It’s World Bee Day on Tuesday 20 May, so we thought we’d take a look at how load cells are helping beekeepers remotely monitor their hives.
Love a little honey on your toast? Fancy beekeeping as a hobby? According to the National Bee Unit, most beekeepers start out with a few hives and are happy with a few jars of honey as a result. However, the National Bee Unit reminds us that:
“Keeping bees is a form of livestock management. They require looking after and even with a few colonies, weekly inspections are needed.”
That’s where load cells come in! There are over 250 species of bee in the UK, but only one species of honey bee, Apis mellifera. That makes each and every bee hive important both for pollination and for honey production. A healthy hive can contain up to 60,000 worker bees and can weigh over 150kgs when laden with honey. A single super (a hung wooden frame in the hive holding honeycomb) can weigh up to 25kgs.
So, an effective way to monitor the health of your bee colony and its honey production is to weigh the hive.
Honey is heavy
However, lifting heavy hives full of rather annoyed bees is both strenuous and potentially dangerous. So, beekeeping enthusiasts have been developing weighing platforms using load cells to remotely monitor the weight, and therefore the health, of their hives.
In the simplest versions, each hive sits on a frame containing load cells that monitors the hive’s weight, and wirelessly transmits the data back to a process such as a Raspberry Pi. Here’s how one US beekeeper built a DIY scale using load cells for his hives:
The Digital Beehive
“The Digital Beehive uses Wi-Fi to broadcast a beehive’s weight, humidity, temperature, and battery voltage every minute to (a) data channel service.”
In this project, load cells are arranged in a classic Wheatstone bridge configuration under the hive. Data is collected and processed via a chip and an Arduino Uno processor, and relayed via an external 2.4GHz antenna. The whole operation is powered by a 2.5W solar panel attached to a pole beside the hive. (See the full specs here)
Data monitoring for healthy hives
The resulting data gives a beekeeper much more than just a basic weight measurement. By plotting the hive weight, a load cell-based hive monitoring system can indicate:
When to feed the bees. Over winter, bees will need food which beekeepers supply them with. By setting a minimum weight threshold, and linking that weight threshold measurement to an alert, beekeepers know when to feed your bees.
When nectar becomes available. Bees will suddenly become more active and the hive weight will rapidly increase.
Bee swarming. Unattended bees are more likely to swarm. If they do, a beekeeper can lose up to half his bee colony, which will cause a massive and sustained drop in the hive weight.
When honeycomb supers are full. If beekeepers know the maximum weight of a hive with full honeycomb frames, they’ll know when to swap them out for new ones. Also, a slowing down of weight gain can also indicate a super is full.
Hive colony comparison data. Monitoring every hive enables beekeepers to assess which colonies are the most productive.
See bee hive data graph analysis in action at:
Bee behaviour and hive weight
Changes in weight can be caused by behaviour as well as hive contents.
As the bees leave in the morning, the weight of the hive rapidly decreases, and gradually rises again as the bees return over the course of the day. A rapid and sustained drop in weight during the day could indicate that bees have swarmed or been robbed.
The population of bees will also increase over the summer, adding to the weight. However, worker bees only live for six weeks over the summer, so their population will fluctuate. Come the winter months, workers bees live for up to six month, and evict nearly all the male drone bees once breeding has ceased.
The value of bees to the UK economy
Whilst most beekeepers will, weigh hives to monitor honey production, the real benefits of beekeeping lie elsewhere.
“The value of honey bees as a pollinator far outweighs their value as honey producers and the UK’s crop pollination industry has an estimated value that is greater than £400 million every year.”
Need load cells for an innovative project?
Call us for prices that are as sweet as honey and just as tasty! We’re also happy to help design new load cell systems and manufacture load cells to your specific requirements.