Record Keeping For Beekeepers
(A Guide To Why, What & How)

When you start beekeeping, recording information may seem overly burdensome. After all, you’ve only got one or two hives. How much could you possibly have to track? No need to write anything down, right? Maybe.

Keeping records is a habit that’s much easier to start when your apiary is small and your goals are simple. Like your smoker or uncapping fork, a beekeeping journal is a tool for managing your hives.

Beyond any legally required record keeping and reporting, there are no rules. There’s no right way or wrong way to keep beehive records.

In this article, we’ll discuss the why, what and how of beekeeping records. You can decide what’s right for you.

Why Keep Beehive Records

Beekeeping records serve as both a learning tool and a management tool.

Gain knowledge

Every time I pick up one of our beekeeping books, I realize how little I know about beekeeping even after five years.

Keeping records will help you learn about beekeeping in general and your bees in particular.

As a beginning beekeeper, you’ll want to learn about the different behaviors you spot. Go on any Facebook bee group or online forum, and you’ll see people asking about unusual bee activity.

If you record your observations, you’ll capture more details to help identify the behavior. You’re also more likely to remember to research it.

As you become more experienced, you may try out different techniques. Plastic foundation vs. beeswax foundation vs. foundationless frames?  Queen excluder or not? Various mite treatments?

Recording the details will help you learn what works best for you and your apiary.

Determine if the hive is queen right

The queen can be hard to spot among all the bees. Even without seeing her, there are things in the hive that help you determine if the queen is okay.

Eggs, brood patterns, and brood stages are good indicators of your queen’s health. Tracking changes from one inspection to the next helps you decide on any actions needed. The more hives you have, the more you’ll need records to refresh your memory.

See our article Honey Bee Life Cycle (Why You Need To Know It) for information about brood stages.

Track honey production

Some of your colonies will be more proficient at honey production than others. What kind of bees are they? Where did you get them? This kind of information can help you maximize your harvest.

You should also monitor honey production so that you leave enough for winter. If they’re not building up enough stores, it might be time to start feeding, or you’ll need to provide some winter supplement.

Honey stores can also indicate if you’re in a dearth. If you find the bees consuming honey instead of producing, you might want to feed them.

Identify and monitor infestations and diseases

Spotting one small hive beetle in a colony isn’t a big deal. The bees can deal with it. But if you keep notes, you’ll remember next time to look for signs of a further infestation that may warrant action.

Were the bees particularly defensive? Maybe it’s time to test for an excessive mite load. Perhaps you need to requeen because she’s a nasty one. Maybe it was just a particularly hot day, and they were annoyed by the intrusion. Keeping track of how often they exhibit the behavior and the circumstances will help you decide what to do, if anything.

Mite counts to track infestation levels help determine if treatment is necessary.

Varroa mite
Varroa mite magnified

See our article Varroa Mites: A Complete Treatment Guide for more information

Depending on where you live, you may need to report infestations or any chemical treatments you apply.

Be more productive in hive inspections

Recently, I was pulling a frame from a hive and the top bar separated. There wasn’t much comb on the frame, so I removed it planning to replace it. I didn’t write it down. By the time I got back into that hive, there were the beginnings of a cross combing mess.

With a “to do” list (replace equipment, feed the bees, deal with a beetle infestation), you’ll be better prepared for each inspection.

Preprinted inspection forms serve as a simple checklist reminder of what to look for. These forms are especially helpful for new beekeepers.

Efficient inspections are less time consuming and less stressful on your colonies.

Work with others

If you share beekeeping duties with family or friends, records inform everyone of what’s going on in the apiary. Making a mental to-do note doesn’t help if you’re not there to do it. Help your partner(s) handle things in your absence.

Meet legal requirements

You may be subject to legal record keeping requirements as a beekeeper.

New York City, as an example, requires that beekeepers notify the city within 30 days of establishing a hive. They also must be registered with the state. Failure to comply can result in fines.

So, if you’re keeping bees in New York City, it makes sense to:

  • document, when you set up your hives
  • record information about where they are
  • retain the paperwork from your various filings, and
  • keep a reminder of any renewals necessary.

If someone files a complaint and you’re inspected, you’ll be happy your paperwork is in order.

In Australia, the Biosecurity Code of Practice states that, among other things, all beekeepers must keep legible records of:

  • dates and observations from inspections and observations, including information about the strength of the hives and any pests or diseases found.
  • Steps taken to manage any pests or diseases.
  • Details of sampling and testing for the presence of American foulbrood.
  • Details about movements and locations of hives.
  • Details regarding the introduction of bees from other sources including the supplier or source.
  • Employee training information.
  • Whatever records required for honey sales in your jurisdiction regarding chemical treatment.
  • Records have to be kept for at least 3 years.

As you can see, mandatory record keeping can be quite extensive. Learn what’s required in your area to stay in compliance.

Track finances

Your hobby may turn into a business. You might sell honey or beeswax products. Maybe you’ll start rearing and selling queens. Whatever business you may venture into will require financial recording keeping.

Financial records are needed to monitor your profitability (or lack of it) and to report for sales and income tax purposes as required.

Even as a backyard beekeeper, it’s worth tracking your costs to manage your budget.

Participate in surveys

Various government agencies and not-for-profit groups conduct surveys. If you are required to (or simply want to) participate in these surveys, good records will help you report accurate information.

What Beehive Records To Keep

There is a vast amount of information you could record about your apiary. Out of this universe of possibilities, choose what works best for your goals and needs.

The starting point is those records you must keep by law or regulation. As mentioned earlier, knowing requirements in your area can save you from incurring unnecessary fines. Financial records are necessary if you’re going to be operating as a business.

Beyond the legally mandated requirements, you’ll need to figure out what information is essential to you.

Do you want to record weather information when you inspect hives? Great. Does it matter if it’s 92° or 95°? Probably not. Maybe “hot” is adequate for your purposes.

Do you care if there’s brood on frame 3 and honey on frame 4? A count of the number of brood frames and honey frames is probably sufficient information for most of us.

Some information in records is more permanent than others in the sense that it doesn’t change often. In the same way that your bank account number remains static, your hive identities and location remain relatively constant. However, your bank balances fluctuate and what’s going on inside your hives changes all the time.

With that in mind, below is a wide range of information you CAN record. Although there are quite a few items listed, I am sure you can add other things (or levels of detail). Decide what’s important to you. The purpose of any information gathered is to help you manage the colonies more effectively.

Apiary records

This information is important if you are required to register in your locality. Even if registration is not required, you may want to register voluntarily. In New Jersey, you can register your apiaries to be notified of some pesticide applications planned within 3 miles. Participating in this program might give you time to close your hives for a day or so, keeping your bees somewhat protected. There may similar programs where you live.

Location information helps others locate any outyards you have. Information can include:

  • Number of apiaries
  • Each location
  • Number of hives in each one

Equipment records

Keeping tabs on what you have helps you figure out if you need to order anything to complete your upcoming tasks. Data can include:

  • Cost (especially important if this is a business operation)
  • Supplier
  • Inventory

Hive records

Hives need to be tracked individually. Starting with some way to distinguish one from another, here are some data points to consider:

  • Some form of identifier, such as
    • Name
    • Number (you can even apply barcodes with some QR readers)
    • Color (we do this in our bee yard)
    • Queen (because you may move a queen from one hive to another doing splits or artificial swarms)
  • Bees
    • What kind of bees? (to learn about how they behave, produce, handle mites, etc. compared to others)
      • VHS?
    • Colony source
      • Supplier
        • Package?
        • Nuc?
      • Swarm
      • Split
      • Combined
    • Queen
      • Source (supplier, home grown, swarm?)
      • Year
      • Marked? Color?
    • Costs
  • Movements
    • Relocations for foraging or crop pollination

Inspection records

Inspection records let you follow trends in the colonies, determine future tasks and set reminders. Paying attention to the different circumstances of each inspection can help identify issues you need to address.

  • Date
  • Weather
    • You may want to keep track of general weather conditions over time. If it’s been very dry, providing a water source could be crucial. Temperatures dropping might say it’s time to begin winterizing.
    • Related to the weather is what’s in bloom which in turn helps you know if the bees have plenty of natural resources available.
  • Temperament and behavior (the bees, not yours…or maybe both? Unusually defensive behavior could be signs of disease or dearth.)
    • Stings?
    • Robbing activity
  • Queen status
    • Did you see the queen?
    • Eggs?
    • Larva?
    • Brood pattern
      • How many frames of brood?
      • How much drone brood? (may be helpful for mite control)
  • Population
    • Growing or shrinking? (No need to count the bees, just how many full frames of bees.)
  • Weight
    • Weight variations can tell you if the population is growing or if they are adding or consuming stores
  • Presence and number of swarm cells or supersedure cells (an indication of the intention to swarm or queen decline).
    • How many?
    • Removed?
  • Stores
    • How many frames of capped honey?
    • Presence of nectar and bee bread?
  • Adjustments to the hive
    • Added/removed honey supers
    • Added/removed queen excluder
    • Culled drone brood for mite management?
    • Added/removed robbing screen
    • Added/removed winterizing equipment (wraps or mouse guards)
  • Feeding
    • How much added initially and how much was consumed
  • Infestations – type and any action taken
    • Varroa mites
    • Small hive beetled
    • Wax moths
    • American Foul Brood (AFB is a serious bacterial disease that you may be required to report)
  • Chemical treatments (this may be required especially if you sell bee products
    • Brand/Type
    • Manufacturer
    • Expiration date
    • Batch number
    • Results
  • Actions for next inspection
    • Calendar reminders
    • Note equipment needs

Harvests

Why do you keep bees? There may be a lot of reasons but I bet it mostly for the honey. So keep track of how much you gather for your efforts. Keep records for:

  • Honey
  • Beeswax
  • Pollen
  • Propolis
  • Queens reared
Honey and honeycomb
Honey and honeycomb harvest

Financial Records

As a hobbyist, you may want to track your expenditures for your own information. However, if you decide to turn your hobby into a business, tracking income and expenses is necessary. Good financial records help you understand and manage your business. Tax filings and other reporting requirements need documentation for support.

We are not lawyers or accountants. The information here is only a general guideline of things to consider. Seek professional guidance in this area.

Information you may need to track, among other things, are:

  • Form and structure of ownership (e.g. sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company or corporation) and related organizational documents and filings;
  • Detailed income and expense data with supporting documentation such as invoices and receipts;
  • Tax payments and filings;
  • Customer lists and orders;
  • Accounts receivable and payable;
  • Insurance policies; and,
  • Banking records.

You can keep a lot of this information with a checkbook and spreadsheets. If your business is growing rapidly or becomes more complicated, check into accounting programs designed for small business. HubSpot has an excellent roundup and review of 15 options to consider.

We use Intuit’s QuickBooks. I am not saying it’s the best, but we’ve been using it for about 25 years (there weren’t as many options back then). It’s familiar and comfortable. You may like one of the others better.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to keep your non-financial information.

How To Keep Beehive Records

There may be as many ways to keep records as there are beekeepers. Well, maybe not THAT many, but there are quite a few.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping accurate records of hive inspections. Trying to note the number of frames of honey while bees are banging on your veil and you’re fumbling around with gloves can be difficult. Propolis, syrup, and honey in the mix don’t make things any easier.

Pick a method that works for you.

Mental Notes And Simple Reminders

This method can work if you only have a few hives, you aren’t keeping a lot of details and you’re not sharing responsibilities with others.

Like many beekeepers, we use bricks to weigh down the outer covers. Some people use bricks as task reminders. For example, brick at the front? Need to add a super. Two bricks? Feed the bees. (Tip: NEVER move another beekeeper’s bricks without permission).

If you’re making mental notes while at work, it pays to write things down as soon as you can. Stick a note in your toolbox, on the fridge or put it in your smartphone. The simple act of writing it down can make it easier to remember.

Pen And Paper

You can keep notes in a composition book, a journal, a loose-leaf binder or a card system. They can be kept in a plastic bag by the hive.

Write notes out in detail or use a preprinted checklist as a shortcut. We’ve listed some free templates below. There are plenty of others around. Differences among the templates are more about style and format than anything else.

Free Beekeeping Record Templates

  • Canadian Honey Council has a variety of templates available in PDF, Excel and Word formats. These templates cover just about every imaginable information you might want to track, including business activities.
  • Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research provides a comprehensive checklist.
  • The Beekeeper’s Corner provides a 2-page hive inspection sheet that works mostly with simple checkmarks and coded responses as shortcuts. Once familiar with the codes, you might find this one easy to handle even with gloves on.
  • The British Beekeepers Association offers a downloadable Hive Recording System. It’s a simple one-page place to record basic information about each hive visit.
  • York County Beekeepers’ Association also has a one-page checklist to track hive conditions, actions taken, and other data.
  • Beekeeping For Dummies provides a checklist you can use as a guide to your inspections and a place to record what you see and do.
  • BeeMentor.com has a single page to record information about multiple hives on an inspection day.
  • NY Bee Wellness downloadable hive inspection sheet designed for easy data tracking with Yes/No for many inspection questions.

As you gain more experience, you may want to create your own format.

You can purchase inspection notepads.

Mann Lake sells a Field Evaluation Journal designed for outdoor use that you may want to consider. Also,

You can keep paper records with each hive for convenience. Just make sure it’s protected from the elements.

Audio, Photo and Records

An apiary in the heat of summer is not the most user-friendly environment for handling your tech devices. However, setting up to record audio or video during your inspections is a good way to keep your hands free and gather detailed information.

Note-taking apps like Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, and Google Keep have audio recording options.

A picture is worth a thousand words.” Supplement your notes with photos for future reference.

Photos are particularly helpful when you’re seeking advice. It’s easier for other beekeepers to answer a question if they can see what you’re talking about.

Our first couple of years beekeeping, we set up a tripod and recorded virtually every hive inspection mainly to share the experience with friends and family. Editing and reviewing the footage helped remind us what we did and what was going on in the hives. To be truly useful, though, it makes sense to document the information in a more readily accessible format.

Computerize Your Notes

Taking a step beyond pen and paper, you can record organize your notes using the software of your choice. Some of the templates listed above utilize specific software formats; you can convert them to any program you choose.

We are Microsoft-centric, so Word and Excel work for us. Google Sheets and Docs may be for you.

Note-taking apps like Evernote, Microsoft’s OneNote, Google Keep, and Apple Notes are possibilities.

I doubt many beekeepers are making copies of handwritten notebooks or inspection sheets. Then again, records like this usually don’t just vanish. If you keep digital records, it makes sense to back them up as you would any digital files.

Beekeeping Records Apps

When it comes to beekeeping, like everything else in life these days, there’s an app for that. These apps are designed to address the specific needs of beekeeping.

Sophisticated technology solutions exist for large beekeeping businesses. We’ll focus here on apps more appropriate for the hobbyist. (NOTE: We are in the process of working with some of these apps and will post our reviews when we’re done. If you want to be notified when it’s available, let us know.)

App NamePlatformPricingAbility to work offline?Shareable data?Export data?Unique FeaturesAndroid Installs/Rating
HiveTracksAndroid, iOS$5/mo for 1 - 5 hives
$10/mo for 6 - 20 hives
$20/mo for over 20 hive
YesYesYes5,000+
2.6 stars
OSBeehives AppAndroid, iOSFreeYesYesYesHive Recording feature allows you to record & analyse honeybee audio with your smartphone's microphone, then indicate a "state" for your colony.
Links to the company's BuzzBox, a separate in-hive device to monitor your colonies.
BeeRMOnline PortalFree up to 10 hives with limitations on data and users
$15/mo for 11 - 100 hives for up to 5 users
Premium pricing for over 100 hives and unlimited users
NoYesYesCost tracking
BeetightAndroid, iOSFree for up to 6 hives
$15/year Pro version for up to 1,000 hives and use of mobile app.
YesNoNoCan scan barcode to identify hive
BeePlus Beekeeping ManageriOSFree - unlimited hivesYesYesQR scanner for hive identification
Tracks finances
Equipment inventory and hive component records
HiveSmartHQAndroid, iOSFree up to 100 "services" (i.e. inspections) $0.07/service after 100 (about $1.50/year for 20 inspections)YesNoNoSales data
HiveKeepersAndroid, iOS, Online PortalFree 30 day trial $60/year after trial unlimited apiaries and hivesYesNoNo
Hive Tool MobileAndroid, Windows 10FreeYesNoYesQueen rearing app available
Apiary BookAndroidFreeYesNoYesiOS version pending
Bee AppyOnline PortalFree for up to 2 hives
£5/mo up to 10 hives
£10/mo up to 20 hives; special pricing above 20 hives
NoNoYesiOS and Android apps coming

As I mentioned, using your smartphone or tablet in the bee yard isn’t the easiest thing to do sometimes. You may still need some paper records that you transfer later, especially with a program that doesn’t have a true mobile version.

I suggest using an app that lets you export data so you don’t lose all your information if the programmer stops supporting the product.

Conclusion

Record keeping can really help you learn about your bees and manage your colonies more efficiently, Track anything that’s required by regulation. Beyond that, determine what information is important to you and what format works best.

About Us

Melanie and Jim

I’m Melanie Howard. My husband, Jim, and I want to share with you everything we’ve learned about beekeeping since we were newbies 6 years ago. Maybe the the ups and downs we’ve experienced can help you along the way.

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