as producing surplus colonies by creating more new colonies than die over a one year period. Specifically the method will be tested to see if it: 
1. reduces swarming  
2. creates a surplus of strong healthy colonies with late summer queens 
3. increases overwinter survival rate 
4. controls varroa mites without chemicals 
5. produces more honey

Approach and Methods

A brief description of research and education methods to be used for each objective, numbered according to their corresponding objective above noting which cooperating partners are involved for each objective. Approach and Methods is limited to no more than 125 words for each corresponding objective listed above.

Three apiaries consisting of 20 colonies (10 control and 10 test hives) will be setup 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 20 hives will be installed on HiveTool electronic hive monitors consisting of hive scales, temperature, humidity and other sensors. The data will be sent real time to a database server at hivetool.net via the internet and will be available as an open notebook project. 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 hive.  The queen, a frame of brood with nurse bees, a frame of honey and and a frame of pollen are placed in a new hive. The original hives are left in place to create a new queen. Seven days later, in the original hive, all but two queen cells are destroyed. Removing the queen should lower the amount of swarming. The number of swarms that occur in the test group will be compared to the control hives.
2. After nectar flow, when the colony is the strongest, the queens will be removed again.  The queen, a frame of brood with nurse bees, a frame of honey and and a frame of pollen are 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,  The queen will emerge in late summer and lay strong into the fall.
3. The experiment will be run for a full year to determine the colony survival rate. By having new queens that emerge after summer solstice and reduced mite counts, annual survival rate should be much higher. 
4. Varroa mites populations of the original 20 hives will be measured periodically using sticky boards. By removing the queen and having the hive go queenless with no brood, the varroa mite population should be significantly reduced. 
5. The controls and original 10 test hives will be electronically monitored for swarming, 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.

Literature Cited

List key cited literature limited to no more than 125 words.

Disselkoen, Mel "OTS Queen Rearing: A Survival Guide for Beekeepers Worldwide." International Mating Nuc, Inc. 2016. Print. 

National Honey Show. "The Sustainable Apiary by Mike Palmer." Online video clip. YouTube. Dec 7, 2013.  

Wright, Walt 
1. "Tennessee Early Spring Management." Bee Culture. December 1996. Print. 
2. "Swarm Prevention in Tennessee." Bee Culture. March 1997: 46-47. Print 
3. "Nectar Management 101." Published in Bee Culture Magazine February 2002: 26-27. Print 
4. "Applied Survival Traits of Honey Bees for Swarm Prevention and Increased Honey Production Part 1." American Bee Journal. February 2002:123-124. Print 
5. "Applied Survival Traits of Honey Bees for Swarm Prevention and Increased Honey Production Part 2." American Bee Journal. March 2002: 201-202. Print.

Funding Request

An itemized budget is no longer required at the preproposal stage, only an estimate of your funding request. This includes estimates of any funds you will budget for cooperating institutions.

Lead Institution: Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School $25,000
Supporting Organization: Coweta Beekeeper Association $20,000
Supporting Organization: Center for Honey Bee Research $20,000
Total $65,000

Reviewer's votes and comments

You have been invited to submit a full proposal for the preproposal entitled "Test and Analysis of the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method".  Brief reviewer comments are attached.

Thank you,
Jeff Jordan
Director
Southern SARE                                           


Reviewer Comments

Project Title: Test and Analysis of the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method

Approval Status:

Full Proposal Invited

Reviewer 1 Vote: Do Not Invite Full Proposal

Comments: Important research but not well developed idea.

Reviewer 2 Vote: Invite Full Proposal

Comments: Interesting to see if electronic monitoring could be effective

Reviewer 3 Vote: Invite Full Proposal

Comments: interesting and low cost project.

Reviewer 4 Vote: Invite Full Proposal

Comments: Low budget; wish it was more. Great non-profit for SARE relationship. Strong farmer relations; would be stronger if larger sample set to better study geographic locations vs farmer categories vs urban/rural etc. Great it's spread out to the extent that it is however. Coastal vs Piedmont vs Mtns has great relevancy in other states beyond GA. HiveTool is great technique to uniformize research collection over long distance, and objectives and study parameters are really exciting.