Creating a Sustainable Honey Bee Depository from Urban to Rural Settings

Progress report for FNC23-1364

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $12,860.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: META
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

I have a Masters and PhD in Entomology with my thesis on bees. I studied under the world's expert of bees, Dr. Charles Michener at the University of Kansas for 6 years. I have kept honeybees over 30 years. Currently my apiary has 19 double-walled insulated hives all from local swarms that came into my trap boxes. I will coordinate all aspects of the program.
Steve and Sharon Batten will monitor the swarm boxes biweekly. Mr. Batten, by profession a carpenter, with myself will construct 50 swarm boxes to be put one every square mile (Lawrence is a city with 95,256 people (2021) and occupies 35 square miles). Mr. Batten and I will construct 80 double-walled insulated home hives (40 each year). Mr. Kevin Maxey, a novice beekeeper will help with hive placement in the sunflower fields, chestnut and apple orchards. He also will help take care of the bees once they are hived in coordination with Dr. Brooks. Other volunteers will be used to help monitor hives and take care of them. These volunteers will be collected in conjunction with City of Lawrence, Parks and Recreation programs advertisements.


It has been shown that honey bee numbers in the US are greater in cities than the countryside due to the rising popularity of beekeeping and increased floral availability and abundance within city limits. In the city there are much fewer tree cavities that are acceptable to honey bee swarms than the surrounding woodlands.  Generally these urban swarms go into holes in houses where they are not welcome. The home owner usually exterminates them due to the high cost of live removal ($700 - $1000).  I  became concerned with the extermination of urban bee colonies which could become a rich source of locally adapted pollinators for the farmers who need a dependable and sustainable source of pollination. The decline of honey bees in the US from 6 million in the 1940's to the 2.6 million is documented by the USDA. This decline is most likely due to mite, viral, bacterial, fungal and pesticide usage in conjunction with Colony Collapse Disorder. The monocultures of corn and soybean have destroyed much of the native flowers that honey bees once depended on outside the cities and that problem is not addressed here.

Project Objectives:

SOLUTION: I propose to set out swarm boxes using Dr. Leo Sharaskin's model (FNC15-1013) who was a former SARE recipient. He obtained his bees by trapping feral local bee strains adapted to the climate of southern Missouri in the forests of the Ozarks. In 2022 I partnered with the City of Lawrence, Parks and Recreation to set up a sustainable rescue program for bee swarms within the city limits. I put 19 swarm boxes into 19 parks achieving 85% success rate. The city was very pleased with meeting its sustainability goal which was included in its yearly report. The city received many inquiries about what those boxes in the park trees were doing. Everyone who asked questions of Mr. Batten and myself were pleased and thought their tax dollars were being put to good use. We told them that no tax dollars were used and all of the time and materials were supplied by myself. I used repurposed wood and insulation from non-recyclable styrofoam to build the the double-walled hives. I will ask the city to provide a means for citizens of Lawrence to drop off their styrofoam for the 2023 season.

I proposed to set up a website giving detailed instructions how to go about a community bee rescue plan. I would supply a link to Dr. Sharashkin's website ( which supplies plans for constructing swarm boxes and double-walled insulated hives. I will also include my pans for double-walled insulated hives which use a double deep Langstroth hive model rather than a Layens frame model that Dr. Sharashkin uses. My website also would indicate how to monitor the boxes and how to move them to their insulated hives. I want to encourage putting easy-to-read signs on the swarm boxes as a public relations plus indicating the city's efforts for sustainability and if funded include SARE logo also. I will include a list of local farmers who are in need of honey bee pollination. I will demonstrate on the website how to use repurposed wood and insulation for the hives and swarm boxes. I have used styrofoam packing (not recyclable)  and fiberglass stuffing from couches as hive insulation. 


I want to set up a website by which I can introduce bee rescue programs to other cities.

I want to set up rescue boxes in Lawrence, Kansas and the surrounding rural areas.

I want to get volunteers involved who want to help and learn about sustainable beekeeping and help monitor the swarm boxes.

I want to trap bee swarms looking for genetic strains that are resistant to Varroa mites and provide a local sustainable pollination resource to local farmers in need of pollination service.

I will weigh the trap hive before and after swarm arrival to get an idea of swarm size. 

I want to encourage beekeepers to trap locally adapted bees rather than buying expensive package bees (now about $200) coming from other areas north and south of our area which usually do not survive our local climate. These packages are 3 lbs. of low quality bees with a queen not related to them. The death rate of over-wintering bees from packages is 40-80% here in Douglas County which is the same as demonstrated in Minnesota.

I want to use YouTube to demonstrate the bee rescue program in cities and explain how this will help the decline of honey bees.

I want to use non-recyclable styrofoam collected by the City of Lawrence to insulate the double-walled hives.

Finally, I plan to give an avenue for cities to appreciate and help farmers and increase awareness of the plight of the honeybee.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Charles Novogradac


Materials and methods:

In early March before the 2023 swarm season, Steve Batten and I put out a swarm box in 32 different parks in Lawrence, Kansas. Sometime after we took down each occupied box and immediately placed an empty box in its place to facilitate the effort of keeping swarm boxes available. In this way we had only to get our ladders out and visit the place once saving time and losing no availability of a box for bees to utilize.

Each box with its frames before being put up was weighed and then reweighed when taken down. This gave an indication of how big the swarm was. When the swarm was transferred into a double-walled insulated hive the bees were checked as to appearance, activity and condition, and size of the queen. I was most interested in trapping the European Dark Honeybee (EDH) which was introduced first in this country in 1622. The EDH or Apis. mellifera mellifera can be broadly distinguished from other subspecies by their stocky body, abundant thoracal and sparse abdominal hair which is brown, and overall dark coloration. This subspecies is known for its cold hardiness and disease and mite resistance.

I built 55 swarm boxes and 22 double-walled insulated hives in 2023. Twenty-three swarms were caught in city parks this year of which 3 were EDH. Thirty-two parks had boxes giving a 72% success rate.  The boxes which were 40 liters (~11 gallons) in volume were placed generally facing South, about 12-15 feet off the ground. This was following the research of Drs. Seeley (Cornell U.) and Sharashkin (former SARE recipient). Each box had 6 double deep frames baited with some old comb and slow release capsules containing essential lemon oil. The opening to the box was about 6 square inches. Boxes were monitored by Mr. Batten once a week during the summer. When the boxes with swarms were taken down they were weighed to give information on swarm size.

Research results and discussion:

After setting out 32 swarm boxes and catching 23 swarms or a 72% success rate I have shown that people who need or want bees do not need to buy package bees from out-of-state suppliers. They can get locally acclimated bees from my depository. This is what Lois Thorn did purchasing two double-walled insulated hives for her native prairie plot. Douglas and Coffee County bee associations want to get bees from my depository instead of buying out-of-state bees this spring of 2024.  Conventional methods of getting bees are to buy them from southern suppliers. Most of these packages do not survive the winter so beekeepers are replacing their bees every spring at a great cost ($150 to 200/ package). Bee swarms have come from colonies that have overwintered thus beekeepers have the assurance that these acclimated local bees have already survived at least one Kansas winter which package bees from out-of-state have not.

The second result is from saturation of the 35 square miles of the city of Lawrence Kansas with at least one swarm box every square mile. In 2022 I caught 26 swarms and in 2023 twenty-three. I feel fairly confident that most of the swarms within the city limits were captured. Without the boxes to inhabit, the bees would have to find a tree with a suitable hollow which is rare or more commonly an opening in a house usually in a soffit or between floors in a two-story house. Most home owners want to have the bees removed either physically (at a cost of $500 to 750) or by poison ($200 by pest control companies). My project  is to rescue the bees and put them in a safe and thriving place.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Other educational activities: One video demonstrating placing a swarm box into a tree. It was made available to people who were interested in bees on the META Enviromental website (

Participation Summary:

50 Farmers participated
5 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

North Eastern Kansas Bee Association (NEKBA) meeting in April of 2023. I gave a one hour talk on the SARE grant-funded program that I was conducting to rescue honeybee swarms from the city and put them into a safe, productive rural environment. There were about 50 beekeepers in attendance.

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

I have learned that locally acclimated bees are much more disease, parasite, and environmentally resistant than bees purchased from southern suppliers like Texas, Georgia, Florida or California or northern suppliers like Iowa and Minnesota. Package bees of 3 lbs. with a non related queen costing between $140 to $200 dollars is a large expense for beekeepers. The package bees almost never survived the winters. On the other hand locally caught swarms (which must have at least survived one winter) had an overwintering rate of 50 to 72% success.

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 New working collaborations
Success stories:

One farmer in Jackson County Kansas used my system to catch wild local bees to put into his horizontal hive and was successful. He caught two swarms. Another beekeeper in Douglas County Kansas catch two swarms with my swarm trap boxes and put them in horizontal hives. Since this was the first year of the project and my system has had little time to be recognized, I expect much more cooperation and collaboration in 2024.


I want to take my program to other cities. For example, Ottawa, Kansas City Manager wants me to duplicate my Lawence program in his city. I am hoping to get funding to take my program to Kansas City and Topeka Kansas. I am also expanding the program to trap wild bees from rural forested areas and add more genetic diversity.  It is more likely that I will find the European Black Honeybee in forested areas where they have been undisturbed for decades or more. I will extend my program after completely covering Lawrence by setting up a trapping system along the Kansas River which is extensively forested.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.