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.