Hey readers! It’s been quite a while since my last update. Hope you’ve all had a great start to your 2019! For the growers out there, I hope your pollination season hasn’t been bogged too much by all the rain. We’ve been quite busy here at The Bee Corp with the launch of our digital hive grading product, Verifli. Speaking of hive grading, let’s talk frame counts.
How we measure colony size
For those of you not familiar, frame count is the metric used by growers and beekeepers to measure the population size of a hive. The concept is simple enough: if seven of the frames inside a hive are covered by bees, it’s a seven-frame hive. The tricky thing about this method is accuracy. A single deep frame supposedly holds about 1,500 bees. But what if the frame is only partially covered by bees? What if they’re only covering one side of the frame? What if it’s a medium or shallow frame?
Then there are other factors like weather and timing. What if it’s peak flight time and 1/3 of the bees are out foraging? What if it’s a little chilly and the bees are clustered tightly? What if I've done hundreds of frame counts today and I can't really distinguish between a 6-frame and a 7-frame hive anymore?
As a data scientist, all these variables troubled me as Wyatt and I collected more than 500 frame counts last summer.
A better measure... using SCIENCE
I hereby propose a new way to measure frame strength. Over are the days of ripping open hives, slaving over frames overflowing with bees, with the succor of smoke to yield the path! Now is the time for innovative methods to claim their rightful seat to the throne!
Aside from sounding like the ramblings of a madman, hear me out. Remember, quite a while ago, my post about how hot a bee is? That, as it turns out, is around 30-38 degrees Celsius. That got me thinking: we know there are roughly 1,500 bees on an average deep frame. We know the general heat output of an individual bee. Why not calculate colony size in terms of energy output?
How to measure bee energy
I propose a new unit of measurement for frame strength: the Bee Power Unit (BPU). Since we know how many bees we expect in an average healthy hive, and we know the average energy output of a bee, we’re able to calculate the average energy output. However, we’re not interested in some theoretical average, we want concrete details. How many bees are in that hive?
But how does one measure energy output? Which technology do we even use? If you've been following us this past year, you may already know the answer. Everything in the universe emits Infrared radiation, which is the heat energy output that can be measured with an infrared camera. Simple enough? Well, there’s a little more to it then that... Next time, I will be exploring infrared and how we can use technology to outclass the human mind.
Check back shortly for my follow-up post on this!
Imagine this: it’s a beautiful Thursday afternoon. You’re sitting on the porch, enjoying a cool breeze, rocking back and forth in a hand-crafted red cherry rocking chair. Suddenly, your serenity dissipates as your phone *dings* with a notification: “You’re running low on eggs in your fridge, would you like me to order another dozen?” This is the world we live in today.
The basics of IoT
The concept of the Internet of Things has been floating around since as early as 1982. Carnegie Mellon University pioneered a modified Coke machine, capable of reporting its inventory and the temperature of its drinks. At the time, this was thought of as groundbreaking technology, but now it’s everywhere. Your smart refrigerator tells you when to pick up groceries, your Fitbit alerts you when your heartrate reaches dangerous levels, and your driver assist warns you when there’s a car in your blind spot. All these items are part of a concept known as the Internet of Things (IoT for short).
At a basic level, IoT is a network that delivers information to decision-makers as soon as an event occurs. This information may be used to inform us when an issue exists (like when a traffic light is broken), collect data to help us understand processes (like how much of a certain input you’ve used), connect humans, monitor areas, you name it. Currently, there are over 8 billion connected devices on the planet, and this number is continuing to rise.
IoT or IoBee?
IoT is a major buzz word these days, and the limitless applications can be exciting, but likewise, such fast-paced advancement in technology can be overwhelming. You may have heard about how Amazon is working on IoT wristbands to track employees. Is this a scary “Big Brother” tactic designed to punish slackers, or a wise business strategy aimed at maximizing efficiency?
Despite the apparent privacy risks, IoT creates possibilities that can help to make our lives easier and make businesses more efficient. Industries that deal with gigantic stocks of inventory use IoT to find where things are stored, how much is there and how long it’s been in storage. Agriculture producers use IoT to monitor things like irrigation pumps and soil nutrients. This raises the question: how can beekeepers benefit from adopting IoT?
Think about what information helps you manage your bees. Wouldn’t it be useful to know when a nectar flow or a dearth has just started? How about if you got a notification when a honey-bound colony is about to swarm? What if you could track what kind of honey was being produced based on the nectar sources the bees were visiting? There are countless IoT applications that could help beekeepers better manage their hives.
Beekeepers today face many problems whose solutions may be just around the corner, in the form of IoT. In years past, issues like short battery life and shoddy communication networks (like 4G LTE and Bluetooth) made IoT applications too costly and unreliable for certain industries, but those issues are rapidly being solved.
We’re at a point where some of our crazy ideas—like, “what if my queens could tell me how many eggs they’re laying each day”—might actually be possible. This is an exciting time to start thinking about how we could use IoT to solve some of the problems beekeepers face on a daily basis.
A local Denver community marketplace near me recently hosted an introductory beekeeping class given by Colin Mann from Vine Street Farms, which provides mentoring and beekeeping consulting service in my area.
As I had been toying with the idea of becoming a backyard beekeeper, my family & I decided to make a night of it, and went to enjoy some pizza, beverage, and bees. I loved the idea of helping to provide for the needs of our honeybee neighbors and helping their population grow and thrive. And of course, having our own local honey to harvest and share with friends would be just a bonus.
It's a juggling act
I had done my research, and much of what was discussed, I felt I had a good handle on. After all, I’d read The Beekeeper’s Bible. What I hadn’t counted on was how much work was involved in keeping bees. Work AND kids AND dogs AND house AND bees...having one more job to do just wasn’t in the books for our family.
Which got me thinking...I was just worried about the work 1-2 hives would take. How much time and labor is involved in taking care of 100 hives… or 1000 or more?
What to consider
Well, according to Jamie Ellis’s article in the American Bee Journal, the answer depends on several factors: what beekeeping goals you have, what your available resources are, your local climate, how many folks are helping manage the hives, AND, most importantly, how many colonies you have.
So many jobs to do: colony size needs to be managed, hive splits need to be made, and more supers need to be added. Pests & diseases must be prevented or treated. Is the queen in good shape? Do the bees need to be fed? Have they made enough honey to last the winter?
It takes as much as 2700-3900 hours of work a year to manage 1000 hives.
Most commercial beekeeping operations’ main source of revenue nowadays is in the pollination business. With this comes an even greater amount of labor, as well as drive time (which I sure as heck would consider labor!).
So, hat’s off to the American beekeeper! They are some hardworking folks, doing their part in keeping a large part of the nation’s pollinators thriving, and trying to earn a living while doing so.
Disclaimer: No bees were hacked in the making of this event.
The Bee Corp recently teamed up with Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and their Data Science course to host our first-ever Bee Data Hackathon. If you've never heard the term before, a hackathon is an event where the sponsor provides participants with a problem and the resources to solve it.
The challenge: How can beekeepers maximize honey revenue?
The resources: A giant, messy file of bee data including historical honey prices, average honey yields in different regions, costs associated with transporting bees, and much more information (some useful, some intentionally misleading).
Students were given just a few days to clean and analyze data to recommend the best locations to maximize honey revenue throughout the year. Students were scored based on how well they followed instructions, the logic behind their math, how well they cleaned the data, and how the data was displayed in a data visualization. Undergraduate and graduate students were split up to compete for jars of our honey and a feature on this blog.
The students were given raw, uncleaned data with additional errors added by The Bee Corp Data Science team. The first step was to clean the data.
Hive weight was used as a way to track honey flows, working off the assumption that a hive that weighs more is going to be filled with more honey. When moving bees to a new location, students were given labor costs of loading bees and the transportation cost per mile to determine if the move was worth it for the revenue gained from honey collection. Different premiums for different types of honey were not considered for this hack.
Surprisingly, each team had different recommendations on where to move bees based on what they found in the data! Some teams recommended certain months that were best to move bees, while others split the data into quarters. Both a graduate student and undergraduate student team were awarded with honey for having the best hacks, and our company selected the undergraduate team as the overall winner for the blog.
The team, consisting of Yin Zhan, Wanyu Wang, and Hongda Wang recommended starting the hives in Washington for the first quarter of the year, moving to Alabama for the second quarter, Texas for the third, and then moving back to Washington for the fourth quarter of the year.
Their math was highly detailed, which won them a lot of points from the judging. They calculated the difference in honey collected in different areas and subtracted the cost of moving the hives to get the net benefit of moving the hives for honey flows. Check out their visualizations above.
The USDA Honey Report for 2017 just came out this past month, and it offers up some really interesting insights about the industry.
Check out this interactive map I made:
The lead honey producer for over a decade, North Dakota continues to outperform the rest of the country in honey production. Producing over 33 million lbs annually, North Dakota bees yield almost 20 million lbs more than the next highest producing state, South Dakota.
As a newbie to the beekeeping industry, this was quite a surprise to me. Bees and extremely cold winters... I didn’t think that was a good mix! But the Dakotas’ summer climate is optimal for nectar secretions for many of the flowers visited by the honeybees. Plus, the area is one of the last habitats that is not being extensively farmed, leaving room for the forage the bees need.
Another surprise was the high price of honey in New Jersey. With an average of $7.86/lb, New Jersey honey is more than 3x more valuable than the national average of $2.15/lb, and more than 1.3x more valuable than the next highest-priced state (Virginia, $5.73/lb).
What’s going on in New Jersey? Could this be due to the strict regulations on beekeeping taking place in the state recently?
Now, if any of us have ever had the opportunity to go to Hawaii, it’s usually to bake in the sun for a relaxing holiday. But our dear friends, the Hawaiian honeybees, aren’t taking much of a break. Hawaiian bees generate the highest yield per hive in the country, more than 2x the U.S. average, in large part because of the year-round available forage for the bees.
What other insights can be derived from this and past years' reports? Stay tuned, as I go for a deeper dive in posts to come!