Who Needs Records?

headshot Rauschby Andrew Rausch

You don’t dare ask the question. It has been pounded into every beekeeper’s head so that no matter which way you turn, you hear that “good records are essential.” I can’t help it–somehow the phrase “record keeping,” when used in relation to bees and beekeeping, conjures up images of someone standing next to a hive with a clipboard or of a person looking back and forth between that same clipboard and a computer screen inputting the data.

Now, if you thought that I was going to tell you that as a beekeeper you really don’t need records, I’m sorry to dash your hopes. I, too, believe good records are essential –but essential to what? Those of you who know me know that I firmly believe that a well-defined question is a half-solved question. So, as far as “essential to what” goes, it is understood that they’re essential to success, but there is still a problem because there are as many definitions of what success with bees is as there are beekeepers.

Beekeepers need the right tools for the job and keeping records or a running history of your bees and management techniques is nothing more than a tool to help you achieve your definition of success. Perhaps you keep no more than 3-5 hives and your goal is to make a little honey or just to have the most fascinating hobby on the block, then keeping records really won’t help you as much as those with larger apiaries—although your records could prove useful—but I won’t be the one to put you on a guilt trip.

Once you get past 3-5 hives, unless your memory allows you to play professional chess on the side recounting each move in order at the end of the game, it doesn’t so much matter what your goals are—you’re going to need something, namely records, helping you to avoid repeating past mistakes and to identify trends that you otherwise might not have noticed. But your records system needs to match your goals in order to help you achieve them. In other words, if you’re rearing queens, you could be tracking almost anything that has a genetic correlation as well as when the earliest point occurs that you can reliably produce well-mated queens; if your goal is commercial honey production, you’ll want to be tracking which swarm prevention techniques work the best and when to employ them and things relating to pollen and nectar flows; and if your goal is simply to be the best beekeeper that you can be, you’re probably going to fall somewhere in-between these two.  The bottom line is that with the diversity of goals and personalities, there is no one-size-fits-all record system that I have discovered (yet).

So in the coming months, I plan to share a variety of systems as well as some tools that hopefully will make the task of record keeping easier – let’s face it, if it is cumbersome or time-consuming or difficult, we’re much less likely to keep records regardless of how convinced we are that it is a good or even great idea. So if you have any tricks or tools for the job I would love to hear about them and I’m excited about some of what I have found and will be sharing. My email address is scAndrewRausch@gmail.com and I look forward to hearing from you.