Infection, inspection and remote detection

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


Earlier this week, the presence of European Foul Brood in Bristol (35km away) was reported on the BBC's Farming Today. This came along with a request from the government for beekeepers to sign up to the National Bee Unit's Beebase to assist them in tracking outbreaks and to receive outbreak alerts. The BBKA added that collected swarms should be isolated, fed, and left to go through one cycle of brood, so that it can be checked for infection. Having been involved in destroying two infected colonies in the past — definitely not the happier side of beekeeping — I'm very keen to be able to say that the colony is free of disease.

Balancing this with the need to leave them alone, I've decided to aim for next Wednesday for my first proper inspection of the hive. Of course, I want to check they're still there, so I've been down to the hive a couple of times this week. I've replaced their mountain of supermarket fondant with some 1:1 syrup in a rapid feeder. I've also put up some willow screening along one side of the apiary to both shield the bees from the wind and to obscure the view from the nearby road. Amazingly, beehive theft is a thing, and it's increasingly becoming a thing.

Finally, I've started following the work of OpenBeeLab, a free and open-source research programme based around bees, via their IRC channel #openbeelab. OpenBeeLab run projects like OpenHiveManager, a tool to manage and monitor beehives, and art projects which produce 'data, sculptures, exhibitions and sound'. Of most interest to me, though, was the OpenHiveScale (with an introductory video in French). It seems very nicely engineered. With this you can remotely track the production of honey, the strength of the colony, and check for signs of swarming or theft. The scale reports its data over GSM, LoRa, Sigfox, or plain old wifi, with 3 AA batteries lasting up to five years. The first production run is now sold out, but the scale is all open source and can be made (and repaired) at home from the supplied plans, with maybe a bit of help from your local hackspace. Other DIY remote beehive monitoring projects also specify construction details, for example BeeMonitor, Beep and Hiveeyes. There are many more out there, however, and the Hiveeyes project collects a long list of open source and DIY projects to look into.