Beekeeping is an exciting and rewarding hobby or business, that requires a significant amount of time and effort. As a beekeeper, it is essential to keep accurate records of your hive management activities as it provides valuable information about the health and productivity of your bees. Keeping records helps you track the progress of your hives and make informed decisions about how to manage them.
One important reason to keep records is to monitor the health of your bees. Keeping track of the number of bees, eggs, brood patterns, stages of brood, identifying and monitoring pest and diseases and honey production all help identify any issues with the hive’s health. By observing and tracking the health and growth of a colony, you can spot early signs of disease or pest infestations and take corrective action before the problem becomes too severe. The more hives you have, the more you’ll need to take these records, to refresh your memory and remind you what is on your ‘To Do’ list.
Records also help beekeepers manage the honey harvesting process more effectively. By observing and tracking the honey production within a hive, you can monitor how much honey each hive produces, identify any variations in honey yield, remembering what flowers when. This allows you to make informed decisions about how much honey to extract (will they have enough for winter?), and if there a shortage and an informed decision can be made around supplementary feeding requirements.
Keeping track of expenses is another critical aspect of beekeeping. Record keeping enables you to monitor the cost of maintaining each hive and how much you are spending on equipment, where it was sourced and feed. This information helps you plan your budget more effectively and manage your finances.
Keeping accurate records also play a vital role in the marketing of honey and other bee products. Consumers are increasingly interested in buying honey produced from healthy hives. Beekeepers who keep detailed records can demonstrate their honey is of high quality, prove their hives are American Foulbrood free, show their Certificate to confirm they are compliant with the Australian Honey Bee Biosecurity Code of Practice, these beekeepers are more likely to attract customers who value locally sourced, high quality, natural products.
Keeping records helps beekeepers learn from their experiences. By recording the success or failure of different hive management techniques, you can identify what works well and what doesn’t. This information can guide future management decisions, allowing beekeepers to continually improve their practices and enhance their honey production.
Finally, in Victoria keeping records is your obligation under the Livestock Disease Control Regulations 2017 Regulation 74P. Legal obligations around record keeping are designed to assist in the prevention, monitoring and control of honeybee pests and diseases by providing traceability. It is important to understand that you may be requested at any time to produce records of all hive movements, introduction of queens, swarms caught, and testing undertaken to assist the investigation of the source and spread of an exotic disease or pest outbreak, such as the current Varroa mite response in NSW.
There are several types of record-keeping options available, and the choice depends on the beekeeper’s preferences, needs, and resources. Here are some of the most common types of record-keeping options I see:
- Manual Record-Keeping: This involves keeping records on the lid of each hive or using paper, pen, or a notebook. Manual record-keeping is the traditional method used by many beekeepers. This method is cheap, requires minimal training, and does not require any specialised equipment. However, it is time-consuming, prone to errors, and may be difficult to read or interpret.
- Spreadsheets: This is a more organised way to keep records (compared to manual) and allow beekeepers to store data in different tabs, sort, and filter data, and create charts and graphs. This method is relatively cheap, requires some training (try YouTube first), and is accessible from multiple devices. However, it still requires manual data entry and may be prone to errors.
- Beekeeping Software: This method is more comprehensive than spreadsheets and offers features such as data automation, report generation, hive management and analysis tools. This method is more expensive than manual record-keeping or spreadsheets, requires more training, and may require specialised equipment. However, it offers more accuracy, efficiency and insights.
- Mobile Apps: This method offers similar features to beekeeping software but are more convenient and accessible from smartphones or tablets while in the field. Mobile apps may be free or paid, and some offer integration with other tools such as weather monitoring, pest management, or inventory management. This method is relatively cheap, requires minimal training, and is more user-friendly than spreadsheets or beekeeping software. However, it may have limited features, may require a stable internet connection and if you were to leave the App ensure you can download all your records to take with you.
As you can see beekeepers have several options for record-keeping. Each option has its pros and cons, and the choice depends on the beekeeper’s needs, preferences, and resources. Regardless of the option chosen, effective record-keeping is crucial to manage hives, monitor their performance, and ensure the quality and safety of their products.
In the last few years Agriculture Victoria built and is maintaining a free digital diary (a record keeping system) for all registered beekeepers, called BeeMAX. Every beekeeper should already have their own BeeMAX account, that allowed them to register or renew their registration as a Victorian beekeeper.
Using this system has numerous benefits such as, improving record keeping accuracy, convenience, accessibility and ensuring compliance with the Regulations:
- Accuracy: Entering data more efficiently, minimise errors, and avoid missing any critical information.
- Convenience: To access their information from anywhere, at any time using smartphones, tablets, or computers to record and review data.
- Accessibility: Enabling a beekeeper to automatically share Notifiable pests and diseases with the Department, in the same step it took to enter their hive inspection notes.
- Compliance: BeeMAX steps you through the required record keeping obligations and displays the relevant regulatory references.
BeeMAX has also supported Agriculture Victoria with traceability and collation of mite check data allowing informed decision making to support the current NSW Varroa eradication efforts, and assisting us to have confidence that our state remains Varroa free
To those beekeepers using the BeeMAX system, thank you for supporting Agriculture Victoria work more efficiently and effectively in protecting the Apiculture industry in Victoria.
If you would like to learn more about using BeeMAX to keep your records, visit the Agriculture Victoria website: https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/honey-bees/beekeeper-registration-and-hive-disposal
If you would like to learn more about what records you need to keep, visit the BeeAware website, Step 5 in the Biosecurity Code of Practice: https://beeaware.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Australian-Honey-Bee-Industry-Biosecurity-Code-of-Practice.pdf
To make sure you’re up to date with Honey Bee notifiable pests and diseases in Victoria, visit the Agriculture Victoria website: https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/biosecurity/animal-diseases/honey-bee-pests-and-diseases/notifiable-bee-pests-and-diseases
Ally Driessen, Bee Biosecurity Officer – Agriculture Victoria
Agriculture Victoria delivers the Victorian component of the National Bee Biosecurity Program (NBBP). The NBBP is coordinated by Plant Health Australia and funded by the Australian honey bee industry Levy with in-kind contributions from state and territory governments. Co-investment for Victoria’s delivery is also provided from the Honey Bee Compensation and Industry Development Fund and the Australian Government through the Farm Business Resilience Program.