Measuring bee colony growth using BuzzTech Heartbeat sensors

To be able to maximise the outputs of a bee colony or a business managing bees, the beekeepers, and managers need to understand the effect on the colony of the changing conditions in and around the hives.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Changes in climate, seasonal, weather, day night
  • Supplementary feed types, quantities, ratios, and timings
  • Varroa treatment type, potency, collateral damage
  • Hive configurations, insulation, positioning
  • Management techniques, breeding, pollination, cropping

Under existing commercial models, beekeepers make decisions based on prior experience and what they have been told about the way things affect their bees. Gut feel and best guesses are the default for many commercial beekeeping decisions.

BuzzTech changes this by giving beekeepers access to cost effective systems for measuring and comparing colony performance over time allowing them to make informed decisions based on their own tests with their own colonies.

Queen genetics, climate, plant life, and human activity all impact on bee colony strength throughout the season. Using an array of temperatures to monitor the size of the cluster, we can look beyond the variables and into the raw data to understand in near real time exactly how strong a colony is at any point of time. By recording the temperature profile inside the hive every hour, we can generate dashboards to easily compare key metrics between colonies, sites, or experiments over time.


An example of a simple experiment to test bee feeds

To understand the change in colony strength over time between those fed a standard diet of sugar and water and those fed the standard diet with additional supplemented nutrients.

The number of colonies used for the experiment will vary depending on the size of your operation and your budget, for the sake of this example, we will use a sample size of 8 colonies over 2 pallets in 1 apiary.

  • Position the 2 pallets of beehives so both get similar amounts of sunlight at similar times of day and label the hive lids with a unique number and whether it is a Trial or a Control hive, ideally there will be 4 of each.
  • Set up an apiary in the BuzzTech software with 8 hives having the same unique name as you have used on the lids.
  • Assign 8 sensors to the respective hives in the software as they are installed into the physical hive.
  • Each of the 4 colonies on the trial pallet should be as similar as possible to hives on the control pallet so that the comparison is accurate.
  • Run the sensors in the hives for a few days prior to the experiment starting to get a baseline for each colony
  • Decide on the dosages of feed and supplement that each Test group hive will be getting and when.

Running the trial:
Through you will be monitoring sensor data in near real time using the dashboard, it is important to make sure that accurate visual inspection records are kept throughout the trial period for additional validation. Frame level photograph logging can also add another layer of validation but is out of the scope of this example.

  • When the hives have been set up in the apiary with sensors and in the software then it is time to collect your first inspection. Go through each hive frame by frame and count explicitly how many frames have capped brood, capped honey, and pollen stores. You will also need to be looking for any diseases or other conditions that may affect the strength of the colony. Use the BuzzTech software to log each inspection to the corosponding hive and set the next inspection date.
  • When you have completed the visual inspection and fed the correct dosages and formula to each of the hives, use the BuzzTech software to enter the information into the system being sure to record the number of brood, honey, and pollen frames to the correctly labeled hive.
  • When feeding these hives, it is a good idea to measure out the exact quantities of sugar syrup and supplement for each of the hives ahead of time to reduce the chance of mixing up the feeding protocol of the experiment.
  • Each week the beekeeper feeds the designated amount of sugar and supplement and enters the information into the BuzzTech software.
  • Each month, the beekeeper will go through the hives counting frames, log an inspection into the system and check the sensor data to make sure it is still flowing and there are technical issues.

Comparing the results:
Sensor data is stored in the database as 5 individual values every hour for every colony.
The easiest way to view the data is through personalised dashboard web page showing a series of graphs comparing each of the hives to the rest of the group. The charts we use the most are:

*please note: These graphs display an 8 day period only and are not an accurate example of colony growth. It is provided to illustrate some of the metrics we use to measure colony strength rather than individual colony growth.


Max temp:
Each hive is displayed as a single line on a line graph showing the maximum value of the 5 readings taken simultaneously every hour for each. The max temp graph highlights colonies that can maintain a stable brood temperature, something only achievable by stronger colonies.

graph - max

Average temp:
This shows all of the same 8 hives and highlights how effectively each colony is able to stabilise the average temp inside the brood chamber.

graph - avg

Minimum temp:
We can from the combination of the max, min, and average charts that the pink and purple lines are stronger colonies but there is not enough brood or bees to stabilise the temperature in the outer frames.

graph - min

Visual inspections:
PDF inspection reports and graphed apiary performance are available through the BuzzTech software at all times. If it is appropriate, a full report can be provided by BuzzTech illustrating all sensor data and inspection data collected in a way that can be easily distributed to your team.


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