honey bee management rants

Tracking Hive Tracks

Most of my Hive Tracks-related mail comes from Hive Tracks, but this comment from Kiwiland stirred up my old impatience with digital bee-ware.

Hivetracks is a simple and brilliant piece of software. I am from New Zealand and we have just starting to use it as my Son is a beekeeper. I will be putting many Kiwi Beekeepers on to this extremely innovative beekeeping software. As an accountant I know how important the management function of a business is, especially the ability to manage risk. If you loose you little notebook you would be hugely disadvantaged and you cannot back up a notebook. Also Beekeepers notes can be hard to read and for others to follow. The other huge risk if a beekeeper was incapacitated or seriously injured and its the families sole income… well need I say more. With Hivetracks its all there and because it is so easily to follow for . The family or another beekeeper will have constant access to all the important information so the business can go on. I highly highly recommend Hivetrack as an important part of any beekeepers risk management system. Awesome product Hivetracks! Keep up the good work. —Gavin

It seems that Hive Tracks has been significantly improved since I first wrote about it three years ago in February 2011. I looked at it again about two years ago, but I admit that was the last time. The folks at Hive Tracks don’t like what I wrote, but it was an honest opinion at the time, and honest opinions are what I do here.

If someone is interested in hive management software, then by all means he or she should try it. The basic program is still free, and I know that many of the recommendations that beekeepers offered early on have been incorporated. I have nothing against the people or the program—the software is actually kind of cool—but it’s not for me.

The thing to remember is that many beekeepers—myself included—keep bees as a way to connect with nature. Bees offer a distraction from the modern digital world and they help to ground us in reality. Personally, I spend most hours of most days working with bits and bytes, so my apiary is a welcome respite from data strings.

You say Hive Tracks is a “simple and brilliant piece of software.” I have no doubt. If you or your son want to keep bees at a keyboard, then by all means go for it. I adore a great piece of software, and I cannot fault people who enjoy and benefit from innovative programming. I’m just saying that people keep bees for a variety of reasons, they have different goals, and they approach management in creative ways. A beekeeper who does not use software in the apiary is not negligent, and he shouldn’t be made to feel that way.

You say you understand “how important the management function of a business is.” I daresay that most beekeepers are not running a business but keep bees for the pure wonder of it. If I were trying to make money off my bees, I might act differently, but I’m not now—nor will I ever—try to keep bees for profit. That is a completely different type of insanity.

Your other arguments are spurious:

  • You say, “If you lose your little notebook you would be hugely disadvantaged and you cannot back up a notebook.” And if your computer or phone is lost or stolen you can be hugely disadvantaged as well, even with your info saved online. I’m feeling hugely disadvantaged right now because my password won’t let me in. Maybe they’ve had enough of me? In any case, having been a writer for most of my life, I can tell you I have backed up many notebooks on a photocopier.
  • You state that “beekeepers’ notes can be hard to read and for others to follow.” Notes written by physicians are illegible too, but a good many of them still write prescriptions by hand. Somehow we all muddle through.
  • “The other huge risk is if a beekeeper was incapacitated or seriously injured and it’s the family’s sole income.” That is an irrelevant reach. If a family’s sole breadwinner is a carpenter, or an electrician, or a lawyer, or a tailor, or a nurse, how often can another family member just read his or her notes and take over? Get real.
  • “The family or another beekeeper will have constant access to all the important information so the business can go on.” And a paper copy could do the same. But remember, beekeepers are part scientist, part artisan, part whisperer. The successful ones keep bees by feel, not by reading recipes. So if another beekeeper took over the family business, he would start by opening the hives and having a look, regardless of the notes.

I am very happy you enjoy Hive Tracks and I hope others will read your recommendation and try it. In fact, I wish all beekeepers would try it, just so we could move on.


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  • Rusty, I began tracking my beekeeping digitally but find I think better with a pencil in my hand and my bee binder open in front of me. Often the outcome of transcribing my hive notes is a session of strategizing over what to do with what I just saw in the hives. I like flipping pages and making notes. Surprised me as I am a computer enthusiast.

  • I only have two hives and tracking would deter the joy of tinkering.

    If I were more commercialized, tracking would be a necessity.

    I will sit in the Gazebo and watch the bees go in and out while I enjoy lunch or relaxing next to them.
    I don’t want more complications.

  • A good majority of us use different sized rocks stacked on the lids, colored thumb tacks, and crayons as the only notes…it’s whatever works for the individual. What happens when there is no power or the computer battery fails?

    • I like the thumb tack model. Gives immediate feedback of build-up rate etc.

      I also think it is down to the individual; I haven’t found a model I am happy with yet.

      But I am sorry I don’t have good records to look back on.

  • I’ve forgotten my password for “Hive Tracks” and for some reason they won’t help. I guess I will have to use pencil and paper and not worry about another password. Thanks Rusty

  • When I completed my fall tasks with the bees and entered my first winter, each hive had at least one medium super of honey from the fall nectar flow and a stringent regimen of feeding sugar water. Today as I did my first ever winter inspections I was awed at the amount of fresh capped honey, brood, larvae and eggs that I found in each of my four hives. Having a strong background in Six Sigma statistical analysis and multiple accounting systems and thirty years of business management, I have found that the only way you can ever stop being the fireman and always putting out emergency fires is to start managing upfront details based on historical data.

    However, I can honestly say that I have never found a software documenting system that can accurately record the euphoria that I feel this evening. However if we could digitalize “Rusty” and her ability to paint the picture with words, filling the story with factual, thought provoking concepts then we would be onto something very special.

    Signed “West Georgia Newbee.” All smiles . . .

  • Tried Hive Tracks a few years ago… It’s fine, just not for me.

    Tried a notebook… also fine, just not for me.

    I find my phone camera takes an Ok picture and the picture is the mind jog for the next visit, that and having a sense of what should be happening at the given season with the current weather works for me.

    • Shaun,

      That’s a really good point and one that several other people have mentioned as well—photographs. I can go along with digital photos from the apiary because they are really helpful.

      It’s funny, though, I always take photos of wild bees because an expanded photo helps me with identification. I can see wing veins, antennae segments, facial fovea, and other parts I can’t see in the field. But I seldom take my camera into the apiary. Too much propolis maybe? Too many clothes? Or I’m thinking about other things?

      Don’t know, but I should try it again.

  • They recently rebuilt the whole service. It’s better than it was. Will I use it… Maybe… Doesn’t do some things its competition, Beetight, does well, ie different types of hive.

    Rusty, your honesty is always appreciated.

  • Lovely to read these thoughts set down by other appreciative readers Rusty. Yesterday I was euphoric too because two of my bees came out of their hive when I was there with my phone cam at the ready. 1st bee thought Ugh! Much too windy, I’m going back inside, other bee was braver but she blew away…. She landed in the grass and tried to climb up a grass stalk but fell down again and it was wet ground there as well so I thought I had better lend her my hand…..

    Now in my house we have in one room (the bathroom) floor heating, which is delightful, I would like it everywhere but I live here with a tough person who poo poohs that idea as sissy! Anyhow my little black bee did not want to go back into the hive she walked all over my hand enjoying the floor central heating. I cupped her slightly and blew warm breath over her and I’m sure she said in Bee, Ooh luverly, please do that again…. So I did and then she did go inside. I think I worked on my own PR yesterday. At least it’s nice to think I did.

    Oh yes, there was another reason for writing this note. You wrote about the wing determination. My mentor places wings of dead bees on slides for an old-fashioned slide projector. These he then projects onto a white wall where he can do morphological measurements. I think its very clever and certainly very handy.

    • Lindy,

      Wing veination in bees is fascinating. I think I will do a post this summer on the patterns and how they are used to identify bees. With just a few cells, you can identify many bees. Honey bees have a distinctive marginal cell that looks like a sausage—they are easy to see once you know where to look.

  • I would love some kind of SIMPLE hive track software, but what I really want is a built-in GPS so I can hand the hive tracker to a new beekeeper assistant and send him out to check half the hives when we are not able to get to all of them in one day. Some of the roads onto pastures are not readily visible when the grass is high!

    • Cor I wish I had people who I could send to inspect my beehives for me.

      On the apiary details on those tools mentioned you CAN detail their GPS location and then link though coordinates to Google maps, so if you are on a phone that has GPS you can locate them (in theory).

  • I agree with you, Rusty. People who don’t want to use computers for their beehives shouldn’t be made to feel guilty of negligence. Beekeeping software is merely a tool. Beekeeping has been done successfully for thousands of years without this recently developed tool. I believe it can be an immensely useful tool but I am a little biased – I make beekeeping software.

    • Jeanette,

      You said it better than I did. It is an excellent tool for those who want it, but not necessary for those who don’t.

  • I have been using digital software to store notes for years. From programming android applications and ArcGIS scripts down to formula for tissue culture media and hormones for certain plant species. One thing I can say for sure is that after the dazzle of a well programmed application wares off it always left me wanting to flip pages. It seems that just going back to notes from a few months ago could be a pain and browsing them even worse.

    So I came across a nifty product that I now use everyday. Part notebook part digital application that can store my notes. It’s called the Everlast Notebook by rocket book. It’s a well made and very tough reusable notebook where you can wipe away your writing with a damp paper towel. This bridges the gap for me. I’m still able to flip pages of recent notes and then back them up to a digital copy when I run out of room. I love it!