Friday, October 12, 2012

I've moved to!

I've gotten serious about building the bee hive datalogger and I've never been particularly fond of the name here, so I've moved to

I'm still working on some configuration, but I've started posting so if all four of you still want to follow my blog, you might want to head over there.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Some awesome temperature logging projects!

I found some great temperature logging projects this week -- one linked on, ( ) and another linked in the comments of the first ( ).  This is great stuff -- the first is incredibly finished with a waterproof seal and a solar panel directly on top of the enclosure while the second has an incredible 88 sensors spread out over 11 frames of a single-box observation hive!  Here's the incredible video of temperature within the hive:

This is incredible data to see as it suggests that the lower resolution 9 points between each box I'd planned is enough to catch most of what's going on in a bee hive.  Sure, I might miss the occasional deviation, but if the bees reliably cluster around the brood nest as they seem to in inspections and as evidenced here, adding 10x more sensors is probably not going to give me much more information.

Heck, even 9 sensors per box is probably way too much information, but I'm hoping to track the hive cluster over winter next winter (the winter after next summer) and I'm pretty sure one sensor per box won't be enough.

Anyway, great stuff makes me want to get mine working even more!  I suppose that means I hurry up and draw a final schematic so I can solder down all the components without making time-consuming mistakes!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Meeting about bee hive monitoring

I met a guy from Portland yesterday (he goes by "Hydronics" online) to talk about data logging in bee hives.  We talked about his great work building a device that counts bees going in and out of the hive.

This is a long summary of our projects and some of our ideas -- sorry if it's not interesting (this is your obligatory "wonkish" warning), but if you have interest in bees, electronics, or measuring bee hive data, I welcome any advice, criticism or comments!

The device uses a microcontroller to poll 44 little IR LED proximity sensors on 22 different gates (or tunnels) and measures whether they're going in or out of the hive by watching to see which of two sensors is triggered first through a gate.  He saw some amazing things in the data -- like some spikes at 4:00 PM on a few different days that looked like orienting and some in/out spikes that could possibly correlate with a particular food or water source if they're statistically significant (i.e. not just us finding patterns in random noise).

One of the major issues I've had with his design is that it's power hungry.  It draws 75 mA which is a lot of power when you're trying to run the thing off a solar panel and battery!  We talked about a bunch of ways to improve the design.  He's already tried turning off half the LEDs and using just one LED to drive two sensors in each gate.  I think he might have to modify the board layout to put the active LED roughly equally spaced between the two sensors (one is further from the LED in his current design).  This would cut the power consumption roughly in half.  He could also pulse the LEDs -- turning on only the ones being measured at one time.  I showed him some spec sheets of IR proximity sensors designed for use in smartphones and ebooks.  They are designed for ultra-low power consumption and can run on a few dozen microamps when pulsing at 10 Hz or so.  Of course, the integrated packages are $4 each, but we could cut the price significantly by engineering a similar pulsed solution that meets our needs.  As always, you can spend time or money, but it's hard to get exactly what you want for cheap in a ready-made package!

Hydronics also mentioned that he thought he might be able to get the system working with ambient light -- possibly using UV or IR (or both?) so it works even when the sky's cloudy.  Heck, with a cheap diffuser, you might be able to use any wavelength you wanted!  This would eliminate almost all the current draw, but it might sacrifice sensitivity.  The system would likely fail under certain lighting conditions like when the sun is shining directly into the hive entrance or when the sky is really cloudy.  Still, paired with external ambient light sensors and using a diffused slit and two more light sensors in each black-painted gate, I think there's a decent chance you could calibrate the system to work in most lighting conditions!  I'm excited to look into engineering and testing LED-free gates!

Ultimately, while 100% detection will always be a goal, the kind of data we're looking for can tolerate significant noise or downtime.

On a separate subject, I mentioned some research I've come across that tracked bees in and out of the hive with radar or with cameras.  There have even been some attempts to glue radio trackers to individual bees, although this is obviously tedious!  I wondered if we could put small dots of retroreflective material (3M makes some great beaded and corner-cube tapes) that would give incredible contrast in all lighting conditions for tracking with a camera.  This might be further in the future (certainly after the winter when the bees rarely fly outside of the hive) but it could allow wide-angle tracking of tagged bees over a very large area with a relatively low-tech video camera!  Tiny bits of tape could be pre-cut for tagging, and while it wouldn't be quite as effective, I also wonder if we could simply sprinkle glass beads onto some bees or develop an adhesive including glass beads that could provide enough retro-reflection to allow tracking.  Unfortunately, I think the bead idea may require metal-coating of one side of the beads, but maybe all the beads could be half coated ahead of time and enough would be oriented the right way in the adhesive that they'd provide a good signal?

Finally, we talked about my hive logging project.  My specs are always changing, but currently I am planning to put an array of 9 temperature sensors in a thin frame on top of each box for 3D mapping of temperature in the hive as well as monitoring ambient temperature and my circuit temperature (for debugging and tracking).  I'll probably also add a humidity sensor, although I've never seen anybody come up with particularly useful correlations between humidity and bee behavior.  I'll be installing a microcontroller inside an industrial postal scale and streaming the data back to the internet through an XBee radio and a ConnectPort X2.  We've both also been looking at logging to an SD card with a real time clock for timestamps.  If my radio logging isn't reliable enough, I might fall back on an SD card, but it's a bit of a hassle to get into the hive to retrieve the data!

Hopefully I'll be able to build my own bee counter for next year's season as well.  Who knows how effective it'll be at first, and it's much lower priority than getting the weight and temperatures, but if we can build a good remote solution, it could be an incredible addition to a bee hive monitoring package!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Honey Harvest!

Two weekends ago, I pulled honey off the hives.  Two hives were very strong and yielded 2-3 medium supers of honey each (about 40 pounds).  My wife and I got really hot and dehydrated so we decided to stop and I came back later to find that the last hive was queenless.  It's still got 20-30 thousand bees, but it's not strong, and I only pulled about 1 medium super off (all they had).

Without a queen, the hive will die soon, and this close to winter, there's no point in introducing a queen who won't have enough time before the cold to build up hive population.  I'll tear down the hive for storage when the temperatures get a bit more reasonable.

I put sugar-water feeders on the two strong queenright colonies, and I'll check sometime this week to see how they're taking it.

At the Acreage, we also pulled between one and two boxes of honey.  That's pretty disappointing, but it might be inevitable due to the surrounding wetlands.  My dad will expand to other locations when he has more time (i.e. retired) but until then, it might just be a low-yielding hobby site.

We left the honey in the honey room for a week with a dehumidifier at high temperature to ensure the water content was low enough to be "honey" (18.6% or less water) and extracted the honey in a centrifuge last weekend.  All together, we got about 200 pounds.  My wife has sold a couple dozen pounds before it's even been bottled, so if you want some, let us know ASAP ($7 per lb.).

In other news, I'm deep into my hivelogger project.  It'll log hive weight, temperature (at nine points per box) and ambient temperature directly to a google document from which I can graph the data in real time.  I'll post more on that when I've got it fully built, and I'll put a guide up on Instructables.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spring Inspections

The Lair is back up to 3 hives and the Acreage is back to 5 or so after we lost around 60% last winter.  This week, I found eggs in all three hives, so it looks like all 3 hives are gearing up for summer.

The middle hive that made it through the winter ended the winter with about 50 pounds of honey and it's going like crazy!  I've had to keep adding space, and the queen is laying so frequently she keeps 20-30 frames of brood cooking at any one time!  They're also obviously bringing in honey, and while it's been a bit difficult for me to track recently since it's spread out throughout the 9 medium boxes, I think they're going to shoot into higher supers very soon.  Since the hive is higher than I am, and the queen has decided to lay in some of the higher boxes, I'm going to have to spend a few hours sorting it out at some point (putting all the brood at the bottom and honey at the top) and I'll probably have to steal honey at least twice to keep it at a manageable height.

It's not a bad problem to have, but as I'm selling my house and have to move in a few weeks, I'm going to have to let the bees run on autopilot for a while.  I'll try to give them plenty of space to discourage swarming, but that might be an inevitable consequence of my move.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bees still buzzing!

It looks like I forgot to blog about wintering the bees, but it's pretty straightforward so here's what happened.  It turns out that there's not a lot you can do to help the bees make it through winter.  Insulation sounds like a good idea, but it turns out that the bees require constant airflow through the hives to remove moisture so the hives stay only a few degrees above the outside temperature all winter long.  The worker bees "shiver" by moving their wing muscles without moving their wings to generate heat and keep the little cluster of bees warm enough to make it through the winter, but they only keep their little cluster warm, not the whole hive.  On warmer days, they move around to follow honey stores, but they can't move far when it's really cold so it is important for a beekeeper to check the hives later in the winter (now) to shift around honey stores if the bees eat themselves into a corner and can't get to honey just a few inches away in a cold snap!

Because there's not much that can help the bees through the winter, it's not too difficult to get them ready.  The biggest concern is that they have enough honey to make it through the winter, and I covered that by simply being very conservative about how much honey I took from the hive.  Then you treat any diseases or parasites -- usually Varroa Mites, but since I didn't note any problematic infestation I didn't have to worry about that either.

Finally, in November, I added a sheet of particleboard to help wick moisture out of the hives and covered the hives in black wax-coated cardboard.  The cardboard heats up in the sun and might help to cut the wind a bit.  Here's a picture of the hives after I wrapped them up for the winter.

Late-Winter Inspection

On February 9, on a warm day above 40F, I drove out to the Lair to check the hives.  I gave a light tap to each hive and heard buzzing from the first two, but silence from the last.  It turned out that the third hive, the weakest of the three all last year, had died relatively early in the winter.  Below you can see the remains of a cluster with bees holding onto or with their heads stuck into the comb.  They are surrounded by empty comb so it is possible that they simply ate all the nearby honey and couldn't move far enough during a few cold days to find more food, but because they were still in the bottom two medium boxes out of four, I suspect they were also weak -- perhaps from Varroa.

The other two hives were doing very well and were clustered toward the South side of the top two boxes in both hives.  I took the top two boxes full of honey from the dead hive and added them to the other hive both to prevent the honey from going to waste (they're likely to mold if they stay unattended after it warms up) and to give the bees one more box of solid honey they can move up into in case we see more cold weather.

Below you can see a somewhat blurry picture of the left hive's cluster.  I only lifted up the box for a few seconds to see where they were, and while it's a bit worrysome to have the cluster all the way over on the side, I think it helps a lot that I could add a box of honey above them so they'll have room to move to nearby stores even if it gets very cold.

Another thing a beekeeper can do is move honey around within the boxes -- perhaps moving honey from the left side to a slot right next to the cluster, but the more you disturb the cluster, the more the bees will get stressed and cold so I was satisfied with adding the two boxes on top.

I plan to go back next weekend with some or all of my family to collect the two empty boxes from the dead hive.  They still have some honey (maybe 10-20 pounds) and I want to dry them out in my garage before they get regularly warm enough to mold.  In late March when the weather's good and the queens are laying eggs like mad, I'll split one or both of the living hives and buy a new queen to lead the new hive(s).  The bees will all appreciate the honey left on the hives and they'll have a head start on building up stores for me to steal next Fall!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Picture from the Lair!

Yesterday, I visited the Lair to make sure that they hadn't run out of room, and I think all three hives have just the right amount of room left so I didn't add any extra supers.  Here's the picture showing the final height of the three hives:

On the left side, the top super is about a third full, the middle hive (significantly taller than me now) is around 70% finished with the 8th super and hasn't significantly started on the 9th, and the right hive is only around 50% finished with the 5th super.

It was only 4 days since I added the top boxes, so with any luck and good weather, the nectar will continue to flow and the top supers will get filled out.  If not, I'll be stuck with some partially-filled frames, but I can either swap some full, lower frames with the partly-filled ones or use the partial frames to bolster some of our weaker hives at the Acreage (probably both).  I want 2-3 supers full of honey going into winter, and while I can potentially feed the hives sugar-water after we harvest on August 21, it will be a hassle and I'd prefer to simply let the bees backfill the lower boxes as winter approaches.  I hope to have around 100 lbs of honey left for the bees when they go into winter which translates to about 3 Medium supers at a low estimate of 35 lbs apiece.