Bees and Technology?
Having good information is vital for making good decisions and today monitoring technology significantly improves many industries that touch our lives in big ways. Many industries have been created or totally changed by the creative use of technology – consider transportation, energy and healthcare for example. It is becoming ever more affordable and practical to use technology to identify and solve challenges, in nearly any industry.
The marriage of beekeeping and technology is a great example.
The use of technology in beekeeping has been fairly limited, particularly at the hobbyist level. Yet hobbyists, sideliners, and commercial beekeepers all face similar challenges. Using technology to provide frequent and meaningful information about their bees and what and how they’re doing can be hugely beneficial. This helps create a far better understanding, faster action in the case of events… and greater overall success in beekeeping.
Understanding the Hive
One of the first places to start gathering information is where the bees live – the hives. The more we understand the environment in which our bees live and how they operate, the more we can positively impact the situation, when necessary.
Having frequent, easy-to-understand and meaningful information about our bees and their hives leads to new insight.
For example, by monitoring the weight and other characteristics of the hive we can infer critical information such as foraging behavior, honey production, weather-related behavioral patterns, optimal feeding times, bee health and much more.
By triggering alerts when rapid weight changes occur or when the hive experiences tilts, we can minimize or avoid losses from swarming or wildlife activity.
This, plus other data such as internal temperature and humidity, give you insights which help you:
- Avoid losing bees
- Better understand the behavior of your bees
- Better manage your bee health
- Optimize hive honey output
- Compare and contrast with other beekeepers, whether at a local or national level
Monitoring Technology and Natural Beekeeping
Many beekeepers today support “natural beekeeping”. This is a philosophy that focuses, wherever possible, on letting nature take its course and allowing bees to behave and react in ways that have enabled them to survive for millions of years.
There is a tendency to automatically consider technology and natural beekeeping as contrary. While there are certainly some technologies that deviate from the philosophy of natural beekeeping, the use of monitoring technology is not one of those. The use of a monitor, for example, is purely passive. It provides fascinating, valuable and meaningful data without any impact whatsoever on our bees.
Done right, monitors live quietly in the background, simply helping beekeepers understand what their bees are telling us.
The Right Time to Embrace Technology?
When first introduced any technology has a greater initial cost, but that cost will decrease as its usage grows. This is due to factors such as the cost of designing and building the product and the higher cost of components until economies of scale kick in.
Does this mean you should wait to adopt new technology? Not necessarily, but it does mean that you should carefully consider:
- The reason you are acquiring the technology
- How it is going to help you (i.e. what value will it offer you)?
- Is the product well designed?
- Is it from a company that will stand the test of time?
Truth be told, for some of us there’s also the “fun factor”. Sometimes early adopters have all the fun (and get to provide feedback that influences how the technology develops).
Let’s consider a few critical factors you should take into account.
Why am I buying this?
Answers might include:
- Understanding the behavior of my bees
- Optimizing my honey production
- Knowing when something happens at my hive when I’m not around.
Take a long term view. Think of the value you’ll receive over time.
Having an understanding of the weight, temperature, motion, humidity and other parameters, shines a light on what is happening with your hives. That light is beautifully additive to the experience you will build over time as a beekeeper.
How Long Will I Benefit From This?
If the product is designed right, is solid and suitable for the rough environment in which bees live, you should receive years of reliable service. Think of it as an investment, and like any investment, consider up front how to get maximum value from it.
Do I Trust the Company to Stick Around?
Carefully choose your providers of any technology. Consider:
- How solid is the company and its team?
- How did they design their solution?
- Was it well thought out based on industry experience, or was it developed on the fly with no previous technology background?
- Do they understand how to build equipment designed to stand up to the environmental challenges?
Growing with You
Pick a solution that will grow with you over time. For example, monitoring technology typically includes several sensors, such as sensors for measuring weight and temperature, and a way to collect data both locally and remotely, as well as various options for analyzing the data gathered.
How to Monitor
To begin with, you may wish to purchase only a single monitor, collecting data locally, and then later to add more over time as your budget allows. Or you may wish to get a couple of monitors, read them locally, and then later put in local communications to automatically transmit data on an ongoing basis.
As with anything technical, options abound!
What to Monitor
You may initially only need weight and outside temperature, then later you may want to install other sensors such as humidity or internal temperature sensors. This is just the start and, over time, your needs and objectives will change.
Adding New Features
Maybe down the road you’ll want to piggyback on the communications technology you use to transmit video from your beehives to your phone or computer.
Ask yourself if the solution is modular so it can grow over time, taking advantage of all the investment you’ve already made.
Solutions, not Technology
What exactly is a “solution”? Quite simply, solutions provide real value to you and address specific problems or pain points! Technology is merely a means to an end.
Be mindful of the details, so you understand what the technology can – and can’t – provide.
Your hardware might include a scale, motion sensors, temperature sensors, memory for data storage, one or more communication radios – the list goes on. Be sure all of the hardware is reliable and withstands the “battering” it will get – from weather, your bees and you!
If the product uses smartphone apps, make sure your phone is supported. Also consider the software within the product itself. Is it both reliable and easy to use? Is it regularly updated? Does it have good reviews? Does it easily provide all the information you need?
We all hear about “the cloud” today. Geeky it might be – but it’s also incredibly powerful when done right. Does your solution allow you to upload data to the cloud and then kick off a browser to analyze trends?
Beyond Your Own Hives
For the hobbyist, the focus will always be on the hive, whether it is in the garden, the rooftop or wherever it might be.
But there’s a broader context that is exciting and could eventually play a massive role in arresting the worrying decline in bee populations worldwide.
By taking readings from a single device and sending “to the cloud”, new and exciting possibilities become available. For example, the Bee Informed Partnership allows beekeepers of all types to monitor and submit data about their hives.
The data points from a beekeeper’s monitoring technology can alert the individual beekeeper to essential information. Aggregate that data to thousands of beekeepers and whole new levels of insight are exposed, helping not just the beekeeping industry but also us as individual beekeepers.
So, What are My Options?
There’s no doubt that a new wave of important – and exciting technology – is upon us. And while not everyone will be ready for such developments, interest is growing exponentially.
Today there are a few established companies providing monitoring solutions, with years of field experience, and there are some that are just entering the market. There are products and solutions of various levels of complexity and modularity, and with various levels of field robustness. Lower cost products and solutions usually have less robustness, lower feature sets, and less adaptability. Higher costs solutions typically are designed with robustness, upgradeability, and with a modular architecture that allows growth over time. As mentioned earlier, consider your goals and needs carefully when selecting the technology.
Regardless, when you consider your needs, pay attention to the system design, especially if you don’t want to buy everything at once.
Technology certainly can’t solve all the challenges we face with beekeeping – but it can most certainly help!
If we carefully think about new technology as it becomes available, we can find creative ways to improve our beekeeping, in ways that we didn’t have available before.
Beehive monitoring is now a reality. With it you understand more about what’s happening with your bees and can obtain insights on how to improve your beekeeping.
PerfectBee recommends you research what is available and consider how it might help you.
PerfectBee gratefully acknowledges and appreciates contributions for the above article by Ron D. Pate of SolutionBee.