There are a number of reasons why it is useful to keep colony records, including the history of a colony, information to help you understand and manage it better, for assessing the characteristics to help you select colonies to rear queens from, or those to cull.
There are a number of ways of doing this and it is a matter of personal choice. I think colony records could be split into three areas that I will loosely term “Colony Records”, “Breeding Records” and “Treatment Records”. These can be separate or combined.
One of the main problems with keeping records is deciding where the record stays. Is it with the colony or the queen? The simple answer might be if the purpose is for “colony records”, they should stay with the colony, if it is “breeding records” then with the queen. That probably suits many beekeepers and is what I normally do, but what happens when you make a nucleus and the queen is in the part you move to another site? As with everything else in beekeeping – do what you think is best until you find a better way. I know some of the more serious queen breeders keep two sets of records, one for the colony and one for the queen. This should work well as different things are recorded and for different purposes.
In my opinion records should be kept by everyone, so you know at a glance what is happening in your colonies. When I started beekeeping I had an exercise book and wrote an essay on each colony at each inspection! This I soon realised was way OTT and I’m sure many beekeepers have the same experience. Record cards can be bought or downloaded, but in my opinion many record a lot of information that isn’t needed. I suggest you make a list of the things you really need and start with them, but bear in mind it will probably be easier to make additions than reductions. Computer generated forms are very easy to design and modify, although some beekeepers put the information on computer.
I only record what tells me the state of the colony. I have seen some record cards that are far too complicated for my needs and with various symbols that I would need an honours degree in hieroglyphics to understand. If others wish to take that path I’m happy for them to do so and I include some suggestions elsewhere.
I start by assuming everything in the colony is O.K., so I don’t have to record such things as how much food or brood there is. As an experienced beekeeper I know if there is a problem on the way and I deal with it at the time. My record sheets are a simple A4 sheet in landscape that is for the colony for the whole year. They are kept in a plastic document wallet in a clipboard under the hive roof. There are vertical columns with the following information:-
Is the queen laying? Y/N. I delete appropriately.
Is the queen clipped and marked? Y/N. If I don’t see her I leave it, so I know when I saw her last. If I clip and mark I can tell when I did it.
Are there any queen cells? Y/N.
The above tells me all I need to know and is done in seconds. If the queen isn’t laying when she should be, I need to find out why and deal with it if needed. If she isn’t clipped and marked when she was the last time I saw her, then something has happened. If there are queen cells, I need to deal with them and what is done is put in the “comments” column.
Calmness on the comb.
Both the above are assessments of characteristics and are used for selecting queens to breed from or to cull.
Comments. This is for anything else that is relevant. I don’t put the obvious, like “all O.K.”, “seen queen” or “brood in all stages” as that is dealt with elsewhere.
Let’s look at why we may need to keep records:-
So you know what to expect at the next inspection. Perhaps there were queen cells at the last inspection. You need to be aware of them and if your actions were effective.
When to make the next inspection. There is little point inspecting a colony in 7 days if you know 14 will do, or perhaps you need to cut out queen cells in 5 days time.
What equipment is likely to be needed. It is not a good idea to leave a colony to go back to the shed for a queen excluder you knew you needed at the last inspection. Even worse if you have to clean it!
Queen details. This need not be in any great detail and not a substitute for breeding records. It is handy to know if the queen was clipped and/or marked at the last inspection, or if a young queen is laying yet.
Colony characteristics. In my opinion this is an important part of colony management that gets forgotten by most beekeepers. If you are keen on improving your bees, you need to know a little of their characteristics.
In case of illness. We can all have the problem that will keep us away from our bees for a lengthy spell. If another beekeeper looks after your bees it would be very helpful for them to know what the situation is.
Cover up for a bad memory. We all have those don’t we?
These are likely to vary the most, depending on the extent of your breeding criteria. For the more advanced and serious breeder click the buttons on the top left.
Although I consider myself to be a reasonably serious bee breeder, I do my beekeeping in an area where the bees are heavily mongrelised, therefore I am wasting my time trying to select for too many criteria. I simply assess for temper, calmness on the comb, prolificness and colour. You can make huge improvements, simply by concentrating on these.
In the U.S. bees are classed as food producing animals in the same way as sheep and cattle are. It is a legal requirement that any treatment that modifies its health must be recorded. See Veterinary Medicines for more information.