How I Won the 2015 Community Leadership Award

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Bayer Beekeeper Paul Vonk

By: Paul Vonk   


I am excited to win the 2015 Bayer CropScience Bee Care Community Leadership Award for my work with HiveTool™, a system that continuously monitors bee hives to improve pollinator health. HiveTool is an open source project using readily available, off-the-shelf hardware, free software, and an on-line database to create a noninvasive 24/7 hive monitoring system. I was nominated for the Bee Care Community Leadership Award by other HiveTool developers so that we could improve HiveTool and make it available to more beekeepers.


The idea for HiveTool came to me in 2011 as another beekeeper at the Blue Ridge Honey Company and I were going to each apiary, adding supers (the part of the beehive that collects the honey) to our hives in the north Georgia Appalachian Mountains. As we drove from yard to yard, we discussed how honey production differs significantly between locations, but that there were few discernible differences in the surrounding environment. We didn’t know why some locations produced so much honey and others so little.


As a programmer and engineer, it was easy to create an affordable computerized system that measures hive variables (weight, temperature, humidity and weather) and uploads the data to the internet.  HiveTool allows beekeepers to submit and compare data from their own hives and make the data available for all to use. HiveTool data is accessible by beekeepers and scientists throughout the world to help them research bee health. This helps beekeepers better manage their hives and helps researchers understand on a large scale what land use, climate and environmental factors are affecting pollinator health and honey production.


HiveTool is important not only to beekeepers and researchers, but to attracting students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). I have worked closely with teachers like Woody Mallot at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Georgia to develop an interdisciplinary/cross-curricular “bee science” program to interest students in agriculture, biology, botany, chemistry, computing, industrial arts, math, physics, programming and statistics by studying bee health. The results have been gratifying. Students who have worked with HiveTool are now in college studying fields to which they may otherwise never have been exposed. My goal is to expand the study of bee health and the use of HiveTool at schools across the country.


Over the next year I am excited to use the Award funding to add to HiveTool and make it easier and even more affordable for beekeepers to use. Ultimately, I hope beekeepers throughout the world who are interested in learning about pollinators will take advantage of the system and provide more data to help research broad pollinator trends. At its core, the beauty of HiveTool is that it creates a community of those who fundamentally care for bees, their health and the future of pollinators. Hivetool – connecting people, science and nature.






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