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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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    Central Oregon
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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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    Buderim, Queensland, Australia
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Of course there is the well known KISS principle, "keep it simple stupid", where many a successful beekeeper has simply put a rock on the cover to indicate the hive needs special attention on the next visit.

  8. #8
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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.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    I love my bee diary! I use a color/number scheme to keep track of my hives and their nucs. For example nucs split from hives red, yellow and blue, would be red1, yellow1, blue1 etc. When I started grafting queens this year it was violetQ and brownQ, they made violetQ1 through 6 etc...

    I am not sure at what point this system will break down... I only have 6 honey hives and A LOT of single nucs and two deep splits, but it works for now. I went to art school, so I could probably dome up with plenty of colors if need be.

    I don't do a mite count, but I keep track of pollen and nectar flows mostly, dates of drones appearances and drone 'packing' dates, dates of queen grafting, brood quality(how many frames, drone brood to worker etc), gallons of honey, and subjective propolis measurements. Sometimes I make abstract observations of visible mites, and have recently been able to predict my late season culls with some accuracy.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Check the first day larvae and make sure they are shiny wet. If they are not, what would you do?

    Crazy Roland

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Monitoring Hive Health

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazel-Rah View Post
    I love my bee diary!
    I've only started doing this this year, so its a work in progress. I keep a good quality A5 notebook with me, with each hive numbered and given 2 pages. So I can find a hive, read its number (pencilled near the entrance) and look up its history. I make very condensed notes (to save the limited pages): date, site, 'Mating', 'eggs/brood', or needs Q material; type and number of box/es, a general 'doing well' or 'sulky'; a note to do something - feed up a bit, add a lift or 'crop', or just 'great!'.

    I also carry a dedicated clipboard with loose printer paper, and use that for first notes. At the end of each visit I compile a list of 'urgent' actions, and then work down them. Some less urgent stuff gets done then too. By then I know what to put in the diary for future reference.

    Every week on bee day I go through the diary and enter 'To-do's' on a spreadsheet, which lists hives by number and location, and add a 'priority' rating, 0 - 9. I then 'sort data' to group the hives by location and bring the priorities to the top. Print and leave for the first site.

    On arrival I can look at the spreadsheet to see the priorities, and then look up individual hives in the diary to see their history, importance in the breeding scheme, condition last time and so on. I then inspect and make notes - preferably after each hive because I forget easily. If I'm in a hurry I only do the 'priority hives', but I look up all the last visits and make a point of looking inside each hive once a month.

    The scheme seems to work well enough, though it is a bit of a chore with 40 hives and nucs (this year). The diary gets done on the day, but the spreadsheet takes a couple of hours to update. Doing it before going out gives a chance to get things fresh in the mind though. Above just a few hives I can't remember much of anything, so it has to be. I seem to get everything in place, bit by bit, just by plodding through the system.

    I haven't made notes about flows yet. I've been pressing my bees to make comb this year (again) as I've expanded numbers, and this seems to me to obscure things. In any case most of my sites are selected for year round parking - long season activity rather than intense flows. And the weather is all over the place... there can be 6 weeks or more difference from one year to the next.

    The other thing I do is keep a sketch page on the bottom of the clipboard showing where each hive is. The numbering system is simple, and doesn't tell me anything about where hives are.

    I've thought a card system would be better than a notepad, but haven't found a cheap and readily workable one. It's going to be a pain when I run out of room for a hive - though I suppose I could cut the old pages out and stick new ones in for a while.

    Mike (UK)
    Last edited by mike bispham; 09-02-2013 at 01:20 AM.
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  12. #12
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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

  13. #13
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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).

  14. #14
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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

  15. #15
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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).

  16. #16
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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

  17. #17
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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

  18. #18
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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?

  19. #19
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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).

  20. #20
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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

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