Hive Scale Research in the Raleigh Area

Hive Scale Research in the Raleigh Area Banner

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 from counties in and around the Research Triangle area 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 local beekeeping community better anticipate the nutritional needs of their hives.

Running Graphs

Hive Scale Chart West Piedmont NC

Hive Scale Chart East Piedmont NC

Hive Scale Chart Wake County NC

Hive Scale Chart Central Piedmont NC

Weekly Updates

Week 18-21

Now that the major flows have ended, I have switched to monthly updates rather than weekly updates. However, there will still be new content updated throughout the month, especially as I get more time to play around with the land characterization! But here is the month report for 47 of the hives grouped by weight in the following weight classes: 1) Greater than 140 lbs, 2) 125-140 lbs, 3) 100-125 lbs, 4) 75-100 lbs, 5) 50-75 lbs, 6) Less than 50 lbs.

Hive Scale Chart Greater Than 140 Lbs

Hive Scale Chart Between 125-140 Lbs

Hive Scale Chart Between 100-125 Lbs

Hive Scale Chart Between 75-100 Lbs

Hive Scale Chart Between 50-75 Lbs

Hive Scale Chart Less Than 50 Lbs

I can tell you the first thing that jumped out to me was the weight gain in some of the eastern counties: Halifax 2 and 3, Nash 2, and Wilson-1! Let’s look at the hives in these three counties:

Hive Scale Chart Halifax, Nash, Wilson Counties

So what is unique for these hives? Location, location, location! If we take a look at the land cover assessments from the USDA 2016 Crop Data Layer (you can check out what’s been grown in your area too at https://nassgeodata.gmu.edu/CropScape/), we see a pattern:

1 Mile Composition

3 Mile Composition

I would like to remind everyone that the land characterization is based on what was planted in 2016, the 2017 crop data layer won’t be available until early next year in 2018. So this is not necessarily what was planted this year but it can give us a good idea of how intensively farmed or developed the surrounding area is and what sort of crops have been grown there!

FlowerWith that being said, compared to the other apiary locations, these hives consistently have the most cotton and the most soybean in the surrounding 1 mile or 3 mile area compared to the other counties; all except for Nash-3, which you can see did not experience the same weight gain that the others did. Halifax beekeeper Neil Roberson first reported the cotton bloom in mid-July, and Nash county beekeeper Greg Wolgemuth reported the first bloom in late-July. These beekeepers swear by the cotton bloom and for good reason! For those of you who are not familiar with cotton or who have never thought of cotton as a good source of nectar (I know I didn’t!), you might be surprised to learn that cotton can provide a bounty of nectar for an extended period of time! Bees can access nectar both through the flower sepals as well as through extra-floral nectaries around the base of the flower. Cotton blooms for 6-8 weeks at a time but the extra-floral nectaries are available a few weeks before the actual bloom, so cotton has the potential to serve as a nectar source for even longer! If you are as blown away as I was to learn about this, you can read more about cotton specifically in North Carolina at the NCState Extension website https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/cotton-information/the-cotton-plant.

We will have to further explore the relationship of some of these landscape categories and weight gains throughout the season so stay tuned as I dive deeper into the land cover assessments!

Special Features

Each week, I get a chance to see what the bees have been up to and how they are responding to their environment through the weight data. As I compile the data and start trying to interpret it, I find new topics to explore and new questions to ask. So as these questions arise, I will take a deeper dive into the data in this special feature section! I will pull in other data sets and set up side experiments to try and better understand drivers of weight change. In doing so, I hope to provide greater insight into how folks can use weight data to better understand their hive.

Resources:


FAQ

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 https://honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov/ and http://hivetool.net/ 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 https://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/how-we-assess-risks-pollinators.