Updated: Aug 20
Honey bees are an incredible creature and keeping bees as a beekeeper can be challenging. The critters themselves can be difficult, but then throw in the diseases they are dealing with and its enough to want to pull your hair out. Smart bee hive monitoring aims to help change that by reducing the burden on the beekeeper.
What is Beehive Monitoring?
Beehive monitoring is the act of taking physical readings, like temperature, humidity and weight of a beehive with sensors and collecting data or data points and relaying that information to a person or learning machine typically on an app or web browser for easy interpretation of data. This gives the beekeeper data points to either make independent decisions on managing their hives without necessarily visiting a hive each time. This reduces the stress on the bees for unnecessary hive checks and reduces the time it takes for the beekeeper.
Data, Data, Data
As a beekeeper your primary job is to interpret data you gather from hive inspections primarily through observation and than comparing that with your experience (previous observations). So beekeepings primary job other than physical labor, is to process observations and data. Sometimes these observations are very simple such as queen presence, brood presence, bee space, honey super capacity, etc. And other times these observations require a finesse that only comes with experience and time.
The difference between a master beekeeper and a beginning to moderate beekeeper is time, which represents an observation data bank the Master Beekeeper has obtained over years of experience. And with monitoring that has integrated AI (artificial intelligence), your new data can be compared to a data bank of encrypted data that can help determine or indicate potential problems going on in the hive or predict needed actions. A master beekeeper can only retain a certain amount of information and in certain applications a computer can do a far better job than a beekeeper.
You Can't Replace the Beekeeper
Now there are certain things a beekeeper can do better than a computer and I am not suggesting that computers should replace beekeepers, but there are certain things a computer can do far more efficiently and accurately than a beekeeper can, such as;
Hive weight- A computer can get you accurate readings of a hives increase or decrease in weight and can store this information, practically forever.
Hive temperature- Interior hive temperatures is a difficult task for any beekeeper without a computer, and it can tell a beekeeper a lot about whats going on in the hive.
Inside hive humidity- Similar to hive temperature, this is a difficult task for a keeper to perform without the aid of monitoring.
Hive acoustics- Resent studies have shown that hive sounds can indicate prematurely what is about to happen with a colony, especially with regards to swarming.
Bee counting- short of a beekeeper with a lot patience and incredible eye and a trusty two-way counter, this is nearly an impossible task for a beekeeper. With machine learning either a presence detector or camera programmed to detect incoming and outgoing bees, is capable of recording bee movement at an incredibly accurate level.
Image Analysis- AI has recently gotten some press for being able to better read human scans for diseases, better than the trained human can. This may mean that some day our hives, or others will count the amount of mites within your hive, so you can say good bye to those sugar shakes or mite washes.
I have met a couple beekeepers that can detect issues just by looking at the bee activity outside of a hive, which is almost spooky. Currently that would be a tall task for a computer to compute, but we certainly are headed in a direction that they will be possible some day with machine learning and AI.
How Can Beehive Monitoring Help Me?
First, we have computers in all aspects of our lives to help make our lives easier and more informative. The fact that you are reading this is a clear example of a computer assisting you in learning and me in getting information out there [the internet]. Having some assistance in managing and interpreting data in a beehive is super beneficial on any scale you keep bees.
How it Helps Beekeepers
Organization- Monitoring can keep a record of each your hives progress and declines, helping you make better management decisions.
Accurate Data- Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the trending direction of a hive from week to week and being able to go back and see based on hard data will help you as a beekeeper.
Metric previously unavailable- This may same simple, but depending on your monitoring setup. Prior to having monitoring you likely didn't have sound equipment in a hive, nor a temperature or humidity reader. More data points can help assist you in determining your management strategy. Weight is another big metric most hives do not have, now you don't need a computer to weigh a hive, but they sure make it easier.
Time- As beekeepers most of us love spending time in our apiaries, but if you have a bunch of hives. Getting into your hives may mean an entire day or several days lost in just "seeing" if your hive needs help. With bee hive monitoring, and once you begin to trust it and use it, can save you several hours per hive in a season simply by identifying which hives need intervention and which don't because of KIM's (Key Indication Marker's) from the monitoring. More time for you to kick back or focus on growing your Apiary.
3rd Party Beehive Monitoring Systems?
There are several companies providing beehive monitoring "solutions" and many of the products on the market are quite expensive and require a fair amount of hive modifications. Most of the manufacturers are focusing on 3rd party application integration which is a great way for a beekeeper to dabble into monitoring but many of the providers have some challenges;
Hive integration issues- Most 3rd party monitoring devices require you to cut out sections of your hive, others require leaving an opening into the hive through the brood boxes. This creates a draft that can negatively affect the colonies progression negatively.
Errors in installation- Without the beehive monitoring systems integrated at the manufacturing facility, not only can the monitoring devices be installed improperly, compromising their data accuracy. They can be installed in a way that shortens the life of the device.
Power Supply- Some of the devices on the market are programmed for low power usage but others require multiple battery changes a season, and some even require a power terminal for an additional expense or even a power supply. And with most beehives located nowhere near a power supply, this can be a challenge and an added expense.
Data Transmission- There are several approaches the beehive monitoring manufacturers approach the data transmission aspect.
On-device collection- This is normally done with a SD card and data is either obtained by opening the hive up and accessing the device and then uploading that information to your computer and returning it back to the hive. Or some manufacturers have Blue-Tooth communication which requires you to be within 10' or so of the device and download it onto a device, like a smart phone.
WiFi- Using your network can be a great way to get data to a server for your viewing, but WiFi has its limitations and unless you have the system near your home or business, this could require you to be a network expert to work properly. Most beehives are located in spots that WiFi fro