For the general hobbyist, this may not seem all that critical. But if you're like me, trying to grow into a small business, while trying to manage an every growing family, and develop a homestead, and work a full time job, it can get pretty intense. And the kids aren't even in school or extracurricular activities yet!
Anyway, I digress. Let's talk about bees. So why is organization so important? Well again, for someone with just 1-2 hives, it's probably not all that critical. But as you start to try to get more involved and take on me beekeeping roles and challenges, and especially more hives, it's very easy to lose track of who's who? In my early days, I actually had few enough hives, and a sharp enough memory, that I could at least keep up with what hive was what. I would name them from whatever client I got them from, the Alex Smith hive for example. But you start making splits, moving things around, doing multiple removals per week, selling hives, etc, things get lost. Just for grins, let's make all your hives identical, generic white 10 frame Langs.
More important than remembering where a hive came from, is remembering their unique needs or traits. Let's start with needs. That's pretty basic. Food or space? Inspect all your colonies. Do some need sugar water or honey? Or pollen? Or do they need a super added or removed? Or frames replaced?
I feed by exception, not by default. So it's very important to track what a colony needs, and accepts. I personally do not put on pollen patties. They are pure beetle bait if you are in a SHB area. I have been open feeding pollen substitute for the first time this year, and the bees seem pretty happy to have it. I will offer sugar water or pure honey as a carbohydrate substitute. I prefer to offer this in a per hive basis. My 5 frame hives have top feeder lids. For the 10 frames I have top feeder or Boardman inserts on the entrance. By feeding individually I can monitor how quickly they take the feed. If they don't drain it in a few days, but are taking it, I know to reduce the jar size, or feed intermittently to prevent spoilage (sugar water). You may find yourself surprised when a small nuc drains a quart in a day, and a larger stronger nuc just nibbles on it. Just last night I dumped out nearly 2 gallons of sugar water that I had offered to a 10 frame colony via a hive top reservoir feeder. After nearly two weeks they had barely taken any. I guess they don't want it. I thought based on stores in the hive that they needed it. Wish I would have started with 1 qt and not wasted so much.
Now for unique traits. This is where it gets fun. Tracking the habits and skills of a hive is critical to raising the better bee. Over the years I have developed my apiary to very gentle bees. Despite being in an area that is definitely influenced by AHB, I have bees gentle enough that I never need a suit, at least in my own back yard. That's easy enough to keep up with. If they are aggressive you tend to remember! But what about their survival traits? Who has more pollen in the hive in late fall, and then late winter? Who has more honey per capita? Who is hauling in early spring honey, and who is still hitting the winter snooze button? In general, you'd think a bigger hive would have more reserves going into winter, and less coming out as they used more. Or should it normalize on a colony size basis? Who knows. What I do know is that some of my 5 frame nucs have gobs of pollen (and associated strong brood pattern) and some of my bigger colonies (and smaller colonies) hardly have any pollen. I don't think it was usage based, as much as it was lack of forage. However, lacking pollen directly affects how well a hive can build up in the spring. It's good to keep track of who seems to be the better foragers as by default they should have better odds of surviving.
On a quick note about SHB and Varroa mite: I neither count nor treat for either. I rely on stronger hives to manage the beetles on their own. If I notice that I hive is letting beetles get out of control (not policing them), I requeen from a colony that does have good beetle management traits. For Varroa, well, I don't know. I don't see them in the hive, but then again I never really look. I think the genetics of natural bees tend to weed that out pretty quick (maybe just my opinion). I recall only once, I removed a colony of bees from an old house, and they were LOADED with mites. And within 2 weeks that colony had perished. The stress of the removal, coupled with the mite load, went ahead and terminated those poor genetics.
OK, so the grand finale. How do a I keep track? In the past I used to label the hives in my notes by their location in the yard. I have multiple rails and would set 4-5 colonies per rail. So the hive label would be something like R3N1 (row three, first in line from the north), or R2S2 (row two, second from the south end). Are you kidding me? What if I move a hive to another rail? Or to some arbitrary corner of the yard? Well I could update their location, but then I have to track back through the notes as to where they were moved from. I was avoiding physically labeling a hive, because I didn't want to have numbers painted on boxes that then got sold or destroyed.
But it turns out, physically labeling the hives is the best method for me. I bought a pack of paint stencils and went through the apiary number 1-20. Didn't matter 5 frame or 10. I only label the bottom box. Supers get moved around. I labeled the hives, then did my inspections. As I went through, I found colony 8 (5 frame deep) was dead out. No worries. By the time I got to number 13 (10 frame deep) I found they were reduced in size and were better suited for a 5 frame box. So I made the swap. Now box #8 is not between 7 and 9. But it doesn't matter. In my notebook I scratched out "EMPTY" for box 8 and wrote in "Moved in bees from 13. FEED." Now, if #13 had a history, I can go look that up under box #13. Now in this case, there was no extensive history.
Between removals and selling colonies, I tend to have a lot of hives coming in and out. So I don't have much history on them. But I do have some staples that I keep in the yard. Their notes won't change much over the years, nor should their box number. So a simple header that says something like "gentle, survivors, early foragers" is all I need to see to tell me these are good bees, and I should promote those genetics when grafting queens or making splits.
Now, if you're still awake, I'll say that it's up to you whether or not you track your hives, and if so, how you do it. I highly recommend it if you have more than just a couple hives. I think you'll find studying the bees can become more entertaining than actually working with them.