You have read my last blog on “why bother to keep records while beekeeping” and you’re convinced. You want to keep records. That’s the attitude!
So, how do you keep – good, detailed, relevant, informative, not-too-much-of-a-hassle – record?
Short answer: the way you want.
You have to pick the method that speaks to you best. Don’t start with too complex a method or you won’t stick to it. If you start by a simple method and notice how it helps you, you will, by yourself, start taking more complex and comprehensives notes.
Some beekeepers use a notebook they leave on the hive itself (just below the roof); some use datasheets they collect in a binder and keep with their equipment; more “trendy” beekeepers will find several electronic tools from the internet that you can access using your smartphone; I also heard of a beekeeper using a voice recorder and short videos…
Whatever the tool you are using, you basically have the choice between 2 formats:
- Open entries: as a journal, write down in a few sentences what you want to remember from visit to visit.
- Datasheets / Forms: a series of questions, checklists or sketches to annotate.
I personally created my own forms that follow my visit routine. It helps me to remember what to look out for while in the hive and to compare sheets with one another (showing the progression of one hive in time but also comparing one hive to the others in the same apiary).
I have a form for regular visits and particular forms for particular visits (treatment, harvest…) which requires a different set of information.
Do what is relevant for you, but consider including in your notes:
1. A descriptive of your apiary location:
- When was your apiary established?
- What is the orientation of your hives?
- Are they in the sun/shade?
- What type of environment are they in? (consider ~2miles around)
- Some people will even go to the point of printing local weather forecasts (yes, I know at least one; no, it’s not me).
- A summary of the “demographics” of your apiary: date and number of colonies and nucs alive on that day. Add a new entry for every change (buy new nucs, catch a swarm, make splits…).
2. A description per hive: (this can be the first page of your hive notebook)
- What type of material do you use? Is it the same for all your hives?
Ex: plastic frames, wax foundation, 10 frames deeps…
- What race of bee?
- Queen info:
- Age of queen: indicate if you know when she was born (at least year/month)
- Is she marked? (color / number)
- Where does she come from: did you buy her? From where? Was she inseminated? Did you raise her naturally (after split or swarm)?
- Whenever you change queen, indicate when, how you did it and why you did it (ex: too aggressive, too old, accident or lost queen for unknown reason…).
3. Info from visits:
- Objective of the visit
Ex: routine visit; adding suppers; replacing frames; sampling for varroa; checking for swarm fever; feeding …
- Did you see: (you can use this as a checklist)
- The queen (=QS: Queen Seen)
- Eggs (=QR: Queen Right)
- Capped brood
You might want to estimate the number of frames of capped brood; this will inform you on the amount of new workers to expect in the coming week or two). You should also note if the pattern of the brood is nice of patchy. Also note if you notice an excessive amount of drone brood.
Again, you might want to estimate the number of frames of pollen and honey.
- You should also indicate if you notice any:
- Deformed wings
- Small Hive Beetles
- Wax moths
- Any other pest or sign of disease.
4. Info from particular visits:
4.1. For treatments:
- Did you treat all of your hives or only specific hives?
- Reason for treatment: targeted pest/disease, preventive or curative?
- Name of product
- Method of application
- If to apply at a certain frequency or for a certain duration (if follow up, add the date you did it too)
- Any remark
Ex: when coming to remove strip from the hive, you noticed the strip had been entirely propolized, which may have reduced the spread of the chemical.
- If you sampled before and after treatment (ex: count of varroa on sticky board, traps of SHB,…).
4.2. For harvests:
- Number of frames taken per hive (will allow you to identify which hive is the most productive).
- Number of frames left in the hive and their estimated content (if the weather turn suddenly bad after the harvest, you need to know if they will need feeding).
- Total quantity of honey extracted
- Quality of honey: if you know which species was responsible for mean honey flow; HR %; …
Those are my typical “checklists” that I use to remind me of all the subtleties to look for and without which I would not be certain if I simply missed something or did not pay attention.
Feel free to add any other observation that you think is relevant. Another of my mentors loved to just observe the outside of the hive before opening it, and would take note of his observations of the activity at the hive entrance, the patterns of the debris on the sticky board below the hive and even their buzzing!
In the end, the rule is simple: if you noticed it, it’s worth noting it.
As a concrete example of a field form used by our team when inspecting for disease and pest surveys, experiments and field trials, I recommend you read the excellent previous blog from Mike Andree on Hive inspection (https://beeinformed.org/2011/09/field-notes-and-hive-inspection/).
In a few words…
Keep records and share your observations with us, take the annual survey and join in this national gathering of information on beekeeping practices. If a lot of beekeepers used the same techniques and yield similar success, we all are interested to know about it!
Keep records and start building facts, not anecdotes. Don’t make it a burden. Start small with what you believe is relevant to you and maybe you will think of new aspects of your practice that you feel should be followed. If that’s the case, share it with us!
To help you start, I’ve made an example journal you can download and use. Remember, what you write down is up to you and what you find most helpful will be a personal decision. Good luck and get busy (like a bee)!