Beekeeping – Hive Records
An important aspect of successful beekeeping is that of keeping accurate records. It allows you to know what is, and has been, going on inside your hives which in time should provide useful data that will help you manage your stocks more effectively. From your records you should be able to tell what has been done during any manipulations of the colony, what needs to be done and what did and didn’t work. Your records will also be useful during inspection by the regional bee inspector or for submitting to authorities should you have any notifiable diseases.
Many beekeepers find this aspects of the ‘hobby’ a chore, but I like keeping records. In fact I have spreadsheets and databases of everything. I record GPS and heart rate data of all my training and then input it into various software for analysis. I record moths trapped in the garden and store that in a bespoke database that I created as well as submitting the records to the county recorder. I have a database of plants in the garden, I have various financial tracking programs and many other spreadsheets and databases. It’s only natural then that I would keep decent records of our beehives and their colonies.
Hive Record Cards
There are of course various approaches to keeping hive records. Most beekeepers use a simple sheet of paper as a record card that shows the state of a colony each time it is inspected. It also allows recording of what needs to be done on the next hive inspection. This is fine, works well, is easy to manage and the record sheets themselves can be attached the in the inside of the hive roof so that they are always there when you need them. We shall be using this approach, so I have created my own simple Hive Record Form [pdf]. As you can see, it is a simple affair that provides a single line for each inspection that allows you to note the condition of the colony and any tasks that have been completed or need to be done. One or two of these cards should be sufficient for a season and will give you an overview of the colony at any one time. Feel free to use it for your own records if you wish.
For me that wasn’t enough. I wanted to record a little more information so have created a detailed inspection card and being a bit of a geek also wanted to use the computer. I shall keep the records in a database as well as on the paper sheets, and have also been trying out a couple of online recording tools – Hive Tracks and Bee Tight.
Detailed Inspection Sheets
As new beekeepers we felt that we really wanted to get an idea of what was going on inside our hives each time we inspected, especially at the moment as the new nucs that we installed are building up and developing fast within the hive. Simply ticking a few boxes and making coded notes of the condition of the colony wasn’t quite enough. So, in addition to the hive record sheet I created a Hive Inspection Form [pdf]. This contains all of the same information as the record sheet, but provides a little more room for notes. It allows us to note the configuration of the hive, note any problems and the actions and task that we complete. Also included is what I have called a ‘Brood Box Configuration’ table. This allows us to note what we see on each frame within the brood box. We simply tick off what we see as we go through each frame (doing this with helpers is obviously better as one person can inspect whilst the other fills out the records). We can record the presence (or absence) of the following for each frame.
- Frame with foundation
- Drawn Comb
- Sealed Brood
- Drone Brood
- Pollen Stores
- Honey Stores
- Queen Cells
We’re new to all of this so the exact things we record may change over time. I’m sure we won’t fill out a detailed inspection sheet on every hive inspection, but for now it will allow us to track the development of the colonies as they fill up the available space within the brood box. Again, feel free to use the inspection sheet if you think it will be useful – and let me know if you do find them useful.
Bee Tight is online hive tracking and recording software. It is free to use for the first 6 hives and then costs $15 per year. We only have two hives at the moment so it’s free for us to try. It is easy to use, looks nice and even has mobile apps that work on various mobile devices, including a new iPhone or iPad app. This sounds great, although in practise I don’t think it is a good idea to try inputting data into my iPad whilst carrying out an inspection. For a start the touch screen won’t work with gloves on and I’m sure ipads don’t really appreciate being smothered in honey, propolis and other kinds of muck!
However, Bee tight is useful, allowing you to
- Easily record details of inspections and manipulations
- Record treatments and feeding
- Track colony temperament
- Record honey harvests, including records of nectar sources and batch codes
You can enter in the details of various apiaries (if you have more than one), record the hives in each of these apiaries and then record the details of each inspection on each hive. It all works well and you are able to download the inspections as a csv file too. This last point is very importnat when using online recording software as it allows you to keep a copy of your data on your own computer. I’m not suggesting that Bee Tight is likely to disappear any time soon and from what I’ve seen, the creators have taken every precaution to protect your data, but having your own backup is always a good idea. You wouldn’t want to spend hours recording years worth of data for hundreds of hives only to find a server issue or some other problems wipes it all from the face of the earth. I’m using Bee Tight and downloading the csv filke to a database on my Mac.
Bee Tight seems to work well for us, but we are new to this and only have a couple of hives, it may not be quite so easy to use once you have many more hives, but I can’t pass judgment on that. So far I have been impressed with it, but it may be a little too restrictive for some.
Hive Tracks is another online beekeeping record application. It works in a similar fashion to Bee Tight, allowing you to record the location of your apiaries, the hives within those apiaries and any inspections you make on the hives. I found it a little more clunky to use than Bee Tight, but it does allow for the recording of a lot of information. It includes a ‘Hive Builder’ tool that provides you with a graphical representation of each hive at any one time. This shows you the number of supers on the hive, the type of floor it has, roof it has etc. etc.
Data input is a little slow, it isn’t quite as intuitive to use as Bee Tight and the overall look is a little dull, but all of the information is there and it may suit some people better. I haven’t seen an option to download your data to a local file though, so this may prove to be a stumbling block for me.
We also of course keep a record of our hives on Bee Base. BeeBase is the National Bee Unit website. It is designed for beekeepers and supports Defra, WAG and Scotland’s Bee Health Programmes and the Healthy Bees Plan. Registering as a beekeeper on Bee Base allows you to request a free apiary visit from your local inspector who will provide any help and advice you need. It also provides the National Bee Unit with information on the distribution of beekeepers and their apiaries across the country helping them to effectively monitor and control the spread of serious honey bee pests and diseases.
Keeping records of your apiaries, hives and colonies is an important aspect of beekeeping that shouldn’t be overlooked. On a personal level it can help you develop your beekeeping skills. Within your apiary it can improve the lives of your bees and increase the productivity of colonies, and on a national scale such records could be used to improve the plight of the honey bee as a species. There are plenty of ways to keep these records, how you choose to do so is up to you, but the importnat thing is to keep records of some sort.