Monitoring Beehives with IoT

As of 2020, there were roughly 94 million beehives around the world, with more than 600 thousand beekeepers (both commercial and hobbyist) in the EU alone. When you consider the huge stress bees have been under due to a number of often interrelated causes (pesticides, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, climate change) the growing number of beekeepers is great news. But that great news is tempered by other, less great news: in the US alone, beekeepers lost 45.5% of their managed honeybee colonies between April 2020 and April 2021, the second highest loss rate since 2006. Given that pollinators contribute directly to food security, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure eco-diversity. This is where Beezum comes in. The Swedish startup’s solution uses IoT technology to connect beehives, giving beekeepers new and better way of understanding what is happening inside their hives.

Olle Källström, CEO and Founder of Beezum, has been a hobbyist beekeeper for two years. While he keeps his hives at his summer house in the Västervik archipelago, he lives in Stockholm, so going back and forth to tend to his beehives can be a challenge. In the summer of 2021, he was busy with family and other commitments and thus unable to get out to his summer house as often as he normally would. That’s when he got a call that would prove to be the initial trigger for a new business.

“My neighbour out in the archipelago called and said my bees were swarming,” explains Olle Källström. “I had to drop everything and rush out there to catch the bee swarm. This made me realize I needed some kind of tool to monitor the hives when I couldn’t be there in person. I also wanted to learn more about my bees and hives because bees are important to the whole ecosystem.

My vision is to help beekeepers and create a community that includes individual beekeepers, professsionals, and beekeeping associations – a place where we can share information and our love of beekeeping while also gathering data and stats that help us ensure the survival of bees.

Olle Källström CEO Beezum

The result of this vision is Beezum, an all-in-one subscription beehive monitoring solution that takes away the headaches of dealing with technology while giving beekeepers the insights and information they want and need to ensure optimal conditions in their hives.

“Most beekeepers don’t want to think about or deal with things like data buckets, rate and communication plans or any of that kind of stuff,” explains Olle Källström. “They want to focus on their bees, and I want to make that easy for them. This means customers simply sign up for the subscription, place the sensors in the beehive, get connected, and they immediately have access to data and insights like never before. I remove the headaches of tech by taking care of that side of things, which can be a bit of a hurdle for some.”

Monitoring the hives and gathering data reveals helpful information that can be used to address any challenges. In addition, data from both hobbyists and professional beekeepers can also be used to paint a much larger picture, helping users to understand trends and act quickly to threats.

Using cellular connectivity

Using cellular connectivity means there’s no need to deal with cables or installations, which is crucial when you consider that beehives could be moved to different locations.

Beezum’s connected sensors are very small and use Bluetooth and measure things like temperature, audio, humidity, weight, and air pressure for weather changes. They also count the bees as they fly in and out of the hive. The sensors are connected with 2G or 4G and send small data packets on a regular basis, giving the user information week to week and month to month.

“We chose Tele2 IoT for our connectivity because we know the company is reliable and solid,” says Olle Källström. “We use 2CONTROL (Cisco IoT Control Center) to manage the connectivity for my customers. I use shared data buckets, which allows me to pool data from different subscriptions and increase efficiency. Customers only need to buy a yearly subscription and I take care of everything else so they can focus on the bees and not worry about SIM cards or connectivity. Beezum is plug and play.”

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Celluar connecitivity also allows Beezum users to gain insights and identify challenges in the beehives in real time, rather than when it might be too late.

“If we look at the dashboard, we can zoom in and see that the blue graph shows bees going out, orange is bees going in – so you can get an idea of how active it is,” says Olle Källström. “You also get warnings if something is wrong. One typical warning is about the Queen, who could be preparing to swarm. This could be happening because she’s getting too old – maybe two or three years old – which is when the hive would naturally split. If you have bees living in a log or tree and it gets too crowded, they will split and start a new hive somewhere else, so the queen will usually take half the bee colony and swarm – but you don’t want this to happen as a beekeeper – you want control, so getting that warning quickly means you won’t lose half of your hive due to swarming.”

In general, a beehive has a constant temperature of around 35°C. This is the optimal temperature for the Queen to go around and lay eggs and create larva. The working bees need to keep that temperature year-round in order to keep the Queen viable, even during the winter months.

Usually beekeepers are listening – literally – to what is happening in their hives. They are putting an ear to it or opening up the frames and looking at the state of things. They also open up the hives to see what is going on, but this isn’t optimal, as you don’t want to keep disturbing your bees, so beekeepers are able to see the benefits of Beezum very quickly.

“When a swarm is about to happen or is on the verge of happening you want to keep track of that,” says Olle Källström. “The sensors will give you a warning a week before or even up to three weeks, which allows you to prepare. You measure a swarm by listening to the frequency, the sound, but you don’t want to keep disturbing the hive, so we have the sensors listen for you. If the sound around 200hz it’s normal, if it’s 240hz it means something is probably happening. If it’s at around 280hz you have maybe a week before they start to leave. If it’s at around 300hz then they’re probably going to swarm any time now. Beezum and our connected sensors allow you to react quickly and in real time.”

Additionally, beekeepers are keenly aware of how bees are a measure of what is going on with the environment and climate from a wider perspective and how they are a key element of a sustainable planet.

“People are learning more and more about how we use and gain understanding from technology in things like beekeeping – and also how we can share that information,” says Olle Källström. “Longterm, it would be great to see all this data from different sources gathered in one place and used to not just understand bees more, but also the climate and how things are changing and the impact this is having. I think it will be helpful for research about bees, but also combined with research from other areas to paint a larger picture using big data. This means cross-functional analytics combining data from, for example, bees, beehives, agriculture, climate, weather – this will give us a much clearer picture on so many things. The result will be data-driven initiatives and solutions that will impact the climate and our lives in very positive ways.”

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.

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