WHY KEEP HIVE INSPECTION NOTES?

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One of the single most helpful habits a new beekeeper can form is record taking. Every time you do a hive inspection, you should take notes on what you see. Not only does this practice help reinforce what you already know, but it will help you to learn new things down the road. Read on to find out what you should keep track of in your hives plus, some tips for how to make the process easy and accurate!

The Importance of History

Inspection notes are like taking good notes in class. You might wonder why you’re doing it at the time, but you’ll be happy you have them later! These notes are valuable because they are a record of the health of your hive. When something goes awry with your bees, your notes may help you identify what’s going on. Let’s say your colony is staring to go downhill, lack of brood, lots of drones… you check your inspection log and find that this pattern started after you requeened 6 weeks ago. Looks like you got a poorly mated queen! If you are a beginner, you might not be able to diagnose this kind of thing in your hive just yet, but if you write down what you are seeing, you can show it to a mentor who can. Even more experienced beekeepers will benefit from keeping a log because notes can also help you identify positive patterns as well. Let’s say you are reviewing your notes from the previous three years of beekeeping and you notice that the hive that had a top entrance in spring produced more honey than the hives that didn’t. It could just be that the hive with the top entrance was a stronger hive, but you might want to add extra entrances to your other hives and find out if your honey production on those hives will increase, too.  So whether you want history to repeat itself or not, a record of said history will come in handy!

An Organized Beek is a Happy Beek

For beginners, hive inspections can be overwhelming. You open up your hives and start going through it, but you don’t really know what you are looking for or maybe you do, but you get distracted and forget to check everything you wanted to check. Well, if you create a template for field notes, it can bring structure and purpose to your hive inspections. Many templates function as a checklist, prompting the beekeeper to answer critical questions for evaluating hive health. Did you see the queen? Did you see eggs? Any signs of disease? And so forth. Note taking creates a ritual that initially guides you, but eventually trains you to be observant and diligent when working your bees.

What to Track

So, what exactly should you track when making inspection notes? I’ve created a nifty template for you below! Did I forget anything? What do you like to keep track of?

Inpection Notes

Methods

Of course, juggling bees, equipment and a notepad all while in a bee suit is not always practical. So, what are your options for efficient, easy note-taking? My personal preference is to make an audio recording. I use my cell phone voice record feature. Later, I log a digital version of the information in Hive Tracks. Hive Tracks is a free online record keeping software for beekeepers. Some beeks prefer to carry around a physical note pad or binder and you can even purchase some pocket sized ones that have a template printed on each page, like this one. Other beekeeper use short-hand codes to log their hive’s progress by actually marking on the hive. The method isn’t too important as long as it works for you and you are consistent! Do you take notes during inspections? Share your method. I’d love to hear.

18 Comments

susan rudnicki

REALLY very well said!!! This is the one thing I harangue my students to do, and which many of them are most resistant about keeping current. I urge on them the message that, if they have a problem and they approach a more experienced beek for advice, the first thing that person is going to ask is—when was the last inspection? and what did you see? If they stumble around with the typical “oh, about a month ago” (why do they all choose a “month”?) and “well, I can’t really remember” they are not going to get far.
Most people are overwhelmed by the detail and amount of information they need to learn to keep bees, but I emphasize, keeping records allows one to avoid mistakes and learn faster. It is important to see —where the bees have been, where they are now, and where we predict they are headed—keeping good records helps us decide when we will do the next inspection and WHY. The student should remember there needs to be a goal as to WHY we are getting in a hive on a particular date.
I have always kept a notebook. With many more hives now than that original single, I now keep plastic cards push-pinned on each hive, with notes from each inspection written with a Sharpie. My colonies all have individual names, and the name is written on the card (this helps if a windstorm blows the cards off, as happened once!) I still keep a notebook with file tabs written for each colony and this is taken with me to the bee yard. I write on the plastic card right away after each manipulation. At the end of the work, I write in the notebook. But, if I forget to bring the notebook, the cards are always there to update later. My notes are a distillation of your model—thanks for this!

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Chris

I’ve been keeping notes in an Excel workbook, with a sheet for each hive. It’s simple, easy, and flexible. Google Sheets would also work well, and you could use the mobile app right at the hive for log entries.

Another thing that has helped me greatly with documentation is taking pictures during inspections. The date and time is embedded in digital photos, so you can go back and see the condition of a hive months or years later.

If you have hives in different locations, I would definitely add the location to the log. I’m planning to check out Hive Tracks. Thanks!

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Hilary

Yes, I tell new beeks to take pictures of things they don’t understand so they can figure it out later, but taking pictures in general I think really helped when reviewing notes. Great suggestion.

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michelle

Hi Hillary. My husband and I are new beeks and I just want to say that we love your site and find your articles very interesting and helpful. Thank you and keep up the good work. Kind regards Michelle & Graeme

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Bret Fisher

Once I got more than five hives and started queen-rearing and nucleus colony production I found Michael Palmer’s “duct tape” technique to be best for me. I still keep a “Bee Journal” where I paste actual photos and make other notes, but my squares of duct tape allow me to see at a glance the status of any given hive or nuc. It’s worth considering:

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Chris Barnes

I agree with Bret Fisher here – detailed notes are nice, but the ability to take notes that are transcribed somewhere else breaks down really, REALLY badly once you get up over ~10 hives. I have a paid subscription to Hive Tracks, but I’m probably going to cancel it since it just gets too unwieldy to use on my 30+ hives.

I am going to be switching over to the “duct tape method” described in Michael Palmer’s video.

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Hilary

Yeah, I have over 60 hives and I will admit it is a pain. I mostly just do voice recordings and then fail to transfer it to Hive Tracks later. I have a pretty excellent memory when it comes to my hives and what is going on with them. I have seen the duct tape method, but it looks crazy unorganized to me. Whatever works, works though!

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Gary

Thanks for this great post Hilary; our listeners loved your post so much we chatted about it on this month’s Beekeeping Podcast.

Kind of out Margaret in the spot for her Hive notes in her memory method of record keeping…Gary and Margaret

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Darryl

Hilary, Love your site – I started beekeeping last year so this is my second year. I started with three packages and have caught some swarms both in traps as well as just out in the yard. I have been struggling to come up with a method that works for me to take notes – This article and comments were very helpful.

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Halle

I Would Love To have a printable copy of your inspection sheet. Pretty please?

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Hilary

All you have to do is click on the image to enlarge it and then you can print it. 🙂

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Christopher Boody

Hilary,

Is there any chance you have your inspection sheet saved as an excel document that I can load into my tablet? I think that is the best chance I have at successfully keeping documentation of each hive.

Thank you.

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Hilary

No, but I don’t think it would be too hard for you to make an excel sheet based on what I have made here.

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Mark

Hi…Just saw your blog – I must admit it took me a while to understand the value in keeping track of inspections and used to rely on my memory before learning that making some notes was much better (notebook), especially as I got more hives & sites. I subsequently used a spreadsheet for a while then, with some trepidation and a healthy dose of skepticism, I went a bit tech with an app for inspections & extractions…and now my honey stores & sales too. Just my experience: it really does help and was much easier than I had thought it would be using it in the field. The reporting is really helpful and way better than a spreadsheet. I’m using HiveSmartHQ now…

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The Apiarist

I struggle with bits of paper – they blow away, get sticky with propolis, either have too much or too little space etc. If you leave them with the hive (under the roof – or on the roof as Michael Palmer does) then the comment “Needs two new frames” is missed for the next visit.

I use a small voice recorder (http://theapiarist.org/beekeeping-records-part-2/). I can clip the mic to the beesuit pocket and simply dictate a couple of sentences. I record a few characteristics – temper, running – on a scale of 1-5, colony strength in numbers of frames of brood and then transcribe this to a printed sheet when I get back to the car, or back home. The sheets stay in a file and I refer to this before going out to the apiaries.

It works well. As long as I remember to state the date and apiary at the beginning I can then transcribe them days later if needed. With simple numerical scores and a comment or two it’s possible to do the transcription in ‘real time’ without stopping and starting the machine … “Colony 11. Temper 4, running 4, brood frames 9, supers 1, needs another super”.

The one important additional piece of information the paper sheet has is the origin, age and ‘parentage’ of the queen.

Critical notes – dates QC’s were sealed, unmated Q in residence etc. get written on the hive lid.

Not long until the season starts again here 😎

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