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  1. #1
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    Default Monitoring Hive Health

    So I'm new to this whole hobby / farming-art; just to toss that out there.
    I'll be getting started in Spring with some nucs, but I've been striving to learn all I can & while I, now, feel as if I have a decent-grasp of the basics, another thread has launched me into another facet of my investigating/learning/information-overload escapade here - monitoring hive health (and working out a way to document findings year-after-year in a logical way)

    I seen Solomon's Survey of Mite Infestation In Drone & Worker Brood

    And it led me to wonder, is there a list somewhere - or can we make a list here - of objective / raw data tests that can be performed in apiary, and fit within the realm of treatment-free?

    My thinking is, the more raw data you can track personally, the clearer the bigger picture will become (and stay); I'm asking because beekeeping seems to be so localized that I wont be able to depend on others across the country to keep me on track & would like to build a sort of "profile" for my locale, over time. The major object is to compile information for my use, but to make it easier as well, for those that I some-day leave this all behind to.

    Appreciate anything anyone can contribute

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    A bee diary is very useful, not only for monitoring internal things such as hive health but also environmental things such as timings of flows etc, which also affect hive health. I keep a diary for each location so if I'm wondering whether that hive that is low on honey will need feeding, I have the info to hand to know when the flow will start and if the hive can make it or not.

    Re internal things such as hive health, when you are new a lot is hard to recognise. An easy one is relative mite populations because that can be reduced to an actual number via drop board counts. So if you kept data on drop board counts you will become familiar with seasonal fluctuations, which strains you have that suffer less from mites, and for hives that died, what levels they got up to before dying which may help you in future when deciding if you have to intervene to save a hive via requeening or similar. You will also know if after say, a year, your situation is stable, worsening, or improving.

    Health issues that are not mite related, are mostly harder to quantify. However learn what you can and keep hard data where you can get it. That's what I do, anyway.

    There is another philosophy that says you should not monitor mite levels or anything else, as you are not going to treat, so there is no point, just go by whether the hive is dead, or alive. But that was not your question, your question was what and how could you monitor, so that's what I've answered, as per what I do myself.

    Good luck!
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Good advice Oldtimer. There is a third philosophy that I and many other beekeepers in my area subscribe to. That philosophy is to not measure mite counts but treat on a schedule with the schedule tied to flows in the area. It took three years of testing, listening to advice, and record keeping to get to this point but this has worked very well for me the last two years. Am I spending more than I need to on treatments? Probably. Have my overall cost gone done because my bees are staying alive? Most definitely. The cost to treat is 10% of what a new package or nuc will cost and I don't spend a lot of time collecting data.

    Regarding record keeping, I keep an Excel spreadsheet for each year with a different hive on each tab of the sheet. One column will have every date of the year and I will make hive notes next to that date. I save the file and it is easy to go back and see what happened in years past.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Personally, I would still monitor even if I wasn't treating. It can give an idea of what may have led to the collapse if that occurs. Even if I wasn't going to do anything I would still like to know and potentially be ready if the worst happens.

    I have been using hivetracks.com which is a free website that you can use to keep track of your yards and hives. It works well on a mobile device as well. Its practicality may depend on how many hives you have.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    A bee diary is very useful, not only for monitoring internal things such as hive health but also environmental things such as timings of flows etc, which also affect hive health. I keep a diary for each location so if I'm wondering whether that hive that is low on honey will need feeding, I have the info to hand to know when the flow will start and if the hive can make it or not.
    My plan is to align the data from some raw-numbers tests within the individual hives, with data from an eventual small weather station, flowering & harvest dates, first/last frost dates, growth degree days & min/max temp records - all for my particular micro-climate - as you mentioned, this could also work to show the timings of flows. There's an apparent balance between tests & time, I just dont know where to draw that line (and it likely varies, the line, by how many hives one is keeping)

    Any chance you can expand a bit on what can be found in your bee diary?

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    Good luck!
    Appreciate it!

    Quote Originally Posted by Hokie Bee Daddy View Post
    Good advice Oldtimer.
    Indeed!

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    There is another philosophy that says you should not monitor mite levels or anything else, as you are not going to treat, so there is no point, just go by whether the hive is dead, or alive. But that was not your question, your question was what and how could you monitor, so that's what I've answered, as per what I do myself.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hokie Bee Daddy View Post
    There is a third philosophy that I and many other beekeepers in my area subscribe to. That philosophy is to not measure mite counts but treat on a schedule with the schedule tied to flows in the area. It took three years of testing, listening to advice, and record keeping to get to this point but this has worked very well for me the last two years. Am I spending more than I need to on treatments? Probably. Have my overall cost gone done because my bees are staying alive? Most definitely. The cost to treat is 10% of what a new package or nuc will cost and I don't spend a lot of time collecting data.
    Quote Originally Posted by scallawa View Post
    Personally, I would still monitor even if I wasn't treating. It can give an idea of what may have led to the collapse if that occurs. Even if I wasn't going to do anything I would still like to know and potentially be ready if the worst happens.
    Personally, I would rather have too much information than not enough & I would rather have too many things to do than sit around and wonder if I could be productive somehow; I've read enough to become aware of the other 'trains of thought', but they dont really jive me with at this point in time. I appreciate the broadening of the subject that comes with mentioning these different viewpoints, but it's not what I'm after; thanks for supplying some answers to get my brain working.

    My only concern with not measuring & treating around the flow, is the lack of movement through time, away from treatments altogether. Thats a primary goal of mine, starting with the what is hopefully the correct 'stock'.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hokie Bee Daddy View Post
    Regarding record keeping, I keep an Excel spreadsheet for each year with a different hive on each tab of the sheet. One column will have every date of the year and I will make hive notes next to that date. I save the file and it is easy to go back and see what happened in years past.
    Do you take a notepad in the field? Or a laptop? That'd be a lot to remember lol

    Quote Originally Posted by scallawa View Post
    I have been using hivetracks.com which is a free website that you can use to keep track of your yards and hives. It works well on a mobile device as well. Its practicality may depend on how many hives you have.
    Even if I dont use the service, it may help show me some different things worth paying attention to. Thanks.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Deezil View Post
    Any chance you can expand a bit on what can be found in your bee diary?
    OK well it would be different if it was computerised but that wasn't an option when I started. If I was 40 years younger I'd get something portable with some kind of software but I'm used to what I got now.

    It's just a scrapbook. There's a page for each site with info such as time the willow flow starts there, when there was a dearth, etc, this is updated constantly so I may be able to look back over several years of data. Just to help me in planning what to do when I'm at that site.

    There's another part of the book where I write stuff that has to be done by a certain date, for example if I'm at a site and things are going better than expected & they'll need supers within 2 weeks, I'll put an entry with the date that yard has to be supered by. Otherwise I can forget this kind of stuff.

    And the other part of the book is just anything of note that happened from day to day, such as found aggressive hives somewhere and requeened them, how many supers are currently on hives at a site, or whatever I might want to refer back to at some point but doesn't need specific action.

    A computer would be better. But I've only got a little over 100 hives plus nucs so can get away with this. I do have to be careful to keep information overload down so I don't miss the important stuff, where if using a computer and calling up info you want, information overload would not be an issue. When I started in bees my boss had 4,000 hives and ran the whole thing from a notebook in the cab, and it did actually work.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Deezil View Post
    Do you take a notepad in the field? Or a laptop? That'd be a lot to remember lol.
    I only have 11 hives right now and work no more than 8 at a time. It isn't hard for me to remember the status of each until I get home to enter it into the computer. If I do have something I need to remember I just put it in a note on my iPhone until I get home. Also, I order the tabs in the spreadsheet as the hives are looking from the rear. This helps me visualize which hive had what note. I also color the tabs differently for the different bee yards. It works fine for me. I'll double again next year I hope and we'll see how scalable the system is.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Deezil View Post
    And it led me to wonder, is there a list somewhere - or can we make a list here - of objective / raw data tests that can be performed in apiary, and fit within the realm of treatment-free?

    Appreciate anything anyone can contribute
    Is there something special about doing this w/in treatmentfree? Seems like observing conditions in a hive of bees would be the same TF or not.

    Maybe I have too many hives to do any of what y'all have been writing about. The only notes I make, in a flip pad, are which yds are/were supered, had honey taken off, were treated and the date these things were done.

    The state of each hive is dealt w/ when something comes up. When hives are getting worked, checked for brood frames to use in nucs in the Spring, reversed and supered for swarm control, checking supers for need of more space, taking off honey, preping for Winter, protein patty and syrup feeding (if necessary), and checking for feeding to avoid starvation, things will be observed which will induce one to look deeper into a hive to see why it may appear as though something is wrong. Then those things are dealt with.

    Otherwise I don't see the need for large amounts of data and data recording. Though I see for a number of you that many of you do collect data and use it. I have more than a dozen note pads in a desk drawer. I doubt that there is much data there of use or importance to anyone even myself, beyond when during a calendar year different things were done. Maybe how that has changed. But it doesn't help me do my beekeeping any better than working my bees regularly.
    Mark Berninghausen #youmatter

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Sqkcrk, for me, each site is different because some for example, will get a strong spring willow flow, and others have no willows nearby and will be in dearth at that time.

    This can have quite an effect on the hives for the rest of the season. And because I'm always splitting & selling bees, removing combs and feeding in foundation etc, I need to know exactly what I can do at each site. For example if I'm making spring nucs I might take nearly all the honey in a hive and give it to the nucs, but if I knew there was no flow at that site for another 6 weeks I would not be able to do that. So I keep individual flow records for each site. Easy though, cos I only have 8 sites.

    Also I'm not migratory like yourself so for you, keeping flow data for each site is probably just not doable. But for me, it's a pretty important tool.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    I can see that. But haven't you been at this long enough that you know this and don't need to refer to your notes anymore?
    Mark Berninghausen #youmatter

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Didn't I hear a story last year about a guy who went to take the honey off a yard & when he got there, there were no supers on. He forgot to super that yard up. Should have kept notes.

    But back to what I do. About 1/2 my yards would be not more than 2 years old, I'm still getting data on them. Got to write it down or I will screw up.

    What I do is a bit different from honey production. Honey, you just put the hives out & long as they got enough feed they'll be fine till the flow starts, whether it's now, or in 6 weeks. What I do is different I'm breaking stuff up all the time, putting feed comb in nucs if needed but not if it isn't.

    I even think about where the purchasers are taking them and feed or not feed accordingly.

    There is quite a variation in sites here even just a few miles apart, one might be excellent & I had one site couple years ago where they didn't even get a surplus. Just depends what's growing in the neighbourhood. Grassland can be nothing but a green desert far as bees are concerned.

    Other than flow patterns, I do have to write other stuff down also. Just yesterday while I was out with some nucs in the back I thought I must requeen that queenless hive I found a few days ago. But had to think real hard to remember where it was. Didn't write it down. Thought I wouldn't need to, LOL
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    I know guys who have forgotten yds. Didn't abandon them, just forgot they were located there. Too many? lol
    Mark Berninghausen #youmatter

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    Is there something special about doing this w/in treatmentfree? Seems like observing conditions in a hive of bees would be the same TF or not.
    The observing here at home would be the same, but the conversation on the forum would not be. I dont mind people having different philosophies, I was just hoping for a deeper answer than "count your mite drop board & treat accordingly" - which we seem to have stimulated here & I thank you all for that. I thought that people who didnt rely on treatments, might have ideas for pegging the health of a hive that those who rely on treating might not have considered tracking

    Lots of great ideas on small details to keep track of. I'm not looking for a list of things that takes 15 minutes to document per hive but if I can generate a list that I can memorize, of things to count by %-of-frame coverage or number of afflicted (visible mites, dwv, etc) then over time it'll only take a moment or two to jot down those series of numbers before moving to the next one..

    This is bigger than just the particular health of an individual hive, although those notes will prove their usefulness over time..

    I'm also interested in things like - is the fall mite build up somehow connected to Growth Degree Days, like its suspected that most insects are (but they incubate in the soil) - or is because they live inside what could be considered an environment-inside-an-environement, are they only influenced by the warm/cool cycles that the bees regulate the hives to? Growth Degree Days is said to influence incubation and hatching times of farming pests (Japanese beetles come to mind for wine grapes)... Or can they somehow time their brood build up to the flow cycles, through the bee build up?

    I wont ever really know unless I dig deep online (and trust others I dont know), go to college and get lucky there, or start tracking these things myself.

    I run the habit of making a "sloppy copy" of what im doing at the time, and copying it into my "pretty notebook" later lol

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Roland View Post
    Check the first day larvae and make sure they are shiny wet. If they are not, what would you do?

    Crazy Roland
    What are the options? Dry and shriveled? Knowing me, wait and see what happens... Ditch the brood and requeen? Was this a joke I didn't get?

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    i SUSPECT that Roland is referring to a hive unable to feed it's larvae properly.

    But Roland is an interesting beekeeper (and successful full timer) who thinks outside the box, will be interesting to hear his reply.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Deezil View Post
    So I'm new to this...farming-art
    How does one spot a fake? Do you explain it? Seems to me the most effective way to spot a fake is by being so familiar with the real that the fake doesn't stand a chance. That's how it is with diamonds.

    Yes, there are objective tests, raw data, mite drops, sugar rolls, ether whatever. But what is real beekeeping? It's being so familiar with bees that you pop into the hive, or maybe you can even do it from the outside, and you notice immediately if something is wrong. This hive doesn't sound, smell, feel, look right. The brood isn't in the right proportion. There aren't enough nurse bees. The drone ratio is off. The nectar is fermenting. There is/isn't a flow going on. There is skunk predation. The bees are mad.

    There are tests, yes. But let me advocate for traditional beekeeping, where the beekeeper just plain knows bees. It takes many years. It's a bit counter cultural. It's our modern rationalist scientific mindset.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    But what is real beekeeping? It's being so familiar with bees that you pop into the hive, or maybe you can even do it from the outside, and you notice immediately if something is wrong. This hive doesn't sound, smell, feel, look right. The brood isn't in the right proportion. There aren't enough nurse bees. The drone ratio is off.
    And for the rest of us more simple folks, we can test. Mite drops and such..

    If a nubee wants to monitor, that's what I'd recommend. They then don't have to ask on Beesource why their hive died, cos they've been using techniques that work even for a beginner, and are learning what stuff means and how to understand it.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    There are tests, yes. But let me advocate for traditional beekeeping, where the beekeeper just plain knows bees. It takes many years. It's a bit counter cultural. It's our modern rationalist scientific mindset.
    I'm all for traditional anything - for knowing your art/craft, for having it perfected and not needing a book to understand whats going on. But I've also come to understand that life is short and people dont always make the right decisions while our elders are still walking with us, so please understand that my question here is bigger than just being new to beekeeping and not having the knack for 'feeling' a hive upon opening it - there's a lot more note-taking going on than just this and its on a level that would probably qualify me for grants were I to go that route but that would take the fun out of it.

    It's the same, about knowing when to or not-to water your particular crop as a farmer; you come to 'read the weather' per say.. It happens in time, everything does. But the youngest of us doesnt always make use of the time that the oldest of us are running out of - and I mean to leave a few things behind me... A system that works, and notes that explain it, etc.. This is just one piece of that puzzle...

    Another part of it is having the 'evidence' to back up 'what happened'. That's for piece-of-mind.

    I'm not asking for data coming from a bunch of 'invasive' substances - whether it be strips, fumes, powder.. I'm just asking - when you open the hive, on a normal day, what can you keep track of that will help, overtime, to depict the overall health of the hive... Add multiple hives up, and you get a more specific overall feel for the health of the yard.. Add the multiple yards up and you have an even better idea of the whole operation.. But you'll only have intuition, if you never keep records. Nothing wrong with intuition, except that you cant always pass it on.

    If I live to do this for 50-60-70 years.. Those records would be priceless for my particular micro-climate.. I wish someone had that, to give to me..

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Deezil View Post
    If I live to do this for 50-60-70 years.. Those records would be priceless for my particular micro-climate.. I wish someone had that, to give to me..
    Really? Do farmers water their crops by notes they took? I'm note against noye taking, but I think you are over valuing something way beyond its real value. Would you like me to send you my note pads?

    Being as there is nothing new under the sun, wouldn't you think that this sort of thing would be published somewhere? Internet archived?
    Mark Berninghausen #youmatter

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    The trouble w/ me commenting here as I do is that it seems like I am arguing. I'm not. I'm just trying to get across to Deezil how little record keeping actually matters to me and most of the beekeepers Commercial and Non that I hang with.

    Michael Palmer keeps records. But when he recently reported on his Mite Loads he reported data collected by NY State. Which leads me to believe he doesn't do mite checks all that often and/or doesn't have the numbers easily retrievable.

    Y'all knock yourself out.

    Deezil,
    You'll understand after you've had a number of hives for a half dozen years. Do you do this w/ your garden or your car even?
    Mark Berninghausen #youmatter

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