More on Databases and Beekeeping – Measuring Climate Change




Malcolm T. Sanford


In the March 2004 issue of Bee Culture (March 2004), Vol. 132 (3): 17-19, I published an article on databases and beekeeping.  In that column, I noted that there has been a proliferation of these as the World Wide Web matures.  Specifically I mentioned those on plant identification, pollinators, and bee management.  Mostly, I referenced the tool authored by Mr. Glenn Engels mounted at  Just after my column was published, Mr. Engles’ site passed the 1,000 colony mark and now accounts for 1896.  There are 779 registered users who are enrolled at the site to manage their colonies.  The site also has a link to my original article.


Since then another important database has been added.  This is the one implemented to collect information on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), authored by Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk and colleagues at Bee Alert Technologies.2  This “National Bee Loss Survey,” asks that beekeepers answer questions with reference to what they observe in:

1) Collapsed colonies


A. The complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with no or little build up of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.

B. The presence of capped brood in colonies.

C. The presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread
             i. which is not immediately robbed by other bees
            ii. when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.

2) Cases where the colony appear to be actively collapsing


A. An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present

B. The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees

C. The queen is present

D. The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement

In addition, it asks beekeepers to fill out the survey whether or not they believe they have experienced CCD.  Finally it is emphasized that all data collected is confidential and extremely helpful for determining the exact cause of CCD.

A recent post on the Bee-L discussion list attracted my attention; written in the subject line was “climate shift or ?”:  It stated “Normally I just lurk, but with the way things are going here-central lower Michigan-I was wondering if what I am seeing is just here or elsewhere as well.  Today is July 20 and I am seeing Goldenrod starting to bloom and Knapweed is in full bloom.  The Milkweed is done; the Asters are ready to pop and there is a local farmer that is getting ready to harvest corn!  Everything is about 4 weeks early.  I ran into this a couple years ago and somewhat last year as well.  By August and September everything is dried up and the bees are using their winter stores to survive the summer unless fed leaving starving colonies in the winter.”3

This brings me to another web site that has just been mounted at NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center.  It has to do with using beehives to monitor climate change and is administered by Dr. Wayne Esaias, an oceanographer and Master Beekeeper.  Dr. Esaias told me in a telephone interview that about a year and a half ago, he worked up some scale-hive information that he had been keeping since 1992 in the central Maryland environs.  It revealed that there has been a shift in plant blooming (black locust, holly and tulip poplar) correlated to about a 4 degree F. increase in temperature.  This may have been due to a number of factors, including urbanization, resulting in so-called “heat islands,” and, of course, generalized global warming.   

Although NASA scientists can see the ground using satellite imagery with a great degree of accuracy and can measure many aspects of plant health and condition using remote sensing, including with gobal weather events such as “El Niño,” this technology does not reveal anything about flowering in plants or pollination.  However, time of flowering (phenology4) can be a key to helping NASA understand climate change and can be usefully measured using scale hives, something beekeepers have traditionally implemented in their own management practices.

This is the genesis of HoneyBee Net.  The following information is found on the main page of this World Wide Web site5:

“If you are interested in taking part in the scale hive study, we would appreciate it if you could fill out this one-page questionnaire and email it to Wayne Esaias.

Central Maryland is the first test case of a network of scale hives to monitor honey bee nectar flow and nectar plant phenology.  Tracking nectar flow data can have many benefits.

“Quantitative information useful to beekeepers and scientists studying plant-pollinator interactions.

“A baseline from which to measure/predict climate change and land use/land cover change impacts.

“Demonstration of citizen-scientist role in climate impact studies - what’s happening in My Back Yard?

“Provides data for scientists to relate satellite observations to detailed phenological events.

“Data are needed to relate large scale climate and ecosystem models to local impacts.

“Will the Africanized Honey Bee establish resident populations in Maryland, and if so, when?”

Although much of the information to be collected is of extreme interest to NASA, Dr. Esaias says the project at present is really only in its beginning stages and has little funding.  Nevertheless, he has been able to mount the web site and begin testing it using about 15 local Maryland beekeepers.  In order to achieve more support, Dr. Esaias has written a larger proposal for administrators to consider.  Thus, he is asking the beekeeping community to step up and become what he calls “citizen scientists” in this effort by contacting him personally and revealing their willingness to be cooperators.  Clearly, the more support he can find for this project through beekeeper volunteers the more chance it has of being approved.

Scale hives have been extremely useful for beekeepers, but the technology may not be well known by some.  Thus, Dr. Esaias provides useful advice about these on the site:

“The daily measurement of hive weight provides useful insight into the condition and activities of the honey bee colony, the timing of the honey bee nectar flow (HBNF), and the interaction of the bees with their environment. A scale hive record will give the beekeeper valuable information on the current status of the colony, when the nectar flow is on, and when it is over.  Collection of such records is a very useful educational exercise for the beekeeper and for local clubs and associations

“The classic hive scale is the traditional manual platform “feed scale” with a deck about 17 x 24 inches, with a total capacity of 500 to 1000 lbs, and a minimum weight sensitivity of 0.25 lbs.  The precision and relative accuracy of these beam scales is maintained by sliding a weight along the beam. .  The principle of the operation (lever arm or beam balance) is robust, relatively insensitive to temperature, operates well regardless of rust and exposure to the elements.”

“A program for measurements of hive weight provides useful insight into the condition and activities of the honey bee colony, the timing of the honey bee nectar flow, (HBNF) and success of the interaction of the bees with their environment, and will provide a means for collecting and preserving the weight records.  A variety of papers describe a range of weighing techniques that yield useful information for colony management purposes, most recently reviewed by Szabo and Mueller (1996, American Bee Journal 136:417-419).  The purpose here is to provide a simple protocol, or recipe, for making scale hive measurements that provide insight into how the timing of the HBNF varies across the county and state, and over the years.

“The objective of these measurements is to provide multi-year to decadal records of HBNF timing to document its variability, and to assess and predict the effects of climatic change and land cover/land use change.  A scale hive record will give the beekeeper valuable information on the current status of the colony, when the nectar flows occur and their duration, when swarms issued, and status of stores for over-wintering.  Collections of these records provide a historical educational resource for the beekeeper, both individually and for local clubs and associations, and scientific investigators.  Maintenance of such records (including publication) provides a record useful for future investigations and comparisons.

“The timing of the nectar flow depends strongly upon the local plant flora, and how those species respond to local weather and climate.  Local/regional surveys of the nectar flow provide useful information on the abundance and distribution of the nectarous flora, and if taken over years, can detect land cover/land use changes as well as climate related changes.

Dr. Esaias describes a special procedure for participants in central Maryland:  “This protocol gives recommendations on scales and their use, colony selection and management, and suggestions of what to do when the unexpected occurs.  This protocol was written to provide guidance for volunteer beekeeper citizen/scientists, since only through their participation can large scale surveys of the nectar flows be conducted.  It assumes some background in beekeeping, but it is hoped that it will also be useful for the non-beekeeper ecological/climate scientist who might consider rental of a colony to augment the current suite of environmental variables taken at test sites.  The collection of such data would provide a greatly improved (if not essential) basis needed to relate climate change and ecological responses to potential impacts on the nectar flows and plant-pollinator interactions.  Graphing, plotting and analysis of records will be treated separately.

“Measurements can begin at any time in the year.  Plan to begin measurements by mid-March to capture the primary, or main nectar flow in the Tulip Poplar regions of Maryland (G. Abrams, 1957, Gleanings in Bee Culture 85:34-35), and continue them through the month of June and past July 4 if gains are still being recorded.  The beginning should be before the first ‘build-up’ flows from mustards, cresses, and dandelion commence.  The dates should suit your locality. The record may be monotonous for a while, with slow continual loss, until the spring flows begin.  Very few records exist to document minor flows occurring during the summer dearth and the fall aster/goldenrod flows in central Maryland, as these have been considered pretty boring and less important for bee management.  Good records during those times will therefore be important for understanding the complete annual cycle, and may provide very important information with respect to whether the native flows could support resident populations of the Africanized Honey Bee.”

Also provided at the site are details on selecting and managing the colony to be used, along with tips on topics like swarm management and how to log entries with specific examples.  Other information might also be beneficial even for beekeepers who decide not to participate and include feeding syrup, requeening, and what to do about hive bearding, rainy days and harvesting honey.

Dr. Esaias encourages non-beekeepers to be part of the project as noted above.  It is surprising how many people are engaged in phenological activities from those looking at humming birds to a full-fledged global network, which might be useful for those looking to establish phenologies outside central Maryland or who can send plant blooming times for their particular area.6. 

To round out his site, Dr. Esaias related some personal stories about his relationship with a scale hive.  As he relates: “The old cast iron scales are extremely rugged. Once, I think in 1993 or 4, in early March, a deer ran headlong into my scale hive, and knocked in on its side.  Deer tracks in the snow, with dog tracks along side, told the story, and the hive was in three separate piles.  I saw it when I went to go to work, and immediately went to investigate. I found out very quickly that bees, even with snow on the ground, were still quite effective defenders and that they detest black wool socks, and I started hopping around.  After getting properly dressed, I got most of the bees back in.  The scale was none the worse for the wear, and the queen survived.”  Send yours to




1., accessed July 21, 2007.

2., accessed July 21, 2007.

3., accessed July 21, 2007.

4.      ., accesed July 21, 2007.

5., accessed July 21, 2007.

6., accessed July 21, 2007.