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Beehive records: in praise of paper and pencil

I’m always in trouble with someone. Recently I’ve crossed tracks with Hive Tracks and let loose on Bee Tight. For those of you unfamiliar, these are both computer programs designed to help with beehive record keeping.

As much as I love technology, however, I just can’t bring it into the bee yard. Every time I open these programs I feel claustrophobic, like my limbs are tied and my brain is on ice. I just can’t fit beekeeping into check boxes and entry fields.

After the last time I wrote about this software, a reader asked me to share my own method of record keeping. At first I thought it was a good idea. But now, weeks later, I still haven’t come up with anything. I’ve looked at my notes and spread sheets, but they would be meaningless to anyone else.

For me, beekeeping is fluid. It doesn’t hold its shape. No matter how detailed my plan, it changes when I open a hive. I find the unexpected. A hive is weaker or stronger than I imagined. Something inside those mysterious boxes causes me to change my plan on the fly. I see something and an idea coalesces—something I could try, substitute, improve, change, or scrap.

Truth be told, I don’t believe I could have over-wintered all my hives this year if I’d been busy entering details through a keyboard. I would have missed something. The act of recording would have diverted my attention from the hive itself.

So I carry no iAnything into the apiary. No tones, no LEDs, no beeps, no keyboard, no screensavers. I have a pencil and notebook in my pocket along with my hive tools. I start inspections at the landing board, watching the bees, trying to see the world as they see it. I ponder how I can help them. I write what I see. I think by hand.

My little red notebook has the days on the left and blank pages on the right. I record what I need to do on the calendar day, and then jot notes, diagrams, and ideas on the right. It works for me. My musings are caressed with lines, arrows, circles, and cross-outs.

One developer of Hive Tracks derided my method as “sticky.” Okay, so a few pages are laminated with honey—so what? The greasy texture of a page mussed with pollen, the crinkly sound of once-wet-now-dry paper, the heavenly fragrance of beeswax and propolis makes the notebook ever more alluring. Charming. Piquant. The scent of my “bee book” on a winter day floats my mind into spring, far beyond the numbing Northwest rains.

My computer, sad to say, smells like plastic.

My time in the bee yard is an escape from technology, mechanization, modernity. It is a time when my mind soars with the bees, inspired by nature, flowers, and trees. If you are inspired by computer programs, by all means use them. But if you keep bees from the heart as well as the mind, fear not a pencil and paper.

Rusty

Comments

D. Krape
Reply

As a new (and sometimes struggling beekeeper now into my second year), I have found record keeping a challenge. I’m still not adept at handling going into the hive AND taking notes, so now I take a recorder (first a little cassette, now my smart phone) and narrate everything I see and do. Later I listen and take notes. Keeping track of what was happening in each box, especially if they changed positions was still hard, so I’ve written flower names on the side of all boxes (in use and in reserve–silly, I know but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast) and I take a picture of the boxes with the names on them each time I check the hive. I can combine the pictures and the notes on the computer later. Sometimes I can even manage pictures of frames; zooming in on these later on the computer lets me see things in detail.

Rusty
Reply

I actually like this idea. With the recorder in your pocket you can just keep talking while you work. And photographing the names along with the hive is helpful as well. It reminds me that before we had dates on photos, I used to photograph a 3×5 card with the date on it before I took any other pictures (which were on a roll of film.)

All good ideas. Thanks for writing; maybe someone will try them. I might try the tape recorder method myself.

Jim Withers
Reply

I couldn’t agree more Rusty. I keep around 50 hives, and to me beekeeping is an very intimate endeavor. I actually tried the Hive Tracks program last year but, like you, found what happens out there in the apiary just doesn’t translate to ‘mechanical’ record keeping. The same goes for the printout hive inspection sheets. There are just too many variables, too many square pegs for the round holes on the inspection sheet.

For folks that want that regimented style of inspection I say go for it. Some people feel more comfortable checking things off; e.g. queen present-check, brood present-check, capped honey present-check, queen marked?-check, inner cover present-check, added honey super-check, etc… It probably helps some to sleep better at night secure in the idea that they didn’t forget something. Great, by all means take advantage of as much technology as you like.

For me hive inspections are more like a visit to a friend. I let the visit go where it needs to go rather than be restricted to looking back and forth from a check sheet. I’m sure I cover most if not all the items listed on a check sheet anyway.

I just feel that I am more aware with an approach that lets the hive speak to me. Then, when I make up my ‘to do’ list later in the day, I’m pulling scraps of paper (yes sometimes sticky) from my pockets, and deciphering hastily scribbled notes and abbreviations lost to anyone but me (sometimes me too). I feel closer to the natural world the bees live in with this open approach to my visits with the girls. The check sheets just feel too clinical to me. Like there is a layer of separation between me and my bees like the one that exists between a person and their doctor during a particularly intimate physical exam. There is something incongruous about talking to your doctor about the weather when your doctor is saying “Now turn your head and cough”.

Rusty
Reply

Very nice analysis, Jim. I could not have stated it nearly so well.

geoff beck
Reply

Hi guys,

I haven’t been keeping bees for long, but since I started I have been wearing a go-pro camera strapped to my chest. This way it records what I say and visually records the frames I hold in front of myself as I check them. Every visit is now there on my pc to look at and revisit when needed. It works great for me, and my children can get close up (on pc) too.

G.

Joris
Reply

I can relate to what you say about the apps having too many parameters and just not helping you when working near your hive.

I’m a beginning beekeeper myself and I’m definitely pro technology (I develop apps for a living) but I couldn’t find an app that was easy to use on my smartphone or at home. For that reason, I developed https://www.mybeekeeper.com which is really simple to use, even on a smartphone right near your hive. Feel free to check it out, I decided to make the app public after a couple of my beekeeping colleagues kept asking me if they could use the app too.

I’d love to help out where needed! Just let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Joris

Noel
Reply

I use a “sports” type camera on a mount at chest level. It records everything from dropping my hive tool to frantic efforts to keep the smoker going,. Now & again I actually see the Queen! Notes can come later and don’t rely on memory (how many frames of brood in the 1st box?) cheers from Beekeepers Society South Australia.

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