We’ve written about using load cells to weigh beehives and report on colony health before. So we were delighted to discover a brand new design for a smart bee hive by a French start-up business. What’s great about the Apiago is it enables complete beginners to keep bees and monitor their health via an app, according to an article in “Process and Control Today”.
This innovative smart hive is acorn-shaped and can be mounted on the outside wall of a home barn, or indeed any garden building. It literally takes the hive to new heights, providing food and shelter for these important pollinators and keeping the colony out of reach above the head height of children, pets and very tall people!
Load cells on the inside
Inside the smart hive is a 20kg capacity load cell as used in many commercial scales. The load cell monitors the weight of the hive as it fluctuates during the seasons, and the data is relayed via the internet to a dedicated mobile phone app. The hive is completely autonomous thanks to a solar panel shaped like a leaf that powers the unit.
The Apiago bee hive is primarily intended as a pollinator home rather than a hive producing honey, but the Apiago website says that an additional element will become available to harvest any surplus honey.
Every year, a mass migration of bees happens from the cold of North Dakota to the almond groves of California. Resting bees are kept in a warm, temperature controlled warehouse until January. Then, as migratory beekeeper John Miller explained in a podcast by Morgan Stanley, it’s time to move them:
“You can get 350 to 450 hives on a semi, depending on how heavy those beehives are. Tarp it all down safe … and the semi driver departs and gets on the freeway and heads for California.”
Over a million hives are transported every year to pollinate the almond crop, a large increase over the last decades. Farmers pay up to $200 to rent a single hive of bees. As John explains:
“The dynamic has really changed because this planet seeks insect-pollinated foods. They’re healthy and nutritious and good for us.”
There may be trouble ahead
However, even these well-cared for bees are potentially in trouble. A combination of weed-free farming (i.e. no flowers) and climate change can cause farmers to lose up to 40% of their hives per year.
British beekeeper George Clouston explained how his smart hive tech enables him to check in on his bees remotely. Sensors in the hive record temperature, humidity, count bee movements, and listen in on the sounds generated by the bees themselves.
“We have a high scale that sits under the hive. It weighs it, and that really tells you about how much honey and food they’ve got inside the hive and how much they’re bringing back and how much they’re eating.”
Add in a gateway unit to collect the data, and a mobile phone to send it to the cloud and the app, and beekeepers can monitor their hives from miles away, 24/7.
The app can recognise patterns in the data and send the beekeeper an alert so they can check on their bees during vulnerable times, such as ta new queen departing on a mating flight. It also reduces the need to physically check on the bees by opening the hove, which is disruptive.
George also sees wider benefits to monitoring the bee hive health.
“By understanding what the health and the status of the colony, you understand the health and the status of the environment in which they’re living. So the bees can actually inform us about what’s going on.”
Sustainable urban hives
Data from smart hives should also help monitor a surprising issue affecting urban beekeepers, as a paper in npj Urban Sustainability:
“Urban beekeeping is booming, heightening awareness of pollinator importance but also raising concerns that its fast growth might exceed existing resources and negatively impact urban biodiversity.”
A study of beehives in Swiss cities
“Found large increases in hives numbers across all cities … (and) that available resources are insufficient to maintain present densities of beehives, which currently are unsustainable.”
This was largely due to a shortage of urban greenspace (UGS) needed to sustain the increased bee population.