Records - The One Thing You Can Do to Control Chaos in Beekeeping

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the chaos inside the boxes forgetting what needs to be done next - recordkeeping is the solution to the problem!!

The One Big Solution to Curtailing Chaos in Your Beekeeping

Recordkeeping 101:

I’m struggling, as we all are, to wrap our collective heads around all this chaos that we’ve been experiencing for the last 2+ years. I know no one right now wants to hear about pandemics, self-quarantines, or stock market losses, and neither do I. WE ARE IN OVERLOAD. The issue here is there seems to be no defined end to the uncertainty. There’s an old adage that in suffering trials, “You can endure anything no matter how painful for a short period of time”. The current conditions seem to have no definitive time limit, and that’s why I think it’s so unsettling.

We’ve all turned our attention inward and maybe that’s why beekeeping has experienced such a surge in popularity – it is one thing you can do alone and get pretty much what information you need online (albeit, too much information sometimes!!). The problem I see with a lot of new beeks is that they become overwhelmed by the chaos inside the boxes and what they need to do next, forgetting what they saw as soon as they’re out of the hives. The solution to both is records, although it doesn’t seem like a straightforward answer, it will provide direction each time you go into the boxes, I promise!!

Root Cause Analysis

Let’s look at chaos and how to deconstruct it. For instance, there’s a lot of information in the boxes – resources, brood, comb, bees. What do they tell you and what do you do with that information? Well from first glance, it’s just a lot of chaos, but put into columns and assessed as single pieces it becomes more manageable. Think of it as eating the elephant (mountain or any other achievement you’re trying to attain) one bite at a time. The other lesson I’ve learned from the lack of supply chain reliability and difficulty in moving around is that you can no longer wait until the last minute to address an issue. Takes being proactive, and with bees and livestock it’s always been that way – they wait for no man!! People are just learning this truth due to the current circumstances and it’s a hard lesson. So, sometimes you must walk away from the problem to be able to “see the forest for the trees”, and that’s what records give you – a way to look at the information when you have the presence of mind to do so objectively.

First, What Information?

The important first task is to know what information to collect. I won’t go into depth here and I have a records template that I publish for the ROADMAP membership platform, but there are 5 areas of information capture that are important to record – population, queen status, resources, space, and treatment needs. That said, there are a lot of nuances of each category that you need to learn to know and collect. The simple answer is understanding the animal – then you can understand how they operate and when data is telling you that what you’re seeing isn’t normal. That’s when you need to intervene. So taking in information means you’re capturing what “is” and comparing it to what “should be” at some point when you have the “should be” resources at your fingertips. It’ll get easier of course when YOU ARE the resource and know what is not normal – but until then, records can be that safety net for you.

Documentation Methods:

Now that you have an idea of what information, let’s talk about how to get it in a usable form. There are a ton of ways to collect your records, and believe me, I’ve done them all!! Lol!!

Many of them are too time consuming and some of them are impossible to efficiently return to and use. There are methods that create more problems than they solve and a few that are “cool” (apps mostly) but set up is labor intensive and the information collected is rarely in a form that you can get back out quickly without searching multiple screens.

Now to review a few major categories - voice recording, camera videography, database and written.

Voice recording – can be a blessing, and I’ve used it to just “talk” into my veil and get the whole story in the tiny digital machine. The issue is transcribing that information into a readable format, so you have the cliff notes version to review when you need to do another inspection. At first as a beginner, your inspections can take 45 minutes or longer and that’s a lot of recording to review if you’ve got more than 1.

Camera videography/screenshots – this system works well for singular problems you want to have addressed by a mentor, but if you’ve ever tried to hold a frame and take a picture at the same time without squashing bees or the queen, you know how cumbersome it can be. Not a real time effective solution for general information but works well for specific problems.

Database systems – Again, recording data into a small screen with gloves or propolis covered fingers is problematic. The set up for database apps is time consuming and the information you want seems to always be on a dialog box 3 key presses away!! So fairly difficult and your phone never recovers from the stickiness!!

Written – Lots of ways to document written records and is probably why it’s so darn popular. Tons of hive records datasheets out there to use for free and most of them complete. You just need to decide what records you want to pull from the piece of paper and retain for the next inspection. It does require you have a binder for the sheets to reside in and a way to organize them so you can pull records from multiple inspections on a particular unit in quick order. But it is a reliable and secure way of getting it done. Recording on individual sheets out in the bee yard is a bit difficult but there are clipboards that are covered in case of rain or wind, so no problem there. 

My go to is a simple steno pad and I’ve got it down to where all I do is record the specific data that belongs in my spreadsheet to make production or management decisions in the future. Lastly, there’s some storage issues with paper, so if you do transcribe them into a spreadsheet and keep them digitally like I do, well that might be the next level depending on your numbers.

Tracking problems - the weak, the queenless, and the damaged:

It’s prudent to strengthen the weak colonies if you want to save the genetics. To do that you need to collect records about how they’ve been doing historically and what the root cause of the problem is. If it’s a queen, then you need that information in order to replace her. If it’s mites and disease, then treatment protocols are your next step. Should you boost a colony or recombine it. How are they doing through winter with resources (weights)? Were they productive, were there queen cups, are there less bees in the boxes than the last time you were in there? More difficult questions but with data at least you can get help from someone not familiar with the specifics of that colony to guide you through the next steps and make crucial decisions that might save a colony.

So, all in all, plenty to take in and if you try to remember it all, I assure you – you won’t!! Something will slip between the cracks and get lost, if that causes your colony to fly off in a swarm, you’ll regret not tracking how they were doing. As always there’s a ton to learn and too much to try to digest, so get help where ever it presents itself!!

Our mentoring platform is always available and provides on demand support and study hall sessions so you can be confident, successful and enjoy your bees!! Good luck with the season!!

The Road to Better Beekeeping

Dr. J

Categories: Inspections - Step 6

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