First Bees

Growing up in the small town of Eden in the Piedmont area of North Carolina in the 60’s and 70’s, I never thought having bees in the backyard was all that special. I did, however, like inviting my schoolmates to the house where my dad would hold class in the backyard, teaching us about the fascinating ways of honey bees.

Of course, I didn’t know any better because I always had bees in my backyard since my dad started keeping bees in 1964, the year before I was born and the year he and his good friend decided to try beekeeping by mail ordering package bees from Sears and Roebuck.

You might call them the original urban beekeepers, but back then many people, especially country folks, had a few hives in the yard. Those were simpler times in beekeeping when you put a few extra supers on the hive in the spring, pulled them off in late summer, and cut the slabs of honey into a dishpan where everyone in the family hovered around and dipped in for a sweet bite.

To my young mind back then, the biggest challenge with honey bees was avoiding stepping on them in the clover in the yard!

Keeping My Own

Fast forward to the year 2000. My dad was still beekeeping in his backyard, and he and my mom were moving away from my birthplace in order to be closer to my young family and their grandkids. As part of the move, I relocated two of dad’s hives to my backyard to begin my real beekeeping experience.

I was pretty nervous about keeping my own bees even though I had been around them all my life. By 2005 when my wife and I moved our family to a farm, I had a few seasons of bee experience including one really tremendous black locust honey flow that I have yet to see again!

Once on the farm, the beekeeping escalated quickly to 20 then 40 and then about 100 colonies in 2010. This was getting out of hand! How do I keep up with what is happening with my hives?

Birth of Ideas

It was during this growth phase, in 2008, that I was standing at a hive in my bee yard ready to perform an inspection. I scratched my heading trying to remember what I observed the last time I was inspecting this hive.

Ever done that? In a moment of clarity, I caught a glimpse of what it could be like: walking up to a hive, a handheld mobile device (smart phones were not so smart back then) recognizes the hive being inspected and shares information with the beekeeper that will help with this inspection, like…

  • the health or strength of the hive
  • the queen status including her age
  • any unusual observations at the last inspection
  • medications or feed that should be checked
  • honey flows in the region
  • tips on what to look for at this time of year
  • and more…

I saw the future, but did not have the resources at the time to make it a reality.

In parallel with my beekeeping journey and epiphany was the development of my founding partner Mark Henson’s experience. Mark’s innovation came to life in a conversation with his wife on a long car trip home during Thanksgiving of 2008.

With a few years of hobby beekeeping under his belt, Mark’s interest in improving his own beekeeping combined with his software expertise resulted in a drive to create a prototype hive information system by Christmas of 2008, a month after his initial brainstorm.

It was this prototype that he showed to me at our first meeting a couple of months later, bringing life to ideas that previously lived only in my head.

Convergence

You can see that the story of Hive Tracks birth was full of coincidence or divine providence or whatever you want to identify as the cause of events that come together in just the right way. With both of us coming up with our ideas separately at about the same time, how did we find each other?

When we met, Mark Henson was a professional software engineer with 30 years experience in software development and a masters degree in computer science. He lived in Boone, NC, with his wife and daughter and telecommuted to work very early in the morning with a software team in Great Britain. He had been a backyard beekeeper for several years with a hive count varying from a few to more than 10.

I was (and still am) a Professor and Chair of Computer Science at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, where I had been teaching for 23 years with a PhD in computer science. My wife and I and eight children lived in Creston, NC, which is very close to Boone, on our farm, Faith Mountain Farm.

We are sideliner beekeepers as part of our farm business with about a 100 hives, although we had about 40 hives when Hive Tracks was born.

Mark and I moved in the same beekeeping circles, namely the Watauga County Beekeepers Club and as honey sellers at the local farmers market, so it was no surprise when Mark and I were considering our nascent ideas for Hive Tracks that mutual acquaintances suggested we get together.

So, on a snowy afternoon in late February 2009, Hive Tracks was born over a lunch meeting at a local restaurant.

Our Vision

The vision for Hive Tracks was born in the minds of two beekeepers who live and keep their bees in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, an area rich in beekeeping tradition and well known for tasty honey varietals, including world famous sourwood honey.

Hive Tracks is beekeeping software created by beekeepers for beekeepers. Our goal is to improve the quality of beekeeping for everyone. We are using cutting edge technology to build easy-to-use tools and services to help beekeepers, ourselves included, maintain healthy and productive honey bee colonies.

Our hope is that by maintaining information like records of inspections and events in hives and bee yards, every beekeeper will be equipped with the information needed to make wise management decisions for their bees.

Whether you have a couple of hives in your backyard or a couple of hundred in varietal honey production or several thousand colonies for pollination, knowing the current state your bees is essential to being a successful beekeeper.

More on this in the next blog post!

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