Importance of beekeeping records


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Mini nucs | Posted on 13-10-2010

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With inarguable logic this was to have been called ‘Preparing a mini nuc for winter: part 2’, except that it isn’t really part 2. It would have been part 2 if I’d followed Robert’s instructions or Ted Hooper’s instructions, or indeed my own plan, but I got side-tracked. No, that’s not it – I became entranced.

The one thing I have got going for me is that I keep records. Detailed records. Almost anally retentively so. My friend and fellow new-bee beekeeper Mark recently invited me over to see his Beehaus, and – in addition to its elegant design – I was immediately impressed by how carefully arranged the beekeeping equipment in his shed was. Everything laid out just so. But even Mark was impressed by how spectacularly over-the-top my bee colony record keeping was. Put it this way – I keep an Excel spreadsheet.

Honey bee larvae

Honey bee larvae in various stages of development (photo courtesy of Tony and

I also made a voice recording of my last inspection, although to be fair if you’ve ever struggled to take notes with your fingers stuck to each other and to the pencil, before flapping like a chicken to unglue the damn notebook from your hands, you’ll realise that using a digital voice-recorder is far from extravagant.

Why is all this significant? Well, for starters I now know from listening back to the tape that I spent 40 minutes inspecting the main colony. Forty minutes! I’ve seen experienced guys do ten beehives in that time. Also, in the course of my going backwards and forwards (trying to find the queen, inevitably) I lost track of how many frames contained brood. In the end I convinced myself that there were only two. My beautifully transcribed record however, now shows that there were four.

Part 2 of the plan was to have involved my moving a frame of brood from the main colony to mini-nuc. Instead, I ended up transferring another frame of stores. Which is fair enough, because while I was inspecting it (the mini-nuc) I was struck by how low on stores it was, despite it taking the bees two weeks to drain the contact feeder I gave them. My records now reveal that they’d actually been polishing off the nectar on the two frames Robert transferred in from the main colony.

So, lessons learned this week: take less time over inspections, stick to your plan, and keep records – because being able to refer back to them can help enormously.

I guess one out of three ain’t bad. Part 2 next week.


Preparing a mini nuc for winter: part 1


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee feeders, Beekeeping advice, Mini nucs | Posted on 08-10-2010

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2 October 2010: She’s laying! Frames 5 and 6 of the main colony have larvae. Frame 3 is the one I introduced more than a month ago now, so these are definitely the new queen’s offspring. It’s good to be back in business. I even manage to find the queen without too much difficulty. Bless that blue marker.

The weather is still not that great and the worker bees are fairly irritable, so once I’ve established that she’s there and laying I abandon the inspection and carefully push the frames back together again. …Before prising them apart to double-check that I haven’t squashed the queen, and then edging them together again …before prising them apart. Clearly the squashing-the-queen thing hasn’t quite been expunged from my memory.

I refill the rapid feeder housed in the otherwise empty super and expel half a dozen earwigs that are attempting to take up residence. Then I move on to the mini-nuc.

queen bee on frame of comb

Not exactly a hive of activity: spot the queen bee at the 8 o'clock position

With the main colony back on track and amply catered for with stores (I didn’t harvest any of their honey in this – my first – year, and have been feeding them every week since the middle of August), I can see where my attention is going to be focused in the coming months. Robert was too much of a gentleman to spell out that this colony is on loan, but there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I must return it to him, in good health, at the start of next year. He didn’t want it back immediately, he said. So it’s up to me to see it through the winter.

The difference between the two colonies couldn’t be more dramatic. R1, as I’ve taken to calling the main beehive in deference to Robert, has ten frames packed with pollen, stores, and now brood, plus several thousand very active bees. Lifting the lid on the mini-nuc, by comparison, is like entering an old library; it’s very quiet and everyone’s hovering around the (b)reading area (sic). There are only four frames.

At first glance most of the cells appear empty, although a second glance reveals that the worker bees have begun squirreling away syrup from the feeder. The feeder itself remains half full. The queen is again easy to spot, despite having less blue marker on her than I remember. Perhaps the workers really do lick it off. Most of what little activity there is, is centered around the middle two frames. Next week I’ll start adding frames of brood from the main colony.

Before replacing the lid I carefully push the frames back together again. …Before prising them apart to double-check that I haven’t squashed the queen, and then edging them together again …before prising them apart…