Getting started with hive scales - using weight measurements as a health/welfare indicator
Beekeepers have survived thousands of years without knowing precisely how much their hives weigh, so why should you invest in a hive scale?
The most obvious reason anyone would install an Arnia bar, or pro, scale would be to get an idea of how much honey yield is being produced by their bees, this is usually the ultimate goal for any beekeeper, to produce surplus honey! The ability to see in real time how many lb's or kg's (depending on where you are in the world) your hive weights can be fascinating, exciting and also invaluable in some situations.
Using remote hive scales can help the beekeeper make the most informed decisions. Weight, or more importantly change in weight, can tell us so much more than how many jars of honey you'll have to sell this year. By continuously monitoring changes in weight we are continuously monitoring the health and welfare of our bees.
Positive changes in weight (weight increasing) tell us when there is a nectar flow, great, we know bees are bringing back nectar and processing this into honey to use as stores. Monitoring this positive change in weight means we know exactly when to add another super, going too early could mean a wasted trip to an out apiary a few hours away, going too late could mean missing out on profitable honey yield, or risking the bees running out of space and swarming. Effectively managing this increase in weight can be beneficial for both the bees and beekeeper.
Monitoring negative changes in weight (decreasing weight) is where remote hive scales can really become invaluable in determining the welfare of your colony. Decreasing weight can occur for several reasons, the first and most common is stores being used up. The most dangerous period for bees running the risk of starvation is winter; Honey bee colonies can consume stores in the winter very quickly. Even the most experienced beekeepers can underestimate the rate a colony is consuming their stores, using hive scales can eliminate the guess work and ensure your bees don't starve. Bee's can also starve in the summer months, when we often see nectar dearths (read our full blog post on this here). A nectar dearth generally occurs when the flowers in the local area have stopped producing nectar (either end of their season or lack of rain) and the next season of flowers have yet to start producing nectar. This is quite obviously visible on a monitored hives weight, you'll notice the weight plateau at first, before it starts to decrease as the bees start to use up the stores. A weaker colony with few stores could starve between inspections during a nectar dearth, using remote hive scales can alert you to a decrease in weight and prompt the beekeeper to feed during this period.
The second reason a hive weight may decrease is robbing. Honey bees are efficient, opportunistic collectors of resource, meaning if the most efficient way of gathering food is by robbing their weaker neighbour, they'll take it. Robbing generally happens in the summer months when the bees are active. A stronger colony will invade a weaker colony and decimate of its stores. You can stop robbing on a monitored hive quite easily, the weight will decrease sharply over a day or two. The graph below shows 12.5 kg of stores being taken over 2 days! This would almost certainly trigger an alert to the beekeeper meaning you can intervene by reducing the entrance to give the guard bees a better chance of defending themselves.
A swarm leaving the hive will also negatively effect your hive weight and trigger an alert. Swarms are the colonies natural way or reproducing but that does not mean it is good for the welfare, or productivity of the bees.....or infarct the attitude of your neighbours! Even after all the swarm prevention you have done, a swarm can still occur. If we cannot foresee it, knowing it has occurred soon after the bees have left the hive can mean you can grab your suit and smoker and try to retrieve your swarm as quickly as possible.
Weight monitoring can really help to enhance our beekeeping practices, as well as improve the health and welfare of our bees. As always, we do not want to replace the beekeeper with technology, but improve our knowledge and practices using data. To shop our latest products, visit arnia.co/shop.