Dec. 15, 2022

Beekeeper Record Keeping Considerations (104)

Beekeeper Record Keeping Considerations (104)

Knowing what you did or saw, added or removed from a colony is useful. Whether that happened earlier in the day or the prior season. Keeping track of what, how why and when you did something in the bee yard, for a specific colony will help keep you...

Knowing what you did or saw, added or removed from a colony is useful. Whether that happened earlier in the day or the prior season. Keeping track of what, how why and when you did something in the bee yard, for a specific colony will help keep you from making repeated mistakes.

Historical information will help you fine tune your honey bee management.

On today's episode, Kim and Jim discuss record keeping. No matter what means you employ to keep those records: hive top, inner cover, notebook(s), computers - or the recording tool used, brick position, pencil, magic marker, cell phone, tablet or spreadsheet... there are some basics you need to capture. Then... you must actually refer the information you've captured to make this entire exercise useful!

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 104 – Beekeeper Record Keeping Considerations



Kim: Jim, how are you doing? It's good to see you again.

Jim: I'm happy to be here. Thanks for asking.

Kim: Hey, I've been looking at, I got this-- I did this book a while back called Backyard Beekeeper. You may have seen it. I'm looking at updating it somewhat. I got to the part where it says, talks about keeping records. I'm going to bet that you and I for 30-plus years have been telling every beginning beekeeping class that we've taught, "Be sure to keep good records, then we will run."

Jim: Then we move on. You left that hanging in the air Kim.

Kim: [laughs] Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: We're here today on Honey Bee Obscura to talk about record keeping.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum, and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to the lightning forum. All beekeepers, if you're a longtimer are just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Kim: I'm a decade behind in the technology of record keeping but before I get there, I want to start just asking a real basic question. What do you keep records of on your bees? I'll go back to what almost 40 years ago the USDA people I worked with, they kept really good records. They had a notebook in the field and they wrote down everything that they did. Then I worked with some beekeepers for a while who were-- I've worked with commercial beekeepers who did the same thing, kept all of their records on the hive cover.

They'd go into a colony and they'd find a queen or not find a queen brood, lots of brood, no brood, hardly any brood needs to feed, needs new frames, needs another box that will go on the top. Even when you watch him you say, "Yes, that makes lots of sense." Until you get home and you go, "Let's see that third colony I looked at, did I write that down and what was it that I wrote?" You ever see anybody put notes on the top of a hive cover?

Jim: Kim, you know I have. As old as we are, we've seen everything but yes, I actually bought bees from a widow, whose beekeeping husband had passed on and he kept records on his inner covers. It's fine so long as you don't change inner cover someone colony to another but I felt like I was rummaging through the man's sock drawer. Reading this now passed on beekeeper's comments about what he had done with that colony and when he did it. It was only about 10 or 15 items long. It's not like it was extensive records, queen replacement, brood disease, whatever. I've seen that written on the colonies.

Kim: I guess I'm here to say that's probably not the best way to keep good records because your memory, my memory between the bee yard and home is essentially non-existent. [chuckles] I think that going to do me much good. The next thing people tell you to do on record keeping is to get a notebook and take that the next low-tech thing you can do is bring a notebook to the BO.

Now I've looked at that, and I've done that over the years, not consistently, not well, and I don't know where my notebook is anymore, but the thing that they suggested I have a notebook, and every colony has a page in that notebook, so that when I go into colony 23, I open up the notebook to colony 23, and in there I've got all data that I wrote down over the course of the season, maybe even last season, and stuff that I know I'm going to need to remember, but because I've written it down here in the notebook, I can take it home and do something with it. I'm going to get there in a minute, but notebooks are good until you leave one in a bee yard open and it rains. [laughs]

Jim: I am trying to think do I have an incidence of that? No doubt I do, but I just lose mine. When I've used notebooks, I would think this is the style of notebook, this is the layout, I'm going to copy these pages, I'll just fill in the blanks and then I'll do it for a length of time, I don't know, let's just say nine months. Then something happens and I get a cold, I get sick or I go on vacation. Then when you come back, it is just didn't have the shining anymore.

Then when you find that notebook three years later, it's like a walk down memory lane. "Oh, my stars, look at this. This is when I got my first expanded polystyrene box right here. I didn't remember that." When you've been talking about keeping good records, which makes me wonder what are bad records. I guess, if you're keeping good records, I must be keeping bad records. Then we talked about writing on the hive and now we're writing in notebooks. What's the difference in record keeping and log keeping? What's the difference in record keeping and a diary? Basically, we're just recording our memories, aren't we?

Kim: Basically, yes, but here's the thing. If you got to notebook in the field and talking to people who do this with some regularity, I can put in that notebook needs a queen for colony 53. When I get home, and I'm taking that notebook, because what I learned to do a long time ago, and don't do anymore, of course, but what I learned to do is I take that field notebook home, and I take the notes that I made for colony 53 and I put them in my home notebook for colony 53. I've got two going. Now I've got two things I can lose.

Jim: Good. That's a sign of a good highly accomplished beekeeper. You probably left your hive tool out there and the smoker was still burning.

Kim: If you it consistently you do it right. I know people that do this, and it borders under religion, and that's probably a good thing, at least good for the bees in that they're well taken care of, or better taken care of than I'm doing, but they take notes in the field for colony 53, they take that notebook home, and they take those notes for colony 53, and they put them in there and they got a to-do list for all the colonies that they looked at this year and they go need supers on 54. I've got to add some-- I got to feed 55, those sorts of things.

I got a to-do list. The next time I go to look at bees, and maybe even on that to-do list is when I need to go look at those bees next, but on that page in that notebook, what is colony 53 going to need? Getting it transferred from field to home, because that home notebook I can add stuff to there that I remember after I got home and I'm sitting down, I was out in the field had two bees in my veil and it was going to rain in about four minutes and I got to hurry, I forget things. I don't get things in there but once I get home, then I can add things now.

We can take this a little bit further and say, "What are you taking, keeping notes? What records are you keeping? What do we need to know that happened, is happening, and may happen if we don't or if we do the right thing?" That gets to be the decision-making process. Let me take it another step here. What are you using to record this stuff?

If you've been following our podcast Beekeeping Today, that's we've talked to a bunch of people who are now not taking notes at all when they're in the field because everything is being recorded by some electronic device that lives in the hive.

They've got temperature and humidity and CO2 and weight, and almost everything you need to know about what's going on in that colony. They take that data, they send it to the cloud, you go home, go to the cloud, get it and bring it, drop it down on your computer. You got anything like that going on?

Jim: I do have something like that going on. At this point it's a good spot to say let's stop and hear from someone who actually can sell you those devices that can let you electronify your life.


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Jim: Those gadgets come, that's the next world, I got to tell you. I'm trying to make a thought here because I'm thinking of a beekeeper who years ago said, "I come to bee meetings to learn about bees, not to learn about computers." If people are listening to us right now, they're electronically savvy. The devices you're describing, I think would fit in very nicely with this audience. I'm not selling them, I'm just saying this is where the technology is that while you're home watching television and washing the dinner dishes, that information's being uploaded about weight gains, weight losses, colony temperatures, and that technology I think is just going to continue to develop as the beehive becomes more and more computerized.

Kim: The good thing about that data is that it gives you information that you're not going to be able to get when you go up there and take the top off. What's the humidity inside that hive? Well, I take the top off and it just changed right now. What's the weight? If you got a scale in your bee yard, I used to have a portable scale I could put it under the lip, lift it up, get the weight, and I knew, but I had to be there to do that. You can get a lot of data from those internal devices, and a lot of it's going to be valuable.

Some of those things that we've talked about are listening to the bees, they're telling, they're listening and they're interpreting what that sound means to the bees in the hive and sending you that interpretation again via the cloud. You can tell is a colony queen list, is there something going on in there, some pest or predator that's giving you trouble? There's that, but I'll tell you one thing. Let me back up. Notebooks are good, but there's notebooks and other ways to keep good information on that hive. Some of it you just got to go to the bee yard and see, because that computer inside the beehive isn't going to tell you that the roof on colony 78 has cracked and falling apart, and you better bring a new one the next time you come out there.

It's not going to tell you that you need to bring the weed eater. It's not going to tell you a lot of things about the environment that the hive is in. It's really good at telling you what's inside, outside not so much.

Jim: While you were talking, I was thinking about those gadgets and devices and the things they will help you do that'd be harder to do if you'd still carry the notebook. I'm not opposed to the notebook. I got to tell you the truth, Kim, more often than not, I am just trying to remember what I did last season, what I bought last season, how things worked last year.

In a way, even doing it from memory is record-keeping, right? The thing I wanted to say was that these devices we're talking about, they let you crunch those numbers. If that is a savvy piece of equipment in the app that you're using, it'll tell you exactly how many queens you lost that year, how many queens you replaced, when the weight gain started. You can begin to bring that data together into a comprehensive format that you could do with a written notebook, except you got to sit there with a pencil and an eraser and make lists and figure it out the long way. In theory, these devices lets that data become more meaningful to you more quickly.

Kim: You know one thing they don't do? Let me tell you, your colonies queen list, where did that queen come from? What's the history of the queens that you've been buying over the last five years from this supplier, that supplier, some other supplier, some that you raised your own? I'll go back to having some written, because that data, the machinery in your colony isn't going to pick up that information. The other thing that's going on is when I lose a colony, a colony dies. I come out to the bee yard and a bee flying out of number 59. I go take a look at 59, and low and behold, there isn't a bee in it, it's gone. Did it swarm? Did Varroa get it? There's some interpretation that I'm going to need there that maybe the data from those machines inside can help me interpret, maybe not.

I got a colony and it is full of equipment that I'm not going to just leave in that colony. I'm going to put it in another colony. Maybe that's in the instruction book that came with the equipment that I just bought. How do you know what colony this is in now? There again, you got to write it down someplace. I'm moving it from 53 because 53 died and I'm moving it over to 71 because 71, I just put a package in and I want to track that package from the day I put the package in and be able to tell when the queen got released and when all of the things are going on. Hopefully that internal data will give me much, if not all of that information.

Is it going to tell me that I need to add a super? Is it going to tell me I need to add food? I guess this is a learn-as-you-go process where a notebook in the field and a notebook at home are really going to help also.

Jim: I'm trying to catch up because you said a lot quickly. How about this? I'm trying to think about the most basic aspects of record keeping. I've got a smoker going, I've got a hive open, I've got Burke homes everywhere. I've got honey dripping and I'm trying to pick up a pencil and write on a piece of paper. I can't tell the listeners, are you the best way? Do you have a string on the pencil and keep it tied to the pad? Kim, how about this because it drives me crazy, I do beehive photography and to this day, I can't tell you the best way to keep propolis and wax and honey off my camera equipment. If I pick up my phone in the field, can I just leave a verbal message to myself instead of having to write it down, so I just leave a quick message and then when I get home, I take those messages off and then I add them to my database.

I need supers, I need more honey, the high valve recovery is cracked. Then I add that to the data that I got from the app that's taking colony measurements. Then I do have a thorough aspect, but then there's this, how do you keep obliterated in your phone with that same propolis and wax and the residue and dropping the phone and in the rain?

Kim: I was going to go there.

Jim: The devil is always in the details. [laughs] I'm not suggesting this as a common protocol, but sometimes you just have to remember, Kim, because that's where you store it in your head.

Kim: You've mentioned that before, pages of memory. I think my memory book is getting towards the end. [laughs]

Jim: [laughs] I'm overriding memory right now.


I want to say this, this record-keeping thing, this was on you. I like the topic, but it's your topic, but I don't think it's wrong, Kim, over the years as you keep bees to change the way you keep records. I don't think someone has to start day one, step one, first-day beekeeper, and then 12 years be filling in the same type of logbook, composition tablet or whatever they're using. You may start using a pad and paper, or you may start writing on the hive top and then 5, 10, 15 years later, you've got the best app going and you've got everything electronified. Those days of using a pad and paper are just ancient history now. Would you say it's okay to change the way you keep records as your bee operation and as your ability evolves?

Kim: Yes, I think you hit the right word there, evolve. I was going to use that because that's what happens. The thing that beekeepers, myself included, need to keep in mind is the world today ain't the same as it was yesterday, let alone two years ago or five years ago. What's going on outside right now and what's going to be going on outside a year from now, five years from now? What did I learn from the past that I can apply to the future? I guess that's probably that sums that up, but it comes down to all of this put together, what are you take keeping track of? What equipment are you using to keep track of it? How are you storing it? How are you retrieving it so you can use the data and apply it to what you need to do next time?

It's somewhere in December right now, before you sit down and start thinking about next year, think about all of these things and get into your head and your garage, the equipment that you're going to need to do a good job of keeping notes because keeping notes can save a lot of bees every season.

Jim: A lot of time and it can let you be proactive. You know that swarming started at a particular time. The swarming season starting doesn't really catch you off guard as badly, so you're better prepared as a beekeeper for what's coming up in the next few weeks if you know what happened at this time in the last three to four to five years

Kim: If your bee yard is down the roadways, it isn't in your backyard, it's far enough away that when you get there, when you get to your bee yard, you open the door or the truck and you look out and you low and behold the apples are blooming here, but they're not even leafed out at home yet because there's a microclimate that my bees are in that I need to be aware of. Lots of things going on, lots of things to keep records of. I don't think we solved anything here, but what I hope I've done for you is to give you some ideas, some things to think about to get ready for next year, because I got a list now about four pages long that I need to get ready for next year.

Jim: Where are you going to stick that list on the door in your office? [laughs]

Kim: [laughs] I'll keep it in my notebook.

Jim: I want to close on this note, Kim. People are going to do what they're going to do. Records are useful, but if they become a burden, if they become something else to do that you don't enjoy, you're not going to do it. You're going to have to figure out what works for you on how you know what you need. It's a personal decision and it's a decision that may change over time.

Kim: I think that's a good point to hang this one up on because a long time ago I didn't have fun keeping records and I don't keep records nearly as much or as well as I should anymore, but maybe this will get me going for next season.

Jim: I'm going to end on that note, friend. I'll go back and I'll get a pencil and a pencil sharpener and I'll use technology that I know where it's-- No, actually I won't. I will use my phone more. I think my phone is a very viable beekeeping tool now. All right. Do something Kim. Just have some idea. If you don't do something, then you're doomed to repeat it, right?

Kim: Yes.

Jim: All right.

Kim: Somehow keep some kind of notes.

Jim: That's--

Kim: Get ready for next season.

Jim: That's perfect. Somehow do something listeners.

Kim: [laughs] Good enough. Thanks guys.

Jim: All right.

Kim: Talk to you soon.

Jim: Bye-bye.

Kim: Bye.

[00:22:48] [END OF AUDIO]