Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Sensors Galore, but what does it mean?


The is a photo of our beehive.  We used to have 30 hives, now we have just this one.  The problem with 30 hives is that you can't really keep on top of them with a full time job.  They get killed by mites, swarm, go into winter too weak and die. So, we quit keeping bees. 

Now we just have the one hive and I keep keep on top of it pretty well. You'll note the two solar panels in the side.  These are the power supply for Wyze Outdoor Cameras

These cameras let us keep an eye on two things, one is how the bees are feeding inside the hive. Winter is coming and we had a pretty severe drought around here. The whole second half of the season was too dry.  There were flowers but mostly with very weak nectar and pollen. The hive made bees but never really stored honey or pollen. So we had to feed them. 

This photo is a still from the video feed from inside the hive. The tank at the center is sugar water. The powder in the dish on the right is dry pollen substitute. The yellow container on the right contains dry pollen substitute mixed with sugar syrup. 

The bees will almost always take sugar syrup but are less interested in it when there's a good nectar flow on.  These bees are very interested in this syrup even though at the time of the photo the best nectar flow of the year was on, goldenrod. 

In the upper right had corner of the photo you will see a small white box.  That's a Bluetooth temperature, humidity sensor.  Using that I can tell how warm the bees are keeping this part of the hive compared to the brood nest and the outdoors. I can see if the bees feed in cold.  So far I have seen that in cooler temperatures the bees seem to plug the hole to the brood chamber at night. They're insulating that interior of the hive with their bodies. 

We also have three Broodminder sensors in the hive.  These sensors measure the weight of the hive, the temperature of the brood nest, where the bees raise their young, and the humidity in the hive along with the outdoor temperature.  The line at the top is the overall hive weight of about 170 lbs. You can see little spikes on it where I've added feed.  

The most important part is the thin grey area in the middle.  That shows the temperature of the brood nest.  As long as the bees keep it between 92 and 98 the brood will survive. The bees keep the center of the hive, where the brood are at this temperature no matter if the temperature outside is 100 or if it goes down to 30 degrees. Since they start raising brood just after New Year's Day around here that outside number might me minus 10.  They'd have to lift that temp 105 degrees, insulating with their bodies and shivering to keep warm. 

 Here, above, you can see these bees are keeping the temp in the center of the zone with variance by less than a degree despite the outside temperature fluctuations.  These sensors read down to the 10th of a degree accurately.  Note the outside temperature goes up and down. 

On this hive we have one scale, two cameras, three temperature sensors and two humidity sensors?  That six sensors.  I started keeping bees 15 years ago, we've had up to 30 hives. I've had plenty of chances to observe bees. 

Still, after all this they're a mystery to me, more so now maybe then when they when I started.  I know more than ever how little I know.  

I kept chickens before I had bees.  Chickens have two arms, two legs and a head.  They're basically like us.  A beehive is a superorganism.  I stopped long ago thinking of it as made of individuals. I hive, the whole of it, the wax, the bacteria, the bees in all their casts are one body that blows up every warm sunny day and spreads itself out over 20 or 30 square miles.  It thinks with 60,000 minds that communicate with dance, vibration, pheromone, and sound.   

Right now these bees are raising "winter bees".  These bees have a switch flipped in them that allows them to store energy as fat. It also makes the bee more durable to last the winter.  Summer bees are like cars.  If they run out of gas (sugar) they die.  The beat themselves to death flying to flowers and dodging raindrops. They're expendable. The the nature of the hive is change now, change to a winter life where they line between success and failure is death for the whole superorganism, not just one bee. 

That's why fall is the start of the new year.  It's the plan, the change, for winter. 

Where these bees came from I have no idea, but they survived. They prospered enough to split and land in my yard. They took the risk that they would be able to divide their resources and come out of summer strong enough to make it though winter again.  

Bees now fight pests imported here from around the world.  Mites from Siberia, beetles from Africa, virus from everywhere. They live in a world with more drought and more rain too. We're in this together the bees and us. In return for my care they provide endless fascination. 

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