Category Archives: Records

We’re moving …

The Apiarist is moving to a new server in the next few days. It’s possible that there might be a little disruption but – going by the access statistics – most beekeepers are now fixated either on the dregs of the Black Friday sales, or the run up to Christmas.

We're moving ...

We’re moving …

To try and make the transition as seamless as possible I’ve closed comments on this and future posts on the current site and will re-open them on the new site as soon as all the changes are in place 1.

Why?

Speed, space, cost and to satisfy the inner geek in me. But mainly speed and cost, or cost and speed depending how things go.

Or speed alone … or cost alone if things go worse than I’d hoped¬† ūüôĄ

What’s new?

There will (or at least should) be a few differences.

  • The first time you access the new site you should be offered a relatively discrete privacy notice about cookies and personal information. OK it (Accept and Close) and you shouldn’t see it again for about a year … unless you use multiple computers.
  • The web address will (eventually) have an https:// rather than http:// prefix. All this means is that information is encrypted when you fill forms in. You shouldn’t need to make any changes to bookmarks or anything else, it should all be handled automagically. Some over-protective web browsers (Chrome in particular) report that the current site/servers ‘are not secure’ (it is, for what it does … I don’t take credit card orders). Google also uses https as a ranking factor, so searches that find stuff here should move from page 232 to the heady heights of page 187¬† ūüė•
  • There are a few additional behind-the-scenes changes. If these break anything I’ve overlooked drop me an email via the ‘contact’ page and I’ll try and rescue things.

Thank you for your patience.

What? No beekeeping?

Well, almost none. I’ve been doing quite a few winter evening talks and particularly enjoyed the excellent lemon drizzle cake at Fortingall and District beekeepers recently¬† ūüėÄ ¬†Next week I’m at Dunblane and Stirling beekeepers on Tuesday and then with Arran beekeepers on Thursday.

I hope they’re both busy baking ūüėČ

I’ve got your number

However, back to the topics of¬†moving and¬†beekeeping … I’ve just received two sets of numbers for hive and queen labelling next season 2.

Numbers for hives and queens

Numbers for hives and queens

I manage hives in two to three apiaries which, for work purposes, sometimes get moved about during the year. Even more mobile are some of the queens which – for reasons that are too complicated to explain here – might start the season in one hive, spend some time in a nuc midsummer and end the season heading another colony altogether 3.

Keeping track of the hives¬†and the queens was a bit of a nightmare this year. To (hopefully) improve things I’m going to label occupied hives – both production colonies and nucs – with a unique number. In addition, using a separate distinct number, I will “label” the queens in the hives.

The hive number moves with the hive (or at least the brood box) and the queen number will be changed when the queen is moved or the colony is requeened.

What could possibly go wrong?


Colophon

The phrase to “have (got) someone’s number” means to understand someone There’s perhaps a subtle threat in the meaning … effectively¬†“You can’t fool me … and if you try to I know what to do”.

Say “cheese”

A famous photographer was visiting a famous writer …

“Hello”, said the writer, “you’re the famous photographer. You must have a really good camera.”

“Hello”, said the photographer,¬†“you’re the world-renowned writer. You must have a really good pen.”

Meaning of course that the quality of the camera is not the rate-limiting step in taking great photographs. The camera is just a tool.

I’m not a famous photographer. I’ve not even achieved the status of a totally-unknown photographer. But I do like taking photographs. About 99% of the images used on this site are mine, and I probably take a few thousand photographs a year (keeping several hundred and printing a handful 1).

Light and dark, Loch Sunart

Light and dark, Loch Sunart

I particularly enjoy landscape photography, but a large proportion of my photographs are of bees, beehives, apiaries and beekeeping. These are used in talks, here and elsewhere online and as an aide memoir to compensate for my patchy note taking and even patchier memory.

A picture is worth a thousand words

If you give beekeeping talks they really have to be illustrated. There’s nothing much worse (root canal treatment?) than sitting through an hour of Powerpoint slides containing nothing but text 2.

This website would be pretty turgid without the pictures. Some might say that even with the pictures¬†… oh, never mind ūüėČ

But most readers of this site probably give few talks and write fewer articles. That doesn’t mean a camera can’t come in useful.

My note taking – despite my best efforts – is often less than ideal. A quick snap of the apiary as I leave indicates which hive is where 3. It shows more or less how each hive is setup. Numbers of supers, type of split etc. If the hive numbering is also visible (more on that shortly) it can provide a useful memory boost when completing the notes … or a sanity check that the notes recorded actually relate to the hive in question.

Photographs are particularly useful when identifying diseases and pathogens. A good quality image of a questionable frame makes subsequent diagnosis much easier than relying on your memory. It might also be useful for the bee inspectors or the association’s disease maestro.

Martyn Hocking used a photograph to support his find of an Asian Hornet in Devon last year. A reasonable quality photo sent to alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk would undoubtedly help prioritise efforts to repel this new and unwelcome invader.

Tools of the trade

I rarely go anywhere without a camera. Sometimes it’s only my ageing phone, but even that’s got a reasonable camera. Newer smartphones have much better cameras with good video capabilities.

However, although the tale of the photographer and the writer has a lot of truth in it, there are certain circumstances when the limitations of the camera are rate-limiting 4.

For photographing bees or detail (e.g suspected disease) in the hive the usual limitations are accurately focusing on small objects close up and the amount of light that reaches the sensor. For these reasons I usually have a compact camera in the bee bag.

Sony RX100

For years I’ve been using a Sony RX100 5 which has a fast (i.e.¬†wide aperture) short zoom Zeiss lens. This is an amazingly competent camera. It’s little bigger than a pack of playing cards, but the combination of a 20 megapixel sensor (5472 x 3648 pixels) and the exceptional lens generates outstanding quality images 6.

Used in one of the automatic modes the camera generally produces reasonably well-focused and exposed images, automagically increasing the ‘film speed’ (ISO) if the lighting is poor.

Sony RX100 mark 1

Sony RX100 mark 1

Unfortunately, a year or so ago I dropped the Sony onto a tiled floor and it’s never been quite the same since. The lens cover doesn’t always open or close and it has developed some unpredictable electronic hiccups. Although it’s still my ‘go to’ day-to-day camera these problems prompted me to look at an alternative.

Panasonic LX15

This is another 20 megapixel quality compact camera. It has four features that are really useful for the photography of bees and beekeeping. It has a fold-out LCD screen that helps compose the image at waist level. The LCD is also a touchscreen so you can simply tap it to select the focus point and take the image. It has excellent video capabilities, including 4k and slo-mo (high speed, 120 frames/second Рe.g. these scout bees inspecting a bait hive entrance).

Finally, it has a feature called ‘post focus’ which allows you to take a photograph and choose the point of focus after recording the shot – more on this later.

However, although the LX15 is a very competent camera, the quality of the lens is not as good as the Sony 7. Although this isn’t usually an issue for images that will be displayed at a small size or online, it’s rather obvious when viewed enlarged or printed.

If you go to the trouble of taking a camera with you and find yourself in front of a stunning sunset or a breathtaking panorama (or mother and daughter queens on the same frame or an Asian hornet), you want to have confidence that the quality of the lens is good enough to record the scene.

RAW

Smartphones and most point and shoot cameras record the image in JPEG format. The image has an automatic amount of contrast enhancement, colour enrichment and sharpening applied by the camera. These changes to the image are irreversible and they usually result in a reasonable satisfactory picture 8.

However, for real flexibility the two cameras above (and many other reasonable quality cameras) have the option to record the image in RAW format i.e. the native data from the sensor. These can subsequently be processed (often quite quickly) on a computer to create the desired final image.

This post-processing allows local and global changes in exposure, cropping, colour, sharpness and contrast. All of my RAW images are post-processed with Adobe Lightroom. Those used online take no more than a minute to manipulate, while those destined for printing and framing get a lot more attention.

The one thing you cannot correct during post-processing is focus. If the subject of a picture is out of focus you’re scuppered 9.

Close ups

Taking close up handheld photographs of a moving subject, like a queen on a frame of bees, is not easy.

There she goes ...

There she goes …

This is due to a combination of the available lighting, the shallow depth of field and the movement of the subject.

Because the bees are moving you need a reasonably fast shutter speed to freeze them. A fast shutter speed – unless the lighting is exceptionally bright – means that the aperture 10 must be set to maximise the light getting to the sensor. You’ll often hear photographers talk about wide aperture, or using the lens ‘wide open’.

And this is where the problems really start. Due to the laws of physics, the wider the aperture, the smaller the depth of field.

Depth of field

The depth of field refers to the vertical slice of the image that is in focus. Anything in front or behind this will be out of focus.

Not only does depth of field depend upon the aperture, but it is also influenced by the distance between the lens and the subject. The closer the subject, the shallower the depth of field.

Shallow depth of field

Shallow depth of field – heavily cropped image

As an example, using a camera 11 focused on a subject 10 metres away the depth of field is 5.79 m (from ~7.8 to ~13.6 m). Everything between these distances will be in focus.

At 1 metre the depth of field is 11 cm (from 0.95 to 1.06 m).

At 30 cm the depth of field is 4mm (from ~29.8 to ~ 30.2 cm).

At anything less than 15 cm the depth of field is 1 mm or less.

Can you hold a camera steady enough to keep the subject within the 1 mm depth of field you have?

What about if you are holding the frame with one hand and the camera with the other?

Inevitably, many close-ups are out of focus ūüôĀ

LX15 post focus capabilities

Probably the greatest recent advances in compact digital cameras have been in their video capabilities. The Panasonic LX15 takes advantage of these to allow you to record the scene and decide afterwards which part of the final image you want to be in focus.

It achieves this by analysing the scene and determining the closest and the most distant objects in the field of view. When you press the shutter it then takes a 1-2 second 4k (3840 x 2160 pixels) resolution video, changing the point of focus throughout.

This short video shows how this looks (the camera was handheld).

You can then, in camera or during post-processing, scroll through the video and choose precisely the frame that has the desired subject in focus. The three images below are all from the video above. The originals are cropped to ~4 megapixels, but reduced further in size and quality to present here.

This is pretty remarkable technology.

It’s worth remembering that, for any individual captured frame, the depth of field is still determined by the aperture the lens is set at. The images above are all at f1.6 (i.e.¬†just about wide open).

LX15 focus stacking

You can even combine frames from the video with different planes of focus to make a composite image with a deeper overall depth of focus, just covering the area of the image you are interested in.

This focus stacking feature, unsurprisingly, doesn’t work well with a moving subject like bees on a frame. Similarly, you either need a very steady hand or (better) a tripod. I’ve only used this feature a few times and don’t see a routine application for it. I’d prefer to modify the depth of field by changing the aperture to achieve the same end result.

Limitations of post-focus and focus-stacking

Post-focus sounds like the perfect solution to solve the problems with close up photography.

The two biggest limitations are the size and format of the final images. These are in JPEG format and ‘only’ 3840 x 2160 pixels (8 megapixels, rather than the 20 megapixels that the camera is capable of with still pictures). These significantly reduce the options for subsequent enlargement and negate most options for post-processing. However, for online use (or emailing to the regional bee inspector) they are more than adequate.

The combination of changing the plane of focus during the short video and the movement of a handheld camera can mean that the desired subject is only fleetingly – if ever – in focus.

Or is in focus at the precise moment a big fat drone toddles in front of your beautiful queen ūüôĀ

I suspect that post-focus will become commonplace on cameras (and smartphones). It’s got a lot to offer, but isn’t yet a perfect solution.

Propolis

Both the cameras mentioned cope well with a periodic liberal coating of propolis. You can scrape it off the camera body easily, but it’s worth trying to keep it off the rear LCD panel. In particular, try to keep the touchscreen LCD of the LX15 propolis-free.

Panasonic LX15

Panasonic LX15

Real bee photography

If you want to see some better quality beekeeping photography have a look at the images by Simon Croson or the wonderful pictures by Eric Tourneret in Cueillers de Miel.

Finally … remember that the best camera is the one that you have with you ūüėČ


Colophon

Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye

Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye

Saying “cheese” makes your mouth adopt a shape roughly approximating a smile. It is therefore an instruction given by photographers to help create more appealing images.

It’s not essential. Walker Evans, a great photographer famous for his work for the Farm Security Administration during the 1930’s didn’t ask his subjects to say “cheese”. His portraits and photojournalism are outstanding.

In languages other than English different instructions are sometimes given¬†e.g.¬†most Latin American countries use¬†Diga whiskey¬†(say “whiskey”), Sweden¬†S√§g omelett¬†(say “omelette”) and Bulgaria¬†Zele¬†(“Cabbage”). Lots of countries use a variant of¬†Watch the birdy or¬†Smile at the little bird.

The idiom¬†A picture is worth a thousand words dates back over 100 years to a newspaper article in 1911 about journalism and publicity where the phrase¬†“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words” was used. Even earlier, Napoleon (1769-1821) is reported to have said Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours” (A good sketch is better than a long speech).

Keep Calm and Have Patience

Around this time of the season§ the discussion forums are awash with questions about virgin queens failing to emerge, or get out to mate, or return from mating flights, or start laying eggs, or any of a myriad of other possible things that can go wrong between a sealed queen cell and a nicely laying queen.

Or where to buy a new queen for a terminally queenless colony.

Followed a week later by a question about what to do with a recently purchased, and soon to be delivered, queen that is now surplus to requirement as – miraculously – a beautiful mated and laying queen is now obviously present and busy in the hive ūüėČ

There she is ...

There she is …

Practice makes perfect

There’s good evidence from recent genetic studies that the honey bee¬†(Apis mellifera) evolved about 300,000 years ago from Asian cavity-nesting bees‚Ć. This was determined by analysing 140 bees sampled from around the world. The genetic differences between them (over 8.3 million in total) were identified and then – knowing the rate at which differences arise – it was possible to extrapolate backwards to define the approximate time the first honey bee (Eve?) evolved.

Early human ...

Early human …

For comparison, humans – modern man, Homo sapiens –¬†have been around for about the same length of time‚Ä°.

Coincidence? Probably.

300,000 years is a long time when compared to the lifespan of a human, or a bee. However, it’s a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. It also means that bees, and humans, are relatively recent arrivals when compared with fig wasps (34 million years), coelacanths (65 million years) or elephant sharks (420 million years).

Nevertheless, although bees might be evolutionary newcomers, they have been getting it right for about 300,000 years. Which means they’ve been superceding and swarming ever since modern man was recognisably modern man.

Which means they’re reasonably good at it … ‘it’ being reproduction‚ąě, and more specifically getting the queen mated.

If they weren’t any good at it they’d be long gone by now.

Going by the book

The development of the queen takes 16 days from egg to eclosed (emerged) virgin. Three days as an egg, a further 6 days as a larva at which point the cell is sealed. Pupation then lasts for a further 7 days. The recently emerged queen needs to become sexually mature. This process takes a further 5 to 6 days before she goes on one (or more) matings flight(s). After mating she then returns to the hive and, after a further 2-3 days, starts laying eggs.

So, under optimal conditions, it takes a minimum of ~23-25 days to go from egg to mated and laying queen i.e. about three and a half weeks.

If a queen is removed from the hive, deliberately or by accident, there could be a new, mated laying queen present about three and a half weeks later.

There she goes ...

There she goes …

In fact, it’s possible the new queen could be mated and laying in less time than this. The queenless colony might start to rear young larvae as queens, so ‘saving’ a few days. It’s generally reckoned that larvae up to about three days old can be selected by the colony and reared as queens, though younger is better as they are better fed for longer.

Bees can’t read

However, things rarely go by the book. Although development time is pretty-much fixed at 16 days from newly laid egg to emerged virgin, there’s plenty of opportunity to lengthen (and rarely shorten, as outlined above) the time taken before the queen starts laying.

Chief amongst these is getting conditions suitable for queen mating. Typically this needs to be warm and settled weather. High teens centigrade, sunny and light winds between late morning and mid/late afternoon. If this doesn’t occur the queen stays put in the hive.

There’s also a time window within which successful mating must occur. This starts when the queen reaches sexual maturity (~5-6 days after emergence) and ends¬†three to four weeks later (~26-33 days after emergence). A few days of poor weather during this period may well delay mating. Three weeks of lousy weather can be catastrophic – she may well turn out to be poorly¬†mated¬†or, if she doesn’t mate, a drone laying queen.

Depending on where you live, it’s rare to get three continuous weeks of terrible weather during the predominant swarming period (late April to late-July perhaps). However, it’s not uncommon to get a week or so of ‘unseasonable’ weather‚ąĎ. In 2017, June was the wettest on record in Fife – precisely when I expected my virgins to be going out to mate.

Keep calm and Have Patience

Keep Calm ...

Keep Calm …

All this means is that you need patience when waiting for newly mated and laying queens in your colonies. In my experience it usually takes longer than it could, and it’s almost always longer than I want.

You should be able to calculate when the virgin queen will emerge to within a day or so of the colony becoming queenless. Better still, judge the development of queen cells and add 7 days to the date on which the cell become capped.

I usually check to make sure there’s a virgin queen in the hive. They’re small, skittish and often tricky to spot. They don’t get the same sort of attention from the workers as a mated queen gets. They can fly, and do if you disturb them too much. It’s reassuring to know there’s an emerged virgin present, but don’t keep checking. I try and check on the day after emergence. If you check too late and the weather is good there’s a chance you’ll interrupt her returning from a mating flight, with possibly disastrous consequences.

Then wait.

Observe the bees at the hive entrance and look for them returning laden with pollen. If you must inspect the colony (why?) do so early or late in the day. Don’t bother looking for the queen. Instead look for polished cells in the middle of the central frames … and eggs of course.

Dates from my diary

In June 2017 new queens should have emerged from my vertical splits on or shortly after the 2nd. Under optimal conditions I could hope these virgins would be mated and laying by the 12th at the latest.¬†The splits were all set up on the same day. I didn’t check every hive for the presence of a virgin, and didn’t find one in every hive I checked, but I did find the expected vacated queen cell.

It then started raining. Lots. One of my apiaries flooded.

I had a quick look on the 12th¬†in a couple of hives – no eggs.¬†I checked again around the 22nd. The 18th had¬†near-perfect weather for queen mating – sunny, 20+¬įC, light winds – and found mated, laying queens in a couple of boxes. But not in all of them.¬†It wasn’t until the 27th that I found evidence that the latest queen was mated and laying well. She’d obviously started a day or so earlier as there were already eggs across two full frames.

All but two splits appears to have been successful – defined by presence of a laying queen‚ąŹ. None were mated and laying anywhere near the minimal possible 9-10 days after emergence. One developed laying workers and I suspect the queen got lost on a mating flight quite early on. The second looks promising and I’ve not yet given up hope on this remaining colony.

I don’t keep records of the time it takes for new queens to get mated. However, from emergence (the date of which I usually¬†do know) I wouldn’t be surprised if the average was a little over 21 days.

The shortest mating times I’ve seen occur in ideal weather conditions when using mini-nucs for queen rearing – under these circumstances ~11-12 days is not uncommon. But that’s a post for the future …

Keep Calm and Carry On


¬ß¬†This was written in mid/late June in Fife, Scotland … about two weeks after the peak of the swarm season.

† Wallberg  et al., A worldwide survey of genome sequence variation provides insight into the evolutionary history of the honeybee Apis mellifera. Nature Genetics, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/NG.3077

‡ Huber et al., New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens. Nature, 2017; DOI:10.1038/nature22336

‚ąě¬†OK … formally,¬†I know that supercedure might not be considered as ‘reproduction’.

‚ąĎ¬†Though how it can be considered unseasonable¬†when it’s¬†not uncommon is a mystery ūüėČ

‚ąŹ¬†Of course, the true measure of success when rearing new queens is much more rigorous than this. They need to primarily lay fertilised worker eggs, have a tight laying pattern, mother well-behaved, calm bees that work well in the local environment, do not have a tendency to swarm, are frugal with winter stores and build up well in early Spring. And the rest …

Colophon

Keep Calm and Carry On was the text on a motivational poster produced in 1939 in the run up to World War II. Millions of copies were printed but few were ever displayed … in fact, many were pulped in 1940 to help overcome a serious paper shortage.

There’s an excellent account of the history and (many) compromises made during the design and preparation of the poster (almost 78 years to the day I’m writing this) on the¬†Government history blog¬†– highly recommended.

The poster was largely forgotten until 2000 when it was re-discovered. The rest, as they say, is history … it’s now ubiquitous, corrupted in a load of different ways and used on all sorts of novelty and decorative products.

You can even design your own …

 

Beekeeping records – part 2

Better than nothing

Better than nothing …

The importance of beekeepng records for the week to week management of colonies is undeniable, as discussed in the previous piece on this subject. However, they’re also useful when making comparisons over a longer time period. For example, I raised some queens a few years ago from a genetically distinct queen introduced to my stock. The bees were well tempered and good to work with. However, in comparisons over the following 12-24 months – where I had good records of the provenance of the queens – it was clear that this particular line struggled with chalk brood when the colonies were small or stressed. Almost all the daughter queens were like this … and in due course all were replaced. Similarly, if the notes you keep includes details of available forage – when the OSR went over, when the blackberry started or how well the himalayan balsam yielded – you can get an idea of what to expect in future years.

How to¬†keep the records and, to a lesser extent, where to keep them is the next problem. This is where I sometimes struggle. I’ve got the records, but not always in a readily useable format or location. I’m getting better and have a system that more-or-less works now, but it’s not foolproof.

Digital or analogue?

I’m aware of a few¬†smartphone applications designed to keep hive records. One is Beetight (web, iPhone, Android) and another is HiveTracks (similar platforms I think; the website contains the quote “a buck a month a hive” … and they ‘manage’ nearly 100,000 hives!). It’s also possible to keep hive records on BeeBase these days, but the interface is clunky. I’ve not tried any of them seriously I’m afraid. I’m not usually a luddite where technology is concerned but am apprehensive about committing to these purely digital methods for two reasons:

  1. Data input. I know what I want to record, so don’t want to be ignoring superfluous (to me, perhaps not to others) fields when entering data. Therefore the interface to the database needs to be easily customisable. Although this is already possible with some applications it still leaves a problem with the input¬†part of data input. I¬†don’t want to be tapping away at my mobile screen while surrounded by¬†clouds of bees, or sticky with propolis. The combination of fat fingers, failing eyesight and bright sunshine (the norm in Fife ūüėČ ) gives me a headache when composing¬†text messages … not an experience I want to replicate during a relaxing morning of beekeeping.
  2. Data backup and recovery. Where are the digital records stored and in what format? If they’re on the phone and I lose/change/break it I’m scuppered. If they’re on ‘the cloud’ (not that we have any of those in the Kingdom of Fife ūüôā ) then they’re nominally safe and accessible, until the application is no longer supported, or the¬†apiary has no mobile signal. I use databases for work and have a reasonable knowledge of SQL¬†but I still don’t want to have¬†to manually extract sqlite records¬†to recover old beekeeping ¬†notes. If BeeNotes‚ĄĘ goes belly-up after their KickStarter project fails to generate the $250,000 startup funding you’re scuppered … and if you have no idea what SQL, sqlite or KickStarter are¬†then follow my example.

Use pen and paper.

Where to keep the records

Hive records are generated in the field but¬†are needed when you’re preparing to go to the apiary (i.e.¬†at home … or wherever you keep your spare equipment) so you remember the super/dummy board/frame you made careful notes about last time. They’re also needed¬†just before you open the hive, so you have an idea of what might be happening, what needs to be done or what to look out for – does the queen in this box need marking and clipping this time?

Roof notes

Roof notes

Some beekeepers keep records tucked under the hive lid¬†above the crown board. If you do this either use solid crownboards or keep them in a plastic envelope, or the bees might chew them. However, if stored under¬†the hive roof they’re not available at home where your spare equipment is stored. Others write notes on scrap paper as they inspect, transferring them to a permanent record once they get home (or – and I write here from extensive experience – forget to do this having¬†filed them in the glove compartment of the car, or under a pile of papers in the kitchen). I’ve tried both approaches, but have ended up with a compromise solution that saves losing the scrappy notes before they’re deciphered and doesn’t necessitate writing things twice. Some critical notes still get written directly into the hive roof using a queen marking pen; “QC sealed on Thur 17/5” for example. The black Correx roofs I make¬†are particularly good for this. However, remember that roofs aren’t permanent fixtures … they can easily be swapped during inspections with potentially unintended consequences.

Say what you mean

Hive record card ...

Hive record card …

I keep my written records on A4 sheets in a ring binder, with one¬†sheet per colony. I can usually get a full year of inspections onto a single page. The table is headed with some brief instructions and boxes to record the apiary, hive number and queen provenence (if known). After that each row has space to record the date and the characteristics of the colony – queen status, brood, temper, steadiness on the comb, treatment and notes (see template). Rather than fill this in when I’m in the apiary – possibly struggling with propolis-covered gloves on a windy day for example – I use a small digital voice recorder to take the notes.

Talk to me ...

Talk to me …

After completing an inspection and closing the hive I just need to push the record button and make a quick comment¬†…¬†“Brunton apiary, hive 3, queenright, white, marked clipped, laying, 8 frames of BIAS, some¬†chalkbrood, temper 4 but running a bit much, needs a QE and super next time”. I usually do this having gently smoked the next colony entrance, leaving them time to settle before opening the hive. This process takes¬†less time to record than to read and is saved in a folder on the machine with all the other inspection records of that day. Most mobile phones have a similar voice recording facility but I already have enough trouble seeing the screen in bright sunshine without inevitably adding a smear of propolis.

Record keeping

Update the notes …

On returning from the apiary – probably after a full morning inspecting colonies in several apiaries – it’s an easy task to transcribe the notes onto the hive record sheets with a mug of tea for company. My digital recorder has a simple Play/Pause button, so I can whizz through the recording, one hive at a time, making the relevant jottings in the file. However, if I forget to (or don’t have time to) I still have the dated verbal records I can recall whenever needed … no scraps of paper to misplace or to get mangled¬†when the beesuit goes through the wash.¬†Then, before setting off for the apiary the following week I can quickly read through the last line or so of notes for each colony, making a mental note of what to be alert for and ensuring I have the relevant pieces of kit¬†with me. During peak season, when there’s a lot to remember (or forget!), the hive records book goes in the car with me to the apiary.

For the first couple of seasons I kept the recorder in a plastic bag to protect it from propolis. The Pause/Record button is big enough to use with gloves through a bag. However, the bag was ‘re-purposed’ to collect some blackberries or something like that and was never replaced. It’s now a bit tacky on a warm day but works perfectly well. A couple of AAA batteries lasts ages and newer models have a rechargeable lithium battery which would be even better. These small digital recorders have some fancy features which almost always include voice-activated recordings. These detect pauses in speech and stop recording. I’ve never had this work satisfactorily in the apiary and have given¬†up trying. Usually the machine would never pause because of the ambient noise level – bees buzzing about, wind in the bushes – leaving 10 minute intervals of me inanely muttering as I pottered about the apiary or returned to the car to collect things I’d forgotten.

Believe me, these don’t make entertaining listening …¬†“Hmmm, hive tool? Where’s the damned hive tool? … was that a partridge calling? … mutter, mutter … seconds frames, poor investment … what an enormous slug … [extended period of bees buzzing frantically] … [out of tune singing]” and so on.

Beekeeping records – part 1

Beekeeping records are important. They allow the accurate assessment of colony health, behaviour and performance over the season. They enable the beekeeper to know what to expect when s/he next inspects and to have the correct equipment to hand. Records help in making comparisons in colony development, in choosing between colonies (which to use for queen rearing for example) and in identifying problems in time. They help in swarm control and are critical for queen rearing.

Keeping good records is something I still don’t manage to do well …

The scale of the problem

With one or perhaps two colonies it’s possible to remember from week to week. The colonies probably don’t get moved about much, it’s obvious what’s being compared and there’s simply less to remember. However, once colony and apiary numbers increase the problem multiplies. By the time colony numbers reach a dozen, perhaps in three separate apiaries, a beekeeper needs mnemonic skills¬†to accurately recall the last couple of inspections. Assuming standardisation of equipment – definitely desirable for efficient beekeeping – all colonies look pretty-much alike. It’s at this point I start to lose track. I can only imagine the problems faced by the semi-commercial and commercials running hundreds of colonies, with 3-4 minute inspections.

What to record

Choosing what to record for each colony is relatively straightforward … it should be the things that are needed for your particular type of beekeeping. For me that includes colony health and temper, whether the colony is queenright, something about colony performance (whether they’re building up well, the number of supers on the colony etc.) and what might be needed at the next visit. While that might sound like a lot it’s abbreviated into a series of ticks, numbers, acronyms and scores out of 5. Oh yes, together with the date of course. The latter is surprisingly important when you’re timing the development of queencells. Did you inspect on Saturday or Sunday (or was it Friday night)?

Record keeping

Beekeeping records …

Characteristics like temper, following, steadiness on the comb are important in my choice of colonies to raise new queens from, so each of these are scored on a 1-5 scale. There’s a degree of subjectiveness here, but a 3 essentially means ‘acceptable’ as a colony (but not good enough for queen rearing). Anything consistently lower than 3 is likely to be destined for requeening that season. Anything 4+ (again consistently – see next paragraph) is probably suitable for using as a source of larvae for queen rearing and is also likely to produce drones with desirable characteristics.

I’ve stressed consistently a couple of times. That’s because behaviour is influenced by environmental conditions and how the colony is being manipulated. A perfectly good colony (routinely 4+) opened in poor weather to be shaken through to harvest nurse bees to populate mini-nucs (or an equivalently intrusive and disruptive manipulation) may well ‘underperform’ on the score sheet. Similarly, a dearth of forage or queenlessness may make colonies tetchy. Of course, since the colony behaviour is largely determined by the queen it’s not really possible to¬†fairly score a queenless colony.

The queenright state of the colony is recorded using simple acronyms if I see the queen e.g.¬†WMCQ means white, marked, clipped queen. I try to¬†mark and clip all of my queens, so colonies with WMQ recorded will (hopefully) encourage me to remember to clip her when she’s next seen. Unmarked, unclipped queens are simply recorded as¬†ticks.

Freeform brace comb built in hive eke. The Apiarist

Needs super …

Brood in all stages (BIAS) is an indication of colony strength and, by comparison week to week, of build-up. I therefore record the presence¬†of BIAS and the amount¬†simply by indicating the number of frames of brood present. This is not an exact science. I don’t try working out the area of brood, the ratio between eggs, larvae and capped brood, or the level of drone brood present. The presence of eggs is an indication there was a laying queen present within the last 2-3 days, so it’s possible to have queenright colonies which I’ve never see the queen in. I still give these a tick in the ‘Q+’ column, but perhaps make a note that she’s not been actually seen.

I keep an additional record of any treatments I apply to the colony e.g. oxalic acid (trickle or vapour), Apiguard, together with lot numbers if appropriate. This is a DEFRA (or whatever their current name is) requirement.

Finally, there are usually a few scrawled notes that need to be added. ‘Good laying pattern‘, ‘approaching storm‘, ‘needs super‘, ‘replace floor’, ‘removed frame of eggs – needs new frame‘ and ‘demaree next time?‘ are typical. Fortunately ‘sod it, swarmed, how did that happen?’¬†or ‘psychotic – matricide – RIP¬†– requeen!!‘ are rarely needed. Any comments on disease such as sacbrood, chalkbrood, the presence of DWV or mite levels are also recorded in the notes.

Colony records or queen records

BIAS tick ... 9 frames

BIAS tick … 9 frames

Since colonies usually stay in the same location in an apiary I have crude numbers scrawled on my hive stands and use these to refer to the colony. However, this starts to break down if you move colonies about a lot, putting them on OSR or taking them to the heather. In this case, unique numbers on the brood box might be better (and something I’m intending to start using next year as a lot of my colonies got shuffled during the move to Fife). If you’re going to use a lot of nuc boxes to raise queens it helps to use letters to ‘number’ these with, ensuring they’re distinct from full-sized boxes. Of course (as already mentioned), since the majority of the characteristics are attributable to the genetics of the queen, it might be best of all to keep records associated with each queen. However, my attempts to use those numbered disks resulted in getting a queen superglued to my index finger, so I’m sticking to numbered boxes for the moment.

Summary

What to record is the easy part. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. Highly selective queen rearers might score¬†a number of additional characteristics, or use a finer grained scale than 1-5. Perhaps honey yield is all-important to you and the weight of filled supers should also be included. What I’ve described works for me, has evolved over a few years and is reasonably easy to record quickly.

How to record these records is a little more difficult and will be discussed next time.