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Simple - it is a great unobtrusive way to monitor how your bees are doing.
It’s important to keep tabs on your bees, but sometimes it’s also important to give them their space. Bees don’t always take kindly to having their hives opened up, especially if you’re doing it every day. Often you’ll want to have an idea of how your colony’s honey production is coming along, but taking out and examining every frame can be stressful for everyone involved, bees and keeper alike.
Weighing your hive should give you a very good idea of how many pounds of honey (or even how many bees) are inside. With each worker contributing a maximum of 1/12 tablespoon of honey in her life, it will also give you a tremendous sense of gratification for the amazing work of the colony.
Why should you care how much honey the bees have? One very important reason is overwintering. Bees can’t go outside in the cold, and they depend upon their honey to stay fed and warm. Depending upon where you live and how hard your winters are, your bees need a certain amount of honey stores to survive the winter. Weighing the hive in the fall will tell you how your bees’ honey supplies are, and whether you need to start feeding them syrup to get them through to the spring. At the end of the article we’ll cover how much a beehive should weigh in autumn.
Weighing is useful during other times of the year, too. During a honey flow, you can check every day or two to keep track of how much honey your bees are producing. You may be surprised at their speed!
If you weigh regularly and experience a swarm, you can weigh again to get a sense of how many bees you’ve lost. There are roughly 3,000 bees to a pound. For example, the typical 3lb package of bees has around 10,000 bees.
So how do you weigh a beehive? Surprisingly, there are fewer commercial options than you’d think. There is one very easy and inexpensive way that most beekeepers use: tilting.
Why tilting? The simple answer is, beehives are heavy! It’s possible for a big, full hive to get up to 300 pounds! If you tilt your hive and measure it only one side at a time, you’ll save yourself a lot of anguish.
Buy a sturdy spring-type bathroom scale (not digital) that can handle a lot of weight. Carefully tilt your hive to one side and slide the scale underneath it. Write down the weight. Now repeat this for the opposite side of the hive, and add the two weights together. This should be more or less the weight of your hive.
Why not just measure one side and multiply by two? Because bees don’t always build symmetrically. If you happen to weigh the side that’s heavy or light, you won’t get a true reading.
Will the weight be exact? Not exactly. The scale isn’t truly supporting half of the hive’s weight each time, but it’s close enough for most beekeepers.
You can achieve the same effect by lifting from above with a strong luggage scale (the kind you hang a suitcase from). If you attach a screw to opposite sides of the top of your hive, you can tilt each side up by the luggage scale and add the two weights together. Just make sure to strap all the boxes together first, or you may wind up weighing just the top one!
If you want better accuracy than the tilting method can provide, it may be possible to lift the entire hive up onto a scale. If you’re feeling strong - and this depends the number boxes, the number of bees and the volume of brood, honey, comb and propolis - you can attach a very durable strap to the hive and lift the entire thing onto a bathroom scale.
If you’re not feeling strong, it’s also possible to open up the hive and lift each individual box onto the scale. It’s accurate and definitely more manageable than lifting the entire thing, but it involves opening the hive and disturbing the bees.
If you think these methods sound a little heavy, you’re not alone! A lot of beekeepers are trying to come up with easier, less back breaking ways to weigh their hives.
The Pry Scale is a clever tool on beehacker.com. It uses the basic concept of the tilting method, prying the hive from the bottom board and tilting it slightly, using a luggage scale attached to pulleys and wire to measure the weight.
The maker encourages other beekeepers to follow the design and share their findings.
The Bee Weigh is another tool developed by real beekeepers that builds off of the tilting method. It inserts a wooden dowel under the hive and slightly tilts the hive using a lever - an attached luggage scale measures the weight. The Bee Weigh site also contains building plans and encourages readers to make their own.
There are also, of course, some high tech solutions to the weighing problem. As we learned in “Beekeeping and Technology” the 21st century is taking the beekeeping world by storm. At PerfectBee we recommend a natural approach to beekeeping, wherever possible. But this not contrary to the use of technology.
While some technologies may have a direct and significant impact on lives and behaviors of your bees, others just sit in the background offering major benefits to you while leaving the bees totally undisturbed.
One such example is the product and related services offered by SolutionBee. Their hive monitor offers constant monitoring and updates on your hive’s temperature, weight, motion alerts and other parameters. This data is gathered by your mobile device (such as a smartphone) or remote collection unit and is viewable on the web or your mobile device, making this vital information very easy to access and understand. Want to know how much your hive weighs today? Just check your phone.
SolutionBee tells the story of a beekeeper who received an alert on his phone indicating that the weight of his hive had suddenly fallen. He rushed home to discover his colony had swarmed. He was able to locate the swarm and capture it, all thanks to that initial alert.
That's a cool story and just one example of where technology can play a huge role in helping not just the commercial beekeeper but also the hobbyist. Of course, this example is a more reactive one but the availability of data such as this can help the beekeeper understand his or her hive on an ongoing, proactive basis. A classic example is being aware of the honey store as the colony heads into the winter month.
Such benefits are extremely useful to the beekeeper. Though such leading-edge technology does of course come with a corresponding price tag, the potential for exciting new scenarios is considerable. PerfectBee expects rapid advances in this area and possibly the price of entry falling as demand increases.
Another example is BroodMinder, which is an IndieGogo-funded project. The BroodMinder folks offer separate monitors for temperature and weight and, although not as sophisticated as the SolutionBee offering, it will be interesting to see what downward pressure on price is seen over time from products such as this.
So once you’ve collected your data, what do you do with it? If you’re measuring during a honey flow, you can mainly sit back in amazement and dream about all the honey you’re going to collect. To keep an eye on how things are progressing, you should take a reading every day or two.
If you’re measuring in the fall to see how ready your colony is for winter, things get a little more complicated. For one thing, it really depends upon where you live. Basically, the colder and longer your winters, the more supplies your colony needs. Bees in very warm climates should be able to get by on as little as 40 lbs of honey. If you live somewhere that gets real winter, however, it’s a good idea to leave 80 or 90 pounds of honey in the fall.
But when you weigh a hive, you’re not just measuring honey. You also have to take into account the weight of the bees, the comb, and the hive itself.
As a rough guideline:
So how much should your hive weigh altogether? It all depends upon the boxes you have. If you have two deep hive bodies, that’s 160 lbs already. Subtract the weight of your hive bodies from the total weight to get a sense of what’s in your honey supers.