The Center began ‘Project Genesis’ in April 2012 as a first of its kind longitudinal study to establish colony “norms” in the Western North Carolina region. What does that mean? Traditional commercial and hobbyist beekeepers continually manipulate their colonies in an effort to ‘strengthen’ or ‘increase production’ through various stratagems, while ‘natural’ beekeeping enthusiasts generally do not record data. As a consequence there exists no objective information of the range of size, production, or longevity honey bee colonies can be expected to achieve on their own. What parameters will a highly successful colony display compared to an average or mediocre one in the same environment? What percentage could be considered exceptional and how many poor? More importantly, how would colonies which are not bolstered for human ends fare on their own?
We consider Project Genesis unique because it is conducted solely by unpaid volunteers and funded by engaged individuals. Through Dec. of 2016 the Center has conducted bi-weekly inspections for four complete seasons! We have every inspection sheet from every data-collection dating back to its inception, as well as scanned .pdf files backing them up.We are still seeking help in establishing a dynamic searchable database where we can post results online in real time. The Center feels this information should be available to anyone in the world without a fee. To that end we have reserved CenterforHoneybeeResearch.org as the repository for that purpose.
What Data is collected? Protocols have been established and a data-sheet developed for each collection. The colonies are weighed and mite counts taken. Each team inspects every frame in the broodiest of all 20 double-deep Langtroth hive bodies. How many frames have active worker brood? How many have pollen, nectar, or honey but without brood? How many frames are drawn but empty? Which box and frame is the Queen found? Is she marked and is that the same as last inspection? (We note how many Queens a colony creates through the course of a season. With few exceptions replacement Queens are generated within Project Genesis itself) Are there Queen Cells started or hatched? Any signs of pests or disease? Anything exceptional or out of the ordinary within the hive? What is in bloom and what colors of pollen are coming in?
Has anything noteworthy occurred during the past two weeks within the surrounding environment: torrential rain, wind, cold, heat or draught? Each data sheet includes the names of the volunteers who conducted the inspection and the date on which it was carried out.
The Set-Up.Twenty colonies inhabit identical equipment in two yards of ten each. They are separated by 600 feet on a gently sloping grade. All hives face South. The Upper Yard may in some ways be considered a ‘control’ for the Lower Yard because it remains “treatment-free”.
We have included this particular difference to investigate the correlation between mite populations and colony survival.
The Lower Yard is maintained in accordance with currently accepted recommended “best management practices”. This refers to the overwhelming majority of academia and industry pundits who view Varroa destructor as the most critical threat to colony survival and consider the insertion of miticides within colonies as a “lesser evil”. In contrast, the Upper Yard is ineligible for any form of medication or parasite treatment.
A brief History. When Project Genesis began it was given a home at the WNC Nature Center. The non-treatment hives were placed next to the red wolf habitat, while the treatment hives nestled close by the deer and other ungulates. Both of these locations were safe from vandalism by two-leggeds as they rested within locked gates and twelve foot chainlink fences.
Visitors were able to see the hives from raised boardwalks and signage proudly proclaimed the Project and the importance of pollinators. This happy situation persisted throughout the first season and into the Spring of the next, at which time a number of hives were knocked over and pillaged by a mother black bear and her three cubs. These bears apparently found a way through the fences from outside! In other words they were wild bears breaking into the Nature Center - whose director, fearing public anxiety asked us to leave.
The colonies found a foster home on a private farm in West Asheville, where they reside to this day.