Keeping beekeeping records isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Just how long it will take is naturally determined by how many hives you have but, in any case, there’s much that can go into beekeeping records and it takes, above all, consistency. That said, beginning to keep proper beekeeping records (no mental notes!) is one means of assuredly improving your beekeeping success. This means fewer bee losses, more honey production, and better broods. Better record keeping is better beekeeping.
But how do beekeepers actually keep records?
There are several means of keeping records pertaining to beekeeping, normally related to the technology used. Records can take the form of anything from notebook entries, digital photographs, or video logs.
The whole point is to get a clearer picture in one’s head, for the purpose of planning, of the state of each individual hive. Bees look similar, and there’s a lot of them; hives look similar too. The utility of beekeeping records is obvious.
Different strategies for different hives become an inevitability from the moment you decide to have more than one. Accordingly, beekeeping records will be subdivided by hive, and a beekeeper will prioritize certain variables when making each entry. Such variables include:
- general population
- brood pattern
- presence or absence of a queen
- any signs of disease
- the state of the brood and honeycombs.
There is potentially much more besides, but the essential importance is being able to deal with each hive on a totally individual basis, a necessity for beekeeping.
Beekeeping records are not just to prevent problems and plan for success, however. It is also a means of charting progress and, if you are new to beekeeping, learning about the various stages of hive development by being able to discern and note down what these are. There is a fair bit that goes into beekeeping record keeping, but anyone can do it – and with the simplest of technology.
Principles of Beekeeping Records
There is much variety in how beekeeping records are made. This is only to be expected, given the immense variety of beekeepers and apiaries out there. From large multi yard complexes to a few hives out back, from the novice to the expert, from this type of bee to that…
That as may be, there are a few basic principles that should be adhered to in all cases. These represent things which will apply to your beekeeping records regardless of precisely what type of setup you have. Though bear in mind that the one overarching principle is consistency – you can identify neither progress nor trends in your hive without a chronological consistency to your records.
How to Take Records
Beekeepers will take records in all sorts of ways. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, particularly within the beekeeping community, the good old-fashioned pen and paper is still highly popular. This is surely something to do with both the reliability of this simple technology for the besuited beekeeper in the field; also because a typical beekeeping entry is not long, complicated, or even particularly formal. It might look something like this:
D-18, 3-4-19 – Can’t see queen but can see eggs. Good brood. No noticeable abnormalities. Add super -1wk.
This is actually a fairly detailed entry, with information on the queen, the brood, the eggs, the population, and a note dictating measures to be taken after some time. In the majority of cases, an entry will not need to be much longer than a sentence in order to record essential information (more on what information that should be can be found below). As you can no doubt tell, pen and paper is a more than capable recording device for such brief entries. Sometimes, they can even be as simple as a few words, for example:
C-5, 2-4-20 – Eggs and good brood
so there is no laborious charting of information. The difficult part, rather, is getting the information that you do record just right (see below). Certain beekeepers might find this task easier with the aid of some more sophisticated electronic means when taking their records.
Anywhere you can record data and text will do the trick but it should be noted that your record keeping medium will need to be wieldy in the field, meaning certain touchscreen interfaces might prove bothersome when you’re in your suit.
Electronic records are not as popular as they are in nearly every other discipline in the modern world, but they do have their fans. Certainly, such technology has the general benefit of ease of editing and storage, and there are many beekeeping record templates that include many of the important categories for beekeeping records. These can also be altered by the beekeeper.
A special mention is certainly due to the power of the video log. This method of keeping records has proven extremely popular among the beekeeping community, simply because a beekeeper can train the camera on the relevant section of the hive as its significance is narrated to the camera’s audio. Beehives are dense and busy centers of activity and this method of keeping records helps to navigate that complexity. They can be dated and stored in an orderly manner on a computer or hard drive.
There is a chronology to a hive. From the first couple of scouts hovering around the entrance to the queen’s first eggs and the first appearance of honey on the comb. Recording when each of these key events happen – and, indeed, recording when everything happens – is essential to beekeeping records. Several hive duties are very time-sensitive, not least of which those involving the queen.
Keeping track of the age of the queen is particularly vital. When the beekeeper checks, for example, if the queen has been marked, he or she will get a good idea of the age of the queen and whether or not she is a virgin. If that is indeed the case, then many duties are best left off to allow the queen to mate free from disturbance. To track the length of these mating periods, dates are naturally essential.
Properly dated records will ultimately allow you to identify trends in your hive. Many things in the beekeeping world will develop gradually, including some pests and disease, so having a dated record of the first appearance of something – be it a new behavior, a possible sign of a disease, a spike in population – will allow you to better assess your present situation.
What Should I Record?
Although light on physical labor, keeping your records is not wholly straightforward. Beekeeping record entries are short but represent a work of condensed brevity that includes exactly the information a beekeeper needs not only to identify and address issues, but to plan for the hive’s future. Luckily, there are a few things that will feature in most beekeeping records.
Well, naturally! Population growth is one of the key markers of a hive’s progress. Of course, bees are a bit too numerous and lively for a headcount, so a simple noting of the general trend will be sufficient. An entry on population might look something like “healthy increase on last week” or “not as many as expected.”
Marked? Unmarked? Is she even there? The activity of a hive’s queen is so integral to its progress that this will be a category for every beekeeping entry. Here you will want to note her cumulative age (if possible), whether she is laying or not, and whether there have been any changes in the rate thereof.
A brood pattern is simply the pattern of occupied cells in a brood comb, which give a clear indication of the hive’s reproductive status. A brood pattern is easiest to discern when the cells have been capped with wax, although they can be seen before this stage. Information on this as well as the progress of each larva/bee should feature in record entries.
There are a few diseases that can affect a hive and a good few signs and symptoms that may be discerned. Owing to the several diseases out there, relevant observations, which represent a clear sign of a particular disease, might be recorded under this heading; or that information could appear separately if it is not conclusive proof of a disease.
Any Changes/Anything Unusual
Even experienced beekeepers don’t know what everything they observe in the hive could mean. With that in mind, it is important to have a section in your records and entries for things that just “look unusual” or changes that have an indeterminate cause or effect. As you observe more information in other entries and place your observations in a wider context, they could well become clear. If it looks unusual or wasn’t like that last week, record it.
More Things to Include in the Records
There isn’t the space here to cover every single thing that you might include in your beekeeping records. But apart from the above, a beekeeper might also include information on the prevalence of “bullet brood”, the general behavior or temperament of the bees, honey or pollen stores, and a note on the ratio between honey and brood comb.
Particularly important to the beekeeper is taking a note of actions taken and actions planned for some point in the future. Beekeeping is all about gradual progress – and record keeping all about monitoring that progress.