Fort Knox – the rules of cooperation

You can find the „formal” Regulations of „Fort Knox” on this website. But the Regulations do not give you all the answers on why we have decided to choose those solutions instead of others. Besides the formal rules are sometimes difficult to read, and shoud be interpreted. This is why we have decided to put them in a more friendly way of „questions and answers” (FAQ). We ourselves take this formal rules as a guidance and advice – any cooperation in „Fort Knox” is based on trust and good will, and not by inforcement of strict law. If You want to adapt „Fort Knox” for Yourselves, You may choose either more formal regulations or more discriptive way of Your local Project arrangements.

We invite You to cooperate with us with these rules (of course the exchange of bees should be done locally, and we will not do that abroad!). Remember that the more of us cooperate, the easier it is to keep the progres and more local work can be done with less logistics. But the more of us want to cooperate, the more beekeepers would be joint in the common idea of “Fort Knox”!

Here are translated questions and answers about our Polish rules and the interpretations of Regulations. If You start Your own cooperation, You may use our experiences and rules, but You may also change some and ajust them to Your local conditions. It is up to You. We however strongly encourage You to cooperate with others, because people can do much more by working together!


What is Fort Knox?

Fort Knox is:

  • the cooperation in selection of bees that do not need any chemical interventions and treatments, organized by amateurs, with a view to help amateurs;
  • the gurantees that no participant is left without bees;
  • system of exchanging surviving genetics between participants;
  • project of developing genetic diversity of surviving genetics;
  • the system of developing locally adapted bees;
  • only a part of all the selection using natural selection.


How to join the project?

A person may join the project by a written statement (here is the link to the translation of the pattern of the Polish document: click here). You should put there basic information, that would show us how do You keep Your bees, what kind of apiary do You have, what kind of bee-friendly beekeeping methods have You introduced to Your apiary so far, what kind of beekeeping experience do You have – so how can You be of help and assistance to beginner beekeepers who still learn how to keep bees. In this document You will also write how many bee colonies You want to introduce to the Project Bank, and what has been the history of those colonies, according to their genetics and methods of management.


Who can cooperate?

In Poland we invite to cooperation any beekeeper who keeps bees for more than one year. Of course, if one accepts the Regulations of the Project. We know that they may seem strict, but remember that we all give our guarantees and assistance to each other in case You loose Your bees. So the risk is not that big as it may seem in the beginning.

Candidate for the new member should be recommended by a present member of Fort Knox.

Of course we don't see the legal and logistic opportunities to exchange bees between countries, but surely we can exchange the experiences and work together to make the Fort Knox initiative known in beekeeping community all over the world.


Why is there an obligation for new member to be recommended?

Project is based on good will and trust. We know each other in our community for some time because of our few year long cooperation. We therefore know if we can count on each other and in what manner. We introduced the obligation for recommendation of a new participant of the Project, because we want to know You too, before we start the cooperation. We know this may seem as a restriction, but be aware and remember, that we must be sure that we are dealing with a person who will not withdraw from the cooperation when time comes for him/her to fulfill the obligation. We just do not want even to imagine a situation in which one participant awaits the nuc, and the other withdraws from making it.

If You want to join the cooperation, but You don't know any of the participants, contact us, and we will communicate You with a member of Fort Knox, that is the closest to You. You can go there and visit him, and by that You let us know You. By this innitiative You show Your good will and the will to cooperate and we will know that we can rely on You.


Why is there a restriction of one year beekeeping experience in the Project?

If You want to cooperate and You have just started keeping bees, of course we may help You in many ways we can afford in that time. But this one year experience should teach You the basics of keeping bees, and allow You to have Your first individual beekeeping conclusions. Our cooperation is about making nucs or artificial swarms for each other, so we want You to know how to make them or at least buy one for Yourslelf and see how it developes and how to prepare bees for winter. We don't expect any more from You at the beginning. Each one of us learned basics of how to keep bees one day and You can learn on the way together with us. We hope that every year You will be more and more efficient and experienced beekeeper.


How many colonies can one introduce to the Project?

Fort Knox is not about rebuilding the whole apiary after the collapse. This is a project which is about the system of guarantees that nobody is left without bees, and exchanging the promising genetics between participants. If a person introduced 50 or 60 hives to the project where 5 backyard beekeepers try to build their „Fort Knox” community, than most probably the Bank would be hard (or impossible) to rebuild after the first winter already. This is why we have decided that 8 is maximum number of bee colonies that may be introduced to the Project (actually we believe that 5 would be enough). Besides one can introduce a number which is less by one from the numbers of participants (if there are 5 participants than maximum number is 4, if there is 9 or more participants than maximum number is 8). This should allow us to rebuild after loss and this should guarantee that promising genetics is distributed to participants.

The other thing is the biggest number of colonies that may be introduced into the “buffer” of the Project. Because these colonies are the most probable to die the first or second winter, than we have decided that a participant may not introduce more than 3 colonies outside the “core” of the Project (if the Project itself allows to introduce 8 colonies, but one has only 3 colonies in the “core” than he/she may not introduce more then 3 additionally of the “buffer” - so one may have only 6 in the Project in this specific situation). Coordinator of the Project may accept the new colonies to the “core” just from the start if the new participant has been selecting bees already on one's apiary. We believe, that it may be a good way to limit all the new members with 3 colonies – it is quite enough for having some promising genetics for this person, and we may know this person on the way when starting cooperation.

You have to remember than the more colonies one brings to „Fort Knox” the more would be to compensate when he/she looses them, but also the more easily others' loss will be rebuild if they survive in good health and condition.


When the obligations arise?

The obligation to make up for the loss arises when a colony of a Project Bank dies. At first we wanted to rebuild apiaries only after winter loss. This was the first idea. But untreated bee colonies die also during spring and summer. This is why we have decided to transfer bees every time a colony dies. No matter what is the time and reason of the collapse. The losses may be caused by Varroa, other diseases, queen loss or even bad management. We just trust that everybody does what she/he think is best.

Of course the specific obligation to the participant to transfer the colony to another participant arises with the decision of the Coordinator to fulfill specific loss after the bee colony has died.


When is the obligation carried out?

New bee colonies (nucleus colonies) are to be made in the earliest possible part of the year, after the colony has built itself after the winter. The longer we wait, the shorter time will they have this summer to prepare for winter. But our colonies for now are 3 years without treatment, so they sometimes are not in the best vigor. They are sometimes created as a small nucs, which go to winter as small colonies – in the spring they are small too and may suffer all the problems of untreated bees. They may not develop in the way we would wish them to. So we have to wait for them to build up, to be splited, and the longer we wait the shorter time nucs will have to prepare for winter. The time of splitting must be decided in any specific case by the beekeeper who knows the best their condition – so the specific decision is made on the apiary of the Donor participant.


What is the role of the Coordinator?

Coordinator of the project is a person who decides who does nucleus colonies for whom, but also keeps an eye on the numbers, the losses, and makes the decisions in questionable issues about the interpretation of the Regulations. Coordinator must make sure that this cooperation is fair and honest and in the same time lead the project in that way, that the selection is best, bees localize in following generations, and the „most promising” colonies are propagated.


How to withdraw from the Project?

Participant can withdraw from the project any time just by stating so. But she/he should first fulfill all the inflicted obligations for the current year. Of course we have no means (and no intentions) to force anyone to do so. The obligations can be also taken off from person in such a case.


Why do I need all these rules? Can't I just cooperate with others without them?

Of course You may. We are fully aware that making the cooperation more formal is sometimes discouraging for some people. They fear the restrictions and want to share from their heart, not because of the “law”. But the first thing is that You don't have to make them very formal. And ours, even if they seem formal, they do not feel that way in a real cooperation. This is just a system of guidance and advice of how to proceed with the colonies, and what one can expect from the other participants.

If you have the rules and written Regulations than you know exactly what you can anticipate – what would be the requirements from you (Your obligations), and You can expect in return (Your rights, and other's obligations relative to You). If You have the rules that specify your liability, than everybody knows how much they can demand from each other to make it all honest and fair.



Why do we turn to natural selection in the Project, not to other methods of selecting bees?

In the long run the rules of evolution and natural selection ensure:

  • the best adaptation to local environmental conditions;
  • selecting the whole bees' environment, including all the hive microflora;
  • balancing insects with their pests and allowing development of natural defense mechanisms;
  • living environment clean of toxins;
  • preserving natural life cycle;
  • the quickest and best development of adaptation to local dangers – including pathogens and pests;
  • the most complex and complete selection of all the traits that bees need to survive without constant “care” from beekeepers;
  • preserving all the natural pressures, that lead to population resistance


How the colonies should be managed in the Project?

The Regulations specify clearly how the colonies should be managed (in § 9). But just to summarize it:

  • minimal management;
  • absolutely no treatments and no killing mites;
  • no killing/shifting queens;
  • clean wax;
  • small cell foundation (4.9 – 5.1 mm) or foundationless comb;
  • honey collection only from surplus;
  • minimal feeding with artificial food;
  • no migratory beekeeping;
  • no disturbing during wintering;
  • colonies kept in the strength making them biologically self-sufficient.
In other ways – participant should do what his best knowledge tells her/him, and in the ways one does in hers/his own apiary using all the rules of bee-friendly beekeeping.


Which bee colonies should be introduced to the Project?

These may be any bee colonies that are in the possesion of a candidate. But we ruled in the Regulations that participant should apply with the „promissing” or „best” genetics (if one can judge) in the aspect of survival potential. We all know that this can be misjudged, because it is very hard to know which of them will cope with Varroa or other dieseases. But if a candidate proceeds with his own selection for beeing treatement free, than one has observed probably some indications that one colony has better chance than other. This can be more local genetics which is in one's apiary for some years, or some other selected genetics in which some resistant traits were observed. Or if somebody already has his apiary treatment free, than it is just what survived there and what went through “bottleneck” with succes. And of course we are fully aware that the bees may die anyway, but we should all consider that the common Bank of the colonies is „the most promissing”, because it is in our all best interest and in the best interest of our long term cooperation.


What about those who do not have any „promissing genetics”?

The project was made to help those, who are affraid of loss, make the decisions of being treatment free. That is why we cannot rule out those beekeepers who have only commercial treated bees in their apiaries. Of course they still should choose „the best”, but if they do not have any (e.g. they just started keeping bees last year), they can join anyway. We all decided that we either allow this „commercial” genetics in the Project, or share some nuc or queens if we have some on disposal. But in the same time we want this Project to go forward, and that is why we cannot base ourselves on freshly introduced genetics to it. We then should not rebuild all the time most of our resources on what a new member brings in to the Bank. The “commercial” genetics is introduced as a “buffer” of the Project.


What to do if a queen dies?

This may happen - queen may die or may be lost, or accidently killed by beekeeper. This case is also specified in our Regulations. If something like that happens, participant should try to keep that survivor-line of bees. So if there are any emergency queen cells they should be left in the hive, if not, and there are no eggs and young larva, than participant should take some sister queen (if there is any), or use frame of brood from her hive. If all that is not possible one should use a frame of brood with eggs from other Project colony or participant should just agree some other solution with Coordinator.

Coordinator should be informed about any queen loss in the Project.


Does participation in the Project impose any other duties or obligations in the remaining part of the apiary?

The Regulations of the Project refer only to the colonies that are in the Project Bank. Beekeeper may do anything one wants and see fit in the remaining part of the apiary that was not introduced to Fort Knox.



Is there any common hive standard and frame type in the Project?

Poland is a country where everybody likes one's own solutions. The same is in beekeeping. That is why we have countless hive standards with numerous frame types – major standards are widened, narrowed, shortend or extended (by different values). In „Fort Knox” the situation is similar. Within a dozen or so people we have numerous frame types form a number of major hive standards. We could direct our cooperation in 2 ways. Either we could unify the hive and frame type in the Project, or agree to different ones, but have them unified with our apiaries. Both solutions have their advangages and disadvantages. Our choice of agreeing to different hive and frame types in the Project makes the logistics more difficult, and makes it more difficult to make new nucs for a „strange” frame type, but eases up our work in specific apiaries when the colonies are on their place. In Your specific conditions You may choose a different solution in that, because it may just be the case of the participants' decision which way to go.


When and how to transfer the colonies?

Unified frame type would help in this, because that would mean just one visit to collect the colony. With more frame types You have to bring the hive (transport box) to the “Donor” and then come again to get the nuc home. This means extra logistics. But unified frame would probably mean changing hives too, and some of us had already done lots of investments in couple of dozens hives. We have decided that all the effort of transfering bee colonies burdens the Recipient, because Donor has an obligation to make a nuc (which itself is a burden already) and gives away bees for free. So the Recipient must organise oneself to make it work for her/him and the Donor. Transfering empty boxes to the Donor may be done during the mutual visits of the participants or during the meetings of beekeeping organization (if You are a member of any). Colecting bees usually mean an extra effort. Donor and Recipient may organize the transfer as they wish, and the role of the Coordinator is to make it easy for both sides, by choosing the direction of the transfer that suits each side. Usually we try to do it in a way that would be the least effort for both sides, because the next year, the exchange might just be the other way round!

If the Project grows, then local communities may cooperate with much less logistics. That would lesser the effort.


How should the Recipient prepare the hive/transport box?

Since the Recipient has new bees for free, he/she should do anything that needs to be done for the Donor to make his/hers work easier. This – among other things – means preparing the transport box or the hive. Unified frame type would help in that too. Making a split and a nucleus colony to other hive type than we have on our apiary is not that easy – especially, if You are an amateur beekeeper, who does not have much experience. This may mean e.g. cutting comb and fixing it in the frame or settling swarm or package bees in the box which bees may not like and abscond from it. Anyways, however You would do that, frames with built comb will help. „Luckily” (?) if the bees die (and this is precisly situation we are talking about), you can use the comb in most cases, and sometimes some winter food is left too – if not, Recipient should bring some bee-candy. The transport box should be with good wentilation, but without holes so the bees would not escape, and filled with frames (best if with comb and food).


How do we mark the colonies in the Project?

We decided that in the Project we will follow the progress of the queen lines, and the transfers between apiaries. We are fully aware that after new queens have their mating flights in many places the “genetics” will shift totally after a number of generations, and we will have totally different bees than in the beginning. But our system of marking will allow us to know which colonies live long and thrive in one place (with the same queen line) and which queen lines are moved form one participant to another. Each participant chooses a letter (mostly we choose an initial) and gives following numbers to his colonies introduced to a Project (e.g. B1 – B5 or L1 – L5). Every time we make nuc for somebody else we add our initial to the marking. So if a colony is originated in Łukasz's apiary (L1), then it goes to Bartek's (B), then Marcin's (Mz), and Marcin will make a split for another person, then the colony is marked “L1BMz”. The original line at Łukasz's apiary (if it survives), no matter for how many years and if the queens shifted naturally (by swarm or supersedure), will be marked L1. In Poland we add symbol OT (from “otulina” which is the name for the “Buffer” in Polish), to distinguish the colonies of “buffer” from the ones from the “core”. You can mark them “BUF” in English if You wish.



What is the “buffer” and the “core” of the Project?

The “core” of the Project is the part of the Project Bank which consists of the bee lines that are in their at least third year since they had been introduced to the Project Bank (2 full years). The “buffer” are the colonies that had not gone through “bottleneck” yet. We try to propagate the “core” the most we can and these are the colonies that go to the permanent participants of the Project, that already have the “core” colonies. This genetics we try to split more, even if that would mean that the colonies are to be weaker. As we think they have bigger chances of survival in the long run in the Project Bank. They have already shown that they can live without treatments for some years. The “buffer” should be used to compensate for the loss in that group. After 2 full years (in 3rd year) since the last treatment the colonies join the “core”. Thanks to that system we propagate the genetics that showed to be promissing in the selection so far. The role of the Coordinator is to decide how the colonies should be transferred so the Project makes step forward every year.


How can I use the colonies for myself?

The Regulations do not specify that issue. As we understood it, this means participant can use the colonies in whatever ways possible, as long as they are kept according to the rules. The colonies are to be kept as biologically self sufficient, so participant cannot make them too weak. The colonies first must be used for the make up of the Project loss, so participant must do the nucs for others according to the obligations from the Project. But if there is no obligations (e.g. little loss in that year in the Project Bank), for sure participant can make some small nucs for him/herself or take a swarm for one's individual apiary. They become “the reserve” of the Project. For sure participant can graft from these colonies or use queen cells if there are any spare, and probably in most years, when the obligations are not too big, taking a one-frame nuc would also be possible. Honey collecting is specified in the Regulations. Participant can take some honey crop only if there is much surplus, since as a rule feeding sugar should be avoided.

You could summarize, that the bees' and the Project obligations needs within those colonies must come first, before the participants'.


Would bees be locally adapted if they are transported all over the country? Wouldn't it be better to buy local bees?

Localizing bees is one of the key in treatment free beekeeping. Transporting them is not only logistics, but also taking them out of their local environment sometimes transporting diseases to which local bees are not adapted. This is a problem, which we are aware of. But Poland is a country with similar climate, have no natural obstacles (like mountain ranges or seas) and most of it was in range of one honey bee sub-species (Apis mellifera mellifera). This means that in most of the country's territory live very similar organisms with similar adaptations (this includes the bacteria and fungus that could be found in the hives). We would also say, that transporting some bee colonies is nothing compared to migratory beekeeping, buying queens from abroad (even different continents). Besides if You want surviving genetics You have to have some logistics. Buying bees from our localities would mean starting the selection over again, because most of them are treated bees, and what our experiences show: most of them would die if left untreated. These bees are mostly not local either, because beekeepers shift queens. Of course we all think that it would be best to get treatment free bees from neighbourhood, but there are no such bees where we live! And surviving bees from couple of dozens or even two hundred kilometers still (in the opinion of most of us) have much better chance of survival than any other we can find in neighbouring apiaries.

Besides making the Project very local (like in neighbouring towns) would make the bees very local in no time, but having our Fort Knox apiaries all over the country have some advantage too. The most important is that this makes the Project Bank „resistant” to local or regional colapses that sometimes occur. It has happened in the past that bees in some region were decimated. This is a small danger, when the apiaries are far from each other.

You have to remember that if bees, tranfered in Fort Knox initiative, find good conditions, they will root there, and will stay longer with us. They will be local there, giving us the adapted genetics which would be more and more locally adapted with every generation. Besides we transfer bees only after our colonies die, to fulfill the “gap” in the Project Bank.


Won't we spread diseases transporting the colonies?

Some people are afraid of that. In our opinion the threat is minimal, though, in the conditions in which we practice our cooperation. The pests are everywhere. Mites are in every hive, nosema spores are in every bee, and the bacteria causing American Foulbrood are found in several dozen percent of the hives all over the country. The territory of Poland (without natural obstacles) causes that strains of pests are quite similar and may move freely. Of course the natural process of moving pests is slower than with transporting bees. We think that transfering few of the Fort Knox colonies is a drop in the ocean of what is happening all around in beekeeping. Bees are moved by hundreds kilometers to pollinate and gather honey (it is quite rare in Poland, though, to transport bees that far – usually it is up to 100 km), the nucs are brought from different regions, and queens are bought and sent from abroad. Besides in the Project we move bees that have already shown some abilities to cope with diseases. The selection in our apiaries is rather directed towards balancing the host-parasite relationship, so when we move bees with their “baggage”, we can hope we move rather “gentle” strains of pathogens, not the viral ones (of course in some other environment it can be different). It's the treating and disinfection that makes the pathogens more viral, not the natural selection process.


Don't we infect healty bees with pathogens, by giving them frames with comb form the dead colonies?

There is such potential threat. In our opionion it is quite minimal, though. Firstly we have to understand that the pathogens are more viral because of the treating, not because of natural selection (in most cases). Besides the colonies usually die in autumn and winter, and winter conditions (frost) will kill most of the pathogens on the comb. Of course the spores may survive. But the spores are everywhere anyway! The danger that come from pathogens is bigger the more viral they are, and the less balanced the environment is. If we “inoculate” the new environment with balanced microflora, by making nuc from a healthy surviving colony, than with each year we are minimizing the threat. Most of us frears the toxins in the hives and making the pathogens more viral with treating much more then natural selection process that take place in our hives. In nature swarms have taken places of deadouts throughout centuries.


Wouldn't it be better to organize some treatment free mating station?

In our opinion this is impossible with our resources. Besides if we had treatment free mating station we would not probably need any project like „Fort Knox” at all! The most important thing is to keep it simple - even for (or maybe especially for) backyard beekeepers – and backyard beekeepers will not take their colonies for couple of hundred kilometers to the mating station, and then bring them back in some time. Only this kind of solution would allow for the matrimonial line being fertilized by selected drones. Sending queens there and back are the costs and logistics too. And breeding queens only in such mating station would make our bees not localized to our apiaries. Some of us think that keeping the „resistant” genetics is not only impossible but it's not the only cause of survival. Some other factors may be equally or even more important. The process is very complex.


Wouldn't it be better just to exchange queens?

Sure it would mean less logistics involved. But this would not fulfill all the expectations we have from this Project. We want it to be the system of guarantees, that a participant can have treatment free bees, and not only the genetics. We want to encourage the beekeepers for their own selection, not only to use the genetics bred by others. So it's not just to give the genetics, but the whole colony itself. If participant lost all the bees she/he would have to buy new colonies – but when is given them for free, one would not have to buy them, just to have a place to put the queen. Some bigger beekeepers after loss would buy bees anyway, but the smaller ones wouldn't have to – they are happy having just 3 – 4 colonies in the backyard.

What is also very important, if the colonies are transfered, than the selection is quite uninterupted. If the queens were put into a colony of treated bees than one would have to wait for a year or maybe even two for the pressures (numbers of Varroa mite) to grow and make an input in selection. Selection occurs only if there is a pressure – no pressure means no selection. Besides some of us believe that worker bees are also very important in the process of achieveing treatment free bees, because of the

epigenetical and envivonmental factors, such as the presence of balanced microflora.

Putting a queen to freshly bought treated bees would not be the best way to continue the selection, if you consider those factors.


Do smaller (so called “backyard”) beekeepers contribute to the process of selection?

Beekeepers having just couple of colonies, as our experience shows, are usually not able to go through process of selection on their own. The loss is too big usually. Of course they may just have luck, but the probability is not too big. When joining the Project they become the part of the system of selection and may contribute to the selection of surviving genetics. The more beekeepers there are, the more bees we have in the Project, the more chances we have to propagate the good genetics. The more beekeepers there are, the more chances of succes we have. The joint “Fort Knox” apiary consists of those little blocks that build the whole picture.


Wouldn't it be better to rely on swarms, not “artificial” splits? Swarms are how the bees propagate after all...

Most of us believe that relying on swarms would be best for the bees. This in natural way of how bees divide and reproduce, and it minimizes the influence and interference of beekeepers into natural processes. Bees prepere for the swarm to leave the hive and they are then in their natural biological state to reproduce.

Saying that we have to agree, that with such a high rate of loss as there is in our conditions and in the first part of selection, catching swarms that go out of our Fort Knox hives, would not compensate for the loss. Besides most of us are amateurs who have to go to work every day and cannot devote themselves to watch their beeyards all the time, to cach all the swarms and know which hives have they left. This all means we have to do splits and we cannot rely on natural swarms.



Is Fort Knox formal organization? Does it have some legal form?

Fort Knox is an independent and unformal Project, that acts on good will and trust of its participants. It has no legal form. When You enter the cooperation You agree that the Regulations will refer to Your Fort Knox bee colonies. If we see in time that Fort Knox needs some legal form (e.g. association or foundation) for sure we will consider establishing it. For now we thought we did not need that at all.


How does funding of Fort Knox look like?

Project doesn't have any funding. All the cooperation is without money. The colonies are given by participants for free, and all the costs are covered by the participatns.

The only costs we have as a Project is the one for this website. These costs are covered by volountary collection of mony from the participants.


Are there any Fort Knox meetings?

For sure we have to consider organizing them in the future.


How do we communicate in the Project?

We use emails. Our experience shows that “announcements” on different internet platforms not always are read by adressees. Some participatns don't answer them and later on we don't know if they have read them or not. But we will consider some other solutions in the future.