Hive Scale Research in the Raleigh Area

Hive Scale Research in the Raleigh Area

Beekeepers keep bees for lots of different reasons, some for a livelihood, others for the honey, but no matter the reasoning, everyone who works with bees is fascinated by them. New technologies such as hive scales can open new insights into what the bees are doing. In addition to potentially learning more about how our colonies are growing and developing, can hive scales provide us additional information that can inform our beekeeping management? Does new technology open up new avenues to not only better understand and appreciate these remarkable creatures, but can it also help us become better beekeepers?

To answer some of these questions, the Bayer Bee Care program is partnering with local beekeepers to better understand the forage availability in the local Raleigh/Durham area using the power of hive scales. We are providing beekeepers in Orange, Durham, Wake, Johnston, Granville, Franklin, Wilson, Chatham and Nash County with electronic hive scales to follow hives throughout the year. Beekeepers will upload hive weight data on a regular basis to share what’s going on in their hives across the region. In the fall after the aster bloom is over, Bayer will use this data with GIS analysis of the apiary within the hive’s foraging range to assess effects of land cover on the timing of nectar flows and the magnitude of weight gain during flows. We hope to get a better idea of how different degrees of development/urbanization, forest and cropland affect the timing, intensity, and duration of nectar flows. By understanding what floral resources bees have access to and when, we hope to help the beekeeping community.

Week 2:

This week, we have data from 25 hive scales from April 11-April 18th. I’ve chosen to group the hives into four different weight classes for this week: 1) Less than 50 lbs., 2) 50-75 lbs., 3) 75-100 lbs., 4) More than 100 lbs. These weight classes aren’t fixed, so hives are likely to change weight class each week as well as the cut offs for these classes, especially as the nectar flow progresses.  I also “cleaned up” the data by removing weights taken when beekeepers were in their hives. My intention with the first week’s post was to show how messy this data can be and how we will have to “clean up” the data by removing some readings when the hive is being inspected or manipulated. We are still looking at the best way to account for supplemental feedings but we won’t worry about doing that until we are looking at several months’ worth of data!

So, let’s see what’s going on:

week 2 - Less than 50 lbs 

week 2 - 50-75 lbs

week 2 - 75-100 lbs

week 2 - Greater than 100 lbs 

I want to take a minute to walk through how I interpret the data. So first off, I like to look at overall trends: what was the weight at the beginning of the week vs. the weight at the end of the week. In doing so,  I look for hives that have added equipment which are easy to spot with a dramatic increase in weight , roughly 10-15 lbs, in 15 minutes.  For those hives, I look at the trend before and after the equipment was added to assess what’s going on. So for Wake-2 in the >100 lbs. weight class, you can see on April 15th that beekeeper added equipment and the hive has been remained steady ever since.  But in the case of Wilson-1 in the 75-100 lbs. weight class, after the equipment was added on April 13th, the hive has continued to put on weight in honey stores.

Another thing I immediately look for is evidence of supplemental feeding. A great example of supplemental feeding is shown by Nash-1 in the 75-100 lbs. weight class. There is a clear spike of ~15 lbs on the 11th but unlike hives where folks have added equipment, you see the weight drop by 10 lbs over the next 5 days. Added equipment shows a large jump in the weight within 15 minutes but the weight readings after that do not lose that same magnitude of weight. Whereas with supplemental feedings, the weight will continually drop as the bees consume and expel that sugar water for energy or brood rearing.  Other examples of supplemental feeding can be seen in week 1 in the graph of just Wake county hives,Wake-2 and Wake-4, with big jumps in the weight followed by a steady decline as those resources are used.

This week, I heard several reports of tulip poplar and black locust in bloom and looking at the weight gains this week, it looks like bees are making use of both of these great nectar sources! As I sorted the hives out into these weight classes, it became apparent that the size of the hive plays a role in how well they are able to capitalize on a food resource. In the greater than  100 lbs. weight class, you can see Wake-3, Wake-4, and Wake-Ref1 are tracking almost identically, each gaining 15-20 lbs just this week! In the 75-100 lbs class, Orange-1 and Wilson-1 have gained about 10 lbs this week (when  the weight gain caused by the added equipment for Wilson-1 is removed) and Wake-5 gaining closer to 15 lbs (when  the weight of the brick they added on the 17th is subtracted). In the 50-75 lbs. weight class, the data shows  a ~5 lbs weight gain for Orange-2 and Durham-1 and then less than a 5 lb. weight gain for Durham-2 and Durham-3 in the less than 50 lb. weight class. This trend would certainly make sense since the more bees in a hive, the more foragers they have to capitalize on a resource.

I only singled out the hives showing a clear weight gain throughout the whole week time span. However, there is still a lot of variability across regions and across weight classes that will hopefully become clearer as the flow continues! In general, most hives are starting to put on weight, especially those in the higher weight classes. Keep an eye out for tulip poplar and black locust blooming in your area!

Week 1

Almost all of our beekeepers have their scales set up now and we are ready to start diving into the data. Currently, we have 17 hive scales that have been active from April 1-April 11 that we can take a look at this week, and next week, we will hopefully be able to report on all 34!

hive scale in wake country

So as you can see, the data is very noisy…we will work on figuring out how best to display the data from all 34 locations without oversimplifying it or transforming the data too much. But just looking at the weight on April 1st and the weight on April 11th for all of these hives, I see relatively little change in weight. There might be a slight increase going on but to me, it is not strong enough to indicate the poplar flow has started.

There are several folks supplementally feeding quite frequently and as a result, these hives appear to be building up, again comparing the weight from the 1st to the 11th. Now looking at hives that have not been fed so frequently, it appears there is just enough forage to sustain colonies but not enough to start packing the honey on.

If you’re wondering about the data gaps for some of the scales, I removed any weight readings that were taken when hives were strapped down during the storm we had this past week. With the inclement weather and high winds, some folks strapped their hives to the scales to stabilize them (the mechanism these scales use to take the weight can cause the hive to get a little wobbly). This created elevated readings from the pressure of the ratchet straps so to simplify the graph, I went ahead and removed these readings.

Now since we have 7 scales up in Wake county, let’s take a deeper dive into what’s going on there:

hive scale in wake country - April 1-April 11

Looking at these 7 scales, I’ll be honest, it’s hard to tell what’s going on with only 10  days of weight data.  Wake-1, 6, and Ref1 appear rather flat, in fact 1 and 6 are even declining slightly. Since these are not being supplementally fed, it leads me to believe we are still waiting for the poplars to pop! Wake-2, 3, 4 and 5 are being fed fairly regularly and are starting to put that food to use, gaining ~20 pounds or in the case of Wake-2 burning through 20 pounds in a short amount of time. Wake-4 is an extreme example of this, gaining almost 30 pounds from April 1 to April 11!

Tulip poplar shouldn’t be too far out and several folks have mentioned they’ve already seen some starting to bloom! We will continue to work with this data and try to find the best way to display it from twice as many hives next week! Yowza!

Week 0

The project is finally underway! We have 32 scales out so far with a few more getting set up this next week! We will follow hives county by county through the course of the project and report the weekly weight data here. We will post the first week’s data starting week 1 in the format seen below, and then as we get more data over the next few weeks we will build out the graph at the bottom of the page and get a better idea of what the bees are up to!

March 28th - April 4th

I wish we could have gotten scales out sooner to capture what’s been going on with this wacky weather but fortunately we have had scales out at the Bayer Bee Care Center apiary since July! Here’s what they’ve been up to in 2017:

January 1 - March 20, 2017

Annie KruegerMeet the Project Lead:
Annie Krueger

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What is an electronic hive scale?

It’s a battery operated scale that measures the weight of the hive. The Solutionbee scales involved in this project take weight readings every 15 minutes, although there are many other scale models and some that read and transmit the data in real time. Just google “hive scale” to see all of the different groups offering this kind of technology!

What insight can a scale provide?

Hive weight data can show a countless number of activities in the hive and as more people start working with this technology, the more we will learn! So far, we’ve been able to see swarm events, robbing, nectar processing and nectar flows.

Why is Bayer interested in hive scales?

We acknowledge there are many factors affecting bee health, with nutrition playing a major role. This information will provide a better idea of what floral resources are available for sustaining healthy hives in the local areas and how best to work with unique landscapes to alleviate the stress of limited forage.

Hasn’t this already been done?

We fully acknowledge the efforts of many other groups who have worked extensively with scale data (go to and to see some long term national level scale data). With this project, we hope to provide local beekeepers with the tools to assess the nectar landscape in their own backyard.

What will Bayer do with the data and how will we receive updates?

We will post reports of the weight data on a weekly basis throughout the active season into early October. After the bees begin to wind down for winter, we will put together a comprehensive report using the GIS data and share it on this page. We will then bring in all of the participating beekeepers and decide how best to move forward with the project and provide monthly updates throughout the winter.

Why is Bayer interested in bee health?

Bayer is interested in finding solutions to increase yields and protect pollinators which are critical to food production and agricultural sustainability. For nearly 30 years, Bayer has been committed to environmental stewardship and the protection of beneficial insects and bees. By funding grants for bee health research, exploring new chemistries for potential miticides, and engaging in outreach and education, we strive to protect the health of both honey bees and native bees. In addition to general bee health research initiatives, as part of our commitment to environmental stewardship, all of the chemicals we develop go through rigorous bee toxicity testing to ensure that when our products are used properly, they pose little risk to insect pollinators. Learn more about pollinator risk assessment at

Running Graph

April 2017-April 2018 

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