Honeybee Colony Record Keeping

Hive notes on a split colony
Hive notes on a split colony

The one tool I carry whenever I go to the bee yard is a Sharpie permanent marker.

As a “sideliner” beekeeper, I’m responsible for about 25 colonies.

A simple method for keeping track of colony health using a sharpie and spiral notebook.
A simple method for keeping track of colony health using a sharpie and spiral notebook.

There is no way I can remember all the details and needs of each colony, so recordkeeping and a system for reminders is essential. The basic tool for my system is a sharpie and the back side of each colonies bottom hive body.

Logged notes for 26 colonies, their health, and special needs.
Logged notes for 26 colonies, their health, and special needs.

A spiral notebook and highlighters complete the supplies.

On the back of each colony I make note of the age and source of the queen, a dated ‘score’ for Bees-Honey-Queen, varroa counts, and any other bit of information I think useful. As soon as I complete an inspection or chore on a colony, I pull out the sharpie and write down anything relevant. As part of post-work cleanup in any beeyard, I copy my notes into the spiral notebook.

Here’s my system.

#1 Queen heritage/character
Top right corner gets the date the queen was installed and the origin. If I purchased the queen the origin is a “$”, if she was hygienic “Hy”, package “Pkg”, “split” or “cells” cover most of the options. [Picture one Queen came from Queen-cells in May of 2016.]

Under the queen heritage, I might include a simple description of the character of the colony, which is often tied to the queen. An example is the word “Hot” for mean girls. I tolerate a certain attitude if it comes with production. [No special status for character.]

#2 Status Bees-Honey-Queen
Starting in the bottom left corner, I record the date and a three number code describing the state of the bees, the amount of honey available, and the condition of the queen. For example 10-10-10! indicates a colony with an excellent number of bees, excellent honey stores, and the presence of eggs, larvae and capped brood. If I have actually seen the queen, I’ll add an exclamation point or checkmark next to the last number. A colony that is 8-5-7! has a fair number of bees, poor honey stores, and though I saw the queen, I did not see adequate eggs or larva. If I do not see a queen nor eggs, the last number gets a zero or “X.” [The last B-H-Q status for this colony was done on 3/27 with a 10-10-10 score, followed by being Split.]

While I very rarely use numbers less than 4 (in which case an intervention is overdue), and never less than 7 for queens, I can dial it up to “11” in the case of bees that need to be split, or excess honey to be harvested or redistributed.

Other shorthand notes include “Qc” for “queen cells”, “HB” for “hive beetles”.  If I add or remove a frame of brood, that is marked with “Br+” or “Br-“, while “QX” indicates no queen [5/20] but “QR!” means Queen Right!

#3 Varroa

I obsess over varroa.  Generally colonies are sampled in July, immediately after honey harvest, and again in September.  Varroa is sampled by an alcohol wash of about 300 bees (1/2 cup).  My varroa score is simply how many dead mites I counted.  This score is simply a “V#” [on 9/5 this colony scored 14 dead mites – a high count.]

My varroa treatements include oxalic acid dribble (OX), oxalic acid vaporization (OXV), formic acid / Mite Away Quickstrips (MQ # of strips), or thymol/Apiguard (APG). [This colony got 1g of OXV followed one week later by 2g OXV and then 2g again.]


Varroa treatment tells a story.
Varroa treatment tells a story.

Last week I sat down with my records looking for patterns from last year, and maybe hints to why some colonies were so much  stronger than others. I first listed all the colonies, then created columns for (selected) inspections going back to last July. My big take away was that being aggressive against varroa paid off and stick to proven treatments.

*A sideliner beekeeper is trying to make a buck – come out ahead moneywise at the end of the year, but still needs a real job. For us this is an extension of egg and garden money for the homestead.

** Using the bottom hive body for notes can make season frame swapping a bit more work, but using my empty-deep-on-top method makes it no big deal.

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