Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lesson 29: You Must Keep Detailed Records

Our family business has been catapulted by the Internet! We continue to meet more and more first time beekeepers daily. lesson27aa I've even made friends with Steinar from Sweden. He sent me a picture of himself working his hive.
We are encouraged to see so many people jumping in to beekeeping with great excitement.
So many of our phone calls are about people who have wanted to keep bees all their life, and finally either they now have space to do it, time to do it, or simply the motivation to do it.

Public awareness about the dwindling bee population and its consequential effect on our food supply seems to be another motivating factor. Beekeeping classes are breaking out all around the country, and prospective beekeepers are filling up these classes.
Our local beekeeping association had a great start to our beginning beekeeping class last week. Here's a picture from the class.


swarmsidewinderWhile I was at the class, a member of our association gave me a photo of a swarm of bees on a side-winder missile on a fighter jet on an Air Force base. Wow, if only they knew what they were sitting on!!

Before I begin today's 27th lesson, I want to remind you that it is not too late to begin beekeeping this year. You can still call in your order, order your hives and order your bees directly form us here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. In fact, last year, orders continued to flood in all year long. There was never a lull. So, feel free to give us a call today and jump into beekeeping. Or call us if you need any supplies. We sell anything and everything associated with keeping bees.
Fourteen years ago, my oldest son started helping me with bees when he was 9 years old. He's now 23. He wrote this entry in our beekeeping log book: "Today Dad and I looked at the hive. I was a little scared at first because I have never opened a hive before. I thought I was going to get stung but I had on my gear. My dad ask me to hold one of the frames of honey on the top super while he took a picture. When we were done, we didn't have any bees after us. I also got to smoke some of the bees too."
As a beekeeper, you will find it extremely difficult to keep detailed records for several reasons. First, if you have lots of hives, it will seems like it requires too much time. You're too busy keeping your smoker going, working on your colonies and trying not to get stung to keep records. Secondly, you think you can make a mental note to jot down when you get back to the kitchen table for lunch. It will not likely happen.
For many years, I kept "mental notes" on my hives which was really no notes at all. "Now which one was queenless...was it this one?" Once I started keeping detailed records, I begin to be a better beekeeper. I began to have greater success, less problems and greater honey production. Record keeping will improve your operations.
lesson27d There are many ways you can keep records. The cheapest way is to buy a spiral notebook and take it to the field with you and write a summary after you inspect each hive. This is one of my methods. I usually buy the hard back date diaries at the office stores because they hold up longer for me. See this one. I've had it a long time! You can click on the image and actually read my log entries. Sometimes it's quick and simple: "C5 - Eggs & good brood."

lesson27c You can keep records in a 3-ring note book. I like this one a lot because it gives me more room. I'm using this as of late. I can take it in the field with me, and as you can see in the picture, I even paste in digital photos into the note book.

I also keep notes in a more technological way. I bought a cheap pocket digital video camera and so I can keep a video log of each colony I inspect.

lesson27eThis works really well because video speak a thousand times more than words. With video logging, you can not only video the hive but of course you can narrate into the video what you see. I went to Wal-mart and bought a VuPoint DV-DA1-VP. It folds up and fits nicely into my front pocket. The picture quality (5 Mega Pixel) is lacking a bit due to the low budget lens I'm sure, but good enough for keeping a video log. See how small it is when it is folded up:

lesson27fIt takes digital videos, digital still shots and voice record. Also has a standard size tripod mount on the base.

Another piece of technology that helps me track my hive's progress is my pocket PC.

lesson27gI use the Dell Axis, and I am able to make notes, keep track of how much honey each hive produces and remind myself of what I must do to each hive next.
Remember, you don't need technology. Just a pad of paper and a pencil works just fine too.
I have found that each hive should be assigned some sort of identification marking. I like to give each of my different bee yards a letter. Then, within the yard, I will assign each hive a number. So a hive is known to me as A1 or D3. I take left over metal from the top cover, and cut it into small rectangles, drill a hole in the top of the metal tag, and then use my permanent marker to place the identification marking on the metal. Then, I attach this to the hive it belongs to with a tiny nail. I try to include the metal marker in my photos of each hive so that I know which hive the photo is from. These tags hang on my hives as opposed to making permanent markings on the actual hive box. Why? Because if I write on the outside of my upper deep brood box, A-5, but later change that box with another hive...I'm all confused.
Now I cannot stress enough how important it is that you keep a good log with as much detail as you can. This will be very useful in determining why a hive is doing well or perhaps why one died.
Here are a few observations you should make in your log about each hive when inspected:
1) Brood pattern. This will tell you the quality of the queen's laying ability. Very spotty brood reflects a poor queen. There will always be some spots on the brood, but here's what you are striving for.
2) General population. Is it expanding as expected?
3) Do you have a queen? Can you spot her or can you see one to three day old eggs in the bottom of cells?
4) Do you have too much bullet brood? Bullet brood is another word for drone brood. It sticks up higher than worker brood and looks a bit like a small bullet. Too much might mean you have a laying worker and the queen is gone.
5) Disease? Rule out American Foul Brood, mite infestation, chalk brood or any other observable problem.
So a log entry might read as follows: "3-4-08 I inspected D-18 and did not spot the queen, but I did see eggs. Brood pattern was good. Good population of bees. No noticeable abnormalities. Need to add a super in about 1 week."
Always keep track of when you started each hive, where you obtained your bees and/or queen. Keep track of how old your queen is.
As we approach the start to the 2013 beekeeping season, we will continue to publish lessons pertaining to the various aspects relating to the beekeeping season. Please review previous lessons.
We are also designing a website for you to access each past lesson with greater ease so that you can look up questions and find answers from previous lessons. These lessons are a tremendous resource of information. Thanks for joining me today.
Remember, if you'd like to order hives and other beekeeping equipment, check out our website at: You can either order online, or give us a call and order over the phone at: 217-427-2678.
Remember, BEE-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms