I was thinking about this one a while ago after talking to some beekeepers soon to be getting started, and it came to me that in each of the dozens of people I have gotten/helped get started in beekeeping I have not given all of them my number one tip. I can talk for hours on end on what to do and what not to do and what I would suggest, but I have taken for granted the #1 tip for successful and growing beekeeping year after year. So without further stalling and hopefully so that anyone can learn about this (it applies to many other hobbies as well) the #1 tip in beekeeping is keeping a journal/log of what you did, what you see, what you need to do etc. To me this comes as second nature, and I may have taken for granted that people just do this, or have me to ask questions on or give friendly reminders. But it is absolutely essential to keep a log. It can take just a few moments after you are done, or can be as in detail as you like, but there are some things that I think are essential to keep track of and some things that are nice to keep track of. At the end I will tell you what I write down and track and how I do it (but keep in mind I am in the business side so there are other things that I need to keep track of above and beyond the norm)

First, the things that you must keep track of:

Prelude- First, you must write down a list of what you want to keep track of. This will help you decide the format you will use for your log. It can be a notebook with just paragraphs, pages of blank copies of the things you checked for and track in a set format, excel spreadsheets on a computer, a phone app, or any other method that works for you to be able to go back and see when it happened and what was happening. These last 2 points are the key.

1. Date and time

2. Brief description of what you saw in the hive. There are important clues you need to follow to make sure the hive is coming along normally and growing as it should. This may be a comparison to your last visit, last year, or your other hives.

3. What you need to do next time/when you need to do this by and what you need to bring if it is not always brought each time

4. Eggs/brood present this tells you the queen is alive (or was alive at least within 3 days)

So, you can see that the things you must keep track of are very minimal, but that list will only get you a working hive, and not be one that you are able to learn from. Here are the other things that you probably want to track

1. Any queen cells present (swarm or supercedure)

2. Brood pattern (tight or loose)

3. Temperature outside

4. What do you see blooming that the bees are visiting

5. What do you see ending their bloom

6. What are the bees bringing in (pollen or nectar)

7. Abnormalities you notice (aggressive hive, ants, wasps, mice, etc)

8. Anything you applied (things for ant control, mite control, small hive beetle control, etc) It will also be helpful to write when it needs to be checked again or removed.

9. Did you feed (how much)

10. Were there lots of mites you saw or small hive beetles (these are 2 big problems for hives)

11. What changes have you made  (splits, supered, added queen excluder, added hive body, etc)

You will find that the bees are on a pretty set schedule as far as build up, brood, swarming, etc. This will change from year to year based on what is blooming, the temperature, and some other factors, but if you write down when it happened this year, and the temperature, you will be able to anticipate when it should happen next year and be ready. You will also be able to predict and stop some things from happening that you want to stop (ex: swarm cells start forming usually early May). This will allow you to be better next year, or learn from your mistakes (i.e. I won’t do that again).

12. Signs of disease or pests

So here is what I keep track of and how.

I use Microsoft word and start with the date always. I then write paragraphs on what I did, where, things I noticed, and other things I think will be useful to keep track of (these are always what is in bloom and stopped blooming, if I made splits, if I added supers, mouseguards, reducers, queen excluders, etc). Any problems I noticed and how I treated or what I need to do to treat it next time. I also track the amount of hives at each location and where they are example:

2 deeps with 2 supers, or from package 1 deep, or split and # of frames.

That way I can tell if the hive is progressing as it should. Or, if I notice that a hive was ‘full and loaded’ and next week they seem sedate and empty I can deduce that they have swarmed. It is also key to write down if there are swarm cells present. This means that the hive is full and needs to be monitored as they want to swarm and take away about half of my bees and honey. If this is the case they need to be checked every 2 weeks to prevent the queen cells from hatching.

The second thing that I track is in excel format with the following cells

date, location, temperature, drive distance, MPG, gas cost, gas used, sugar used, time spent, sugar amount per hive, misc notes. Some of these are used to track business things, but it is also an easy format to look over quickly to see what I have done and where.

Those 2 are used at the end of the day when I get to the computer to journal. I usually transcribe these from a sheet of paper that I bring with me to each stop that I write on after each stop. The other thing that I use is a phone app called keep which works great for me to see things quickly. On each note I title the location of the hives, the date, and any info that I want to keep track of quickly and easily. That is usually any big events that I see and what I want to or need to do next time. Since I bring my phone with me everywhere as most people do nowadays, I always have the brief journal with me.

It truly is essential to start keeping a log of what is going on with your bees so you can learn both for your good and for the bees. If you can understand how these fasinating creatures work and thrive you can help them live better and also get more honey in the process. You will also need to look into what are the major flowers that the bees visit and what they get from them to anticipate if they have enough coming in or if you need to help them out, bu that is another discussion…