Maintaining Hive Records
Record keeping in the beekeeping world can mean anything from a simple pattern of bricks on top of a hive to detailed and extensive records of breeding, performance, and experimentation. As a beginning beekeeper, you will most likely benefit from a method that falls between these two extremes.
Why keep records? Without an end goal in mind, the tedious recording of data can seem to be getting in the way of taking care of your bees. What you are actually doing though is laying the foundation for a working knowledge of your climate and your bees. “Beekeeping is local” is a saying you’ll hear over and over. Hive performance varies according to the genetics inside the hive and the environment outside the hive. Keeping records help you distinguish patterns that impact your hive’s performance. Perhaps the hives higher on the hill behind your house brooded up a week earlier than lower hives that were situated in an area where cold air settled around them. Keeping track of performance helps you make comparisons, which leads you to the conclusion that the hives in the cold sink need moved to a warmer microclimate, even if its only 20 feet away.
Beginners will benefit from taking more detailed notes as compared to a seasoned beekeeper. Being able to instantly and intuitively judge a hive’s performance is part art and part skill, but you need experience to develop this sense. Comparing hives to each other, and to previous seasons, is a useful way to learn the ebb and flow of beekeeping in your area. I prefer to look at my notes and organize my trip to the yard before I ever leave my house, then spend a little time documenting my trip once I’m back in the comfort of my own home. Perhaps I am biased towards more documentation rather than less since I am a great lover of list and figures! In the end, the best system of keeping records is whichever method you will continue to use and find useful.
I am going to detail how I currently keep my apiary records. It is by no means the best way, or the only way, but I have found that it works for me. As I continue to expand I know I won’t be recording as much information as I do now, but I will keep it up as long as I can. I have gone back and looked at my records from seasons past, and as I gain experience I’m picking out more and more mistakes I’ve made. Recognizing mistakes is the first step in correcting them.
Before I head into the yard, I pull up my notes from the last visit. I carry a notebook with my during my bee work, so I’ll go ahead and write down the names of the hives I want to visit and what manipulations they need, making sure to leave space to make notes in the yard. (Helpful tip: tape twine to the handle of your pen, then attach it to your notebook to prevent your apiary from turning into a graveyard of writing utensils.)
For every full hive inspection, I record the date, name of the hive, if I saw the queen or only eggs, is she still the same marked queen from last inspection or has she been superseded, how many frames of brood and it’s condition, how many seams of bees, mite counts, any signs of pests or disease, how many frames of honey and pollen I see, the amount and type of any feed I give the hive, any manipulations performed, their temperament, activity at the entrance, weather conditions, and a plan for the hive going forward. Sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. These are all things you are noticing during a regular inspection. I carry a notebook and marker into the yard with me, and I write down only what is unusual. Example: If I don’t see any signs of disease, I write nothing down. If I see 5 small hive beetles, I’ll make a quick notation SHB few. I will also make any notes about the yard, such as needs mowed or skunk signs seen, need traps.
Once I’m back in the house I sit down in my rocking chair with a tall glass of iced tea and enter my notes into an Excel spreadsheet. A sample entry might look like this: 28Mar16, Hive A2, 2015 marked queen, good brood, 15 seams of bees, 1 1/2 supers honey, calm, fed 1 gallon 1:1 and 1/4 pollen patty, bringing in red pollen, 70deg sunny, plan to move to outyard in 1 week.
If I don’t record something, like pests or mite counts, then it didn’t happen. That saves me a lot of time by not trying to fill in every box on the spread sheet every time.
As my hive numbers increase, my data collection will certainly decrease. Until it gets unmanageable though, I like having the historical data on my hives. With the warm and gentle spring we’ve had this year I was overly excited to get started with splits. Looking back in my records for the past 3 years, I see that I have produced well mated queens this time of year, but that I have lost frames of brood to cold nights in late April. I know at what temperature I lost that brood, and the strength of the hive at the time. Now I feel confident that my splits will be fine this year, since I am making them with more bees than before. My records helped me fine tune my beekeeping. (Update: I made the splits with a full frame more of emerging brood than I did the previous year. They did great!)
As a final note, if you have any thought of turning your beekeeping into a business, save your receipts from the beginning. Beekeeping requires a stiff upfront investment that may be deductible from your taxes later on. Talk with a tax attorney or CPA for advice specific to your situation.