Aug. 16, 2021

HiveTracks' Beekeeper's Companion with James Wilkes (S4, E9)

HiveTracks' Beekeeper's Companion with James Wilkes  (S4, E9)

On today’s episode, we welcome back friend of the podcast, James Wilkes, beekeeper, professor and Founder of HiveTracks. HiveTracks continues to evolve and grow from the ‘simple’ 2008 technology platform focused on recordkeeping for the...


James Wilkes

On today’s episode, we welcome back friend of the podcast, James Wilkes, beekeeper, professor and Founder of HiveTracks. HiveTracks continues to evolve and grow from the ‘simple’ 2008 technology platform focused on recordkeeping for the beekeeper to an entire ecosystem of management decision making tools. In past episodes staring with Episode 007 we talked with James about the ‘computerized hive’ and then in Season 3, with James and Joseph Cazier, about the development of ‘Bee-XML’ as a means to standardize data recording and sharing within the industry.

The HiveTracks team also continues to evolve and grow with James taking on the role of CTO allowing the new CEO to focus on the day-to-day running of the business, and James can put all his energies to the technology behind HiveTracks and providing strategic direction.

HiveTracks is now about to roll out the next generation of the product under the name of “The Beekeeper’s Companion”. It’s more than a recordkeeping app on your cellphone.  It now incorporates a full featured, data driven decision making tool pulling in information from not only your bees, but from multiple data sources including weather, the local/regional beekeeper community, land use/area floral sources and blooming periods and a beekeeping calendar! All of this is to provide the beekeeper the best information for making health decisions for your bees, your colonies.

Join us as we learn more about the future of data driven beekeeping using HiveTracks!

If you like what you’ve listen to in this and any other episode, make sure to share this podcast with your beekeeping friends! Also, don’t forget to subscribe and even leave a 5-star review!!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

Honey Bee Obscura

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We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong Microbials Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com

This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine destined for2 Million Blossoms your coffee table. Each page of the magazine is dedicated to the stories and photos of all pollinators and written by leading researchers, photographers and our very own, Kim Flottum.

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We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments: questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com

Follow to Beekeeping Today Podcast today!

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com

Bee Culture Magazine

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC

Transcript

S4, E9 – HiveTrack's Beekeeper's Companion with James Wilkes

[music]

Jeff: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Introduction: Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family operated business that manufacturers protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.

Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.

Jeff: Hey, thanks, Sherry. You know each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support. They help make all of this happen by just the ability to bring you each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast because we've been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.

We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms, a sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more in our Season two, Episode nine podcast with editor Kirsten Traynor, and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com, and that is a number two. Also check out the new 2 Million Blossoms podcast available from our website or from wherever you download and stream your shows.

Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us. We're so happy you're here. Hey, Kim. It's August already. Summer is just breezing by.

Kim: [laughs] Yes, quick before I forget, you just mentioned Bee Culture as our sponsor, and they've got this meeting coming up in the first week in October, and they've got a boatload of speakers coming in. It's a limited space, and if you want to go check out, you can check out all the speakers on the webpage, Bee Culture's web page or in the magazine. It's an event not to be missed, and you were telling me that we're going to have Jerry Hayes as a guest coming up here pretty soon. You get to listen to the editor, and then you can go to the conference in October. You get a good dose of Bee Culture Magazine.

Jeff: Yes, it's really good, and we've had a couple of those speakers on our show, Tammy Horn Potter has been on with us a couple times talking about her books. Also, Sue Cobey talking about instrumental bee insemination and many others. It's a great opportunity to talk to leading researchers and beekeepers in the industry. October 1, 2 and 3. Check out the link provided in the show notes and also on Bee Culture website.

Kim, have you gotten any extracting done?

Kim: No, I haven't harvested yet. I've got enough room and not enough time, so I'm going to wait and see what the goldenrod flower does, but I'll do it after that. I think I've got enough supers on. I think I can just do it all at once. I've got one hive that's really kicking butt, and I've got two that are doing about what they should be doing for new packages this year, so I expect to have some honey in the bottle when I'm done.

I take my supers over to my friend's house, and he and I extract. We do it all in a day, and then I stay and clean up, and when we're done, he gets whatever honey he's worth and wants for using his equipment, and I take my honey and put it in a box and go home and I've got no mess to clean up and it works out pretty well.

Jeff: That's the way to do it. Definitely the way to do it. For the beekeepers who are maybe extracting in their garage, or extracting in the back room somewhere, you have any quick tips for those beekeepers?

Kim: Well, if you haven't done it before, there's a couple things to keep in mind. One, keep the doors and windows shut, because--

Jeff: You'll get some unexpected help?

[laughter]

Kim: You'll get a lot of unexpected help. Keep the bees out if you can. Depending on the surface of the floor, if you start spilling honey, and you will start spilling honey, it can be easy or hard to clean up depending if you put stuff down on top of it beforehand. Keep the floor in mind, and when you've got to clean up.

Somebody asked me the other day about how do I deal with-- I've got a pot knife and a small tank, and I uncap and the cap is falling into that small tank and then I take the frame and put it in the extractor. If you take a look at that frame, or if you take a look at that small tank, Jeff, almost all of them are two pieces, and one of them is the bottom piece, and on top of that is screen, and then above that is where the wax falls, and then the honey that's clean to that wax will fall below.

Be generous with your time waiting for that to drain, even overnight. It will crystallize overnight, and you can get a lot of the honey out of it that way, then drain it out of the tank, and then you take the capping with a little bit of honey that's left and you can put them in a pail and wash off the honey, harvest the wax and then you can take it and melt it down or whatever it is you're going to do with it. You won't lose much honey, but you've got to be generous with the time you give it to drain when it's in that uncapping tank.

Jeff: You're talking about the floor. I extract in my garage better than in the carpeted living room. [laughs] I'm able to spread out some old cardboard, and that keeps everything cleaned up and then I can just pick up the cardboard afterwards. I always keep a wet rag available to wipe up any big messes that spill on the floor so I'm not tracking it everywhere.

Kim: A big pail of water?

Jeff: A big pail of water. That's right. If I'm thinking and on top of my game, I keep the water warm so that it makes it even a little bit better. What I do with my capping, I let it drain, but instead of washing them out, I take the capping’s out away from the bee yard and away from the house and just set them there, up high off the ground, and let the bees clean them out.

I know there's pros and cons against that, but that's what I've been doing. I think one of the things I've learned, maybe the hard way, is not to put it in the bee yard because that tends to lead to robbing incidents and stuff. I found if you keep it away from the bee yard, quite away, that they clean it up and they make a real nice job of it.

Kim: Depending on how much you have, you can put it right on the hive just on the inner cap. Put a box over it and close that up and they'll clean that up real fast, and that reduces, it doesn't eliminate, but it certainly reduces the chance for a robbing situation to come up. That way you get to give your honey back to your bees.

Jeff: One last question on this is, what do you do with the extracted supers or the extracted frames and supers of honey?

Kim: What I've always done is I got a what we call a wet super, and I just put it back. I've got so few hives now that I can remember what hive that box came from so I can put it back in the same hive and they'll clean it up, move the honey down, and you go back in a couple of days at the most and it's clean and dry and ready to store for the rest of the winter. They clean it up really well.

Jeff: What do you do if you're lazy-- not you're lazy, but what happens if you get distracted by weather or family commitments and you leave them on for a week or two and the bees start filling up with honey again?

Kim: I don't have any trouble with that at all.

[laughter]

Jeff: All right.

Kim: It might present a problem in terms of wanting that box for something else, but I've got enough boxes. I would just leave it there. I'm going to tell you something else coming up. Jim Tew and I are talking on Honey Bee Obscura about getting ready for winter.

Jeff: Oh yes.

Kim: This is one of the things that gets mentioned, is what shape are the boxes in that you leave on the hive over winter? Protecting bees in colder climates in the winter is changing for the better. I think people are finally beginning to realize that a tree trunk isn't anything at all like a Langstroth Hive, and we really challenged the bees asking them to overwinter, and when you have weather like I learned in Wisconsin or even here in Ohio, so we look at that in-depth. I've been doing better overwintering because I've been, Tom Seeley. He's the one who just brought this back up and hit us between the eyes with it.

Jeff: We've had Tom Seeley on the show, so I encourage listeners to go do a search on Tom Seely in the show notes, and that was right after Honeybee Democracy came out, I believe, and it's a great interview. I encourage the folks to go check that out.

In Honey Bee Obscura this week, you have a episode on ugly bees. Are you talking about bees that just have-- are weird looking?

Kim: No. It's when you're dealing with a hive that is not being nice. Why isn't it nice? What do you do about it? How do you deal with it with neighbors and all of those things? How you can call them? The term I always use is "mean as snot" That's when you've got one of those hives. How do you deal with that, so that you don't have to suffer, your neighbors don't have to suffer, your family or the pets or anything? How do you deal with that, and what causes it.

Jeff: That'll be out this coming Thursday, ugly bees and how to deal with them. That'll be good. I look forward to hearing that one. We want to encourage our listeners or remind our listeners, we now have transcripts included with each episode. If you are enjoying reading along as we talk, you can do that. Our full transcripts are available on our web page. Also, it's a helpful thing for folks beekeepers who are hard to hearing and don't enjoy podcasts because they can't hear them or can enjoy them so well. That's a good service that our sponsors have been able to provide for us.

Kim: I've heard a few people say it's a good thing. It's either one of two ways, if you read along, because sometimes when you're talking, you start talking too fast or whatever. It's difficult to determine what was said. This way, you've got it right in front of you. The other one, of course, is for people who are hearing impaired, and they get to listen finally, and they get to read finally.

Jeff: Yes, that's really good. I want to remind our listeners, if you like what you are listening to, and you like our guests, you like reading along in the transcripts, make sure you subscribe to the podcast wherever you download, listen to the show. Most importantly, please leave a review. The reviews are really important. They help us keep in front of our listeners and our potential listeners. It's a good thing to do. We appreciate you doing so.

Kim: Yes, we do.

Jeff: All right. let's get to our interview with James Wilkes of Hive Tracks. First, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials, and a reminder to check out the sponsor page and our show notes for this episode, for a special listener discount code for all Strong Microbials products.

Sponsor: Hello beekeepers, your honeybees face a lot of challenges out there. Unbalanced food sources from monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like chalkbrood. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all nectars, pollens, and the environment. These bacteria aid honeybees' digestion, and improve your honeybees' response and resilience to pesticides. Now you can help improve your honey colony health with a quick, easy and safe to use product. Strong Microbials SuperDFM-Honeybee uses naturally occurring bacteria to restore the healthy gut biome of your honey bees. Check them out today at www.strongmicrobials.com.

Jeff: Hey. While you're at the Strong Microbial website, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting product updates and beekeeping information. Hey everybody, welcome back to beekeeping today podcast. Sitting today with us across the virtual Zoom table is James Wilkes. James Wilkes is a friend of the podcast, has been with us since the early days, I think, and gives us an occasional update.

James, welcome back to the podcast.

James: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.

Kim: Hey, James, good to see you again.

James: Hey, Kim, good to see you.

Jeff: James is a CEO and founder of Hive Tracks. You've talked a lot about the Hive Tracks in the past, and it's really expanding. You guys are really doing a lot of work, you and your team. For our listeners who don't know much about Hive Tracks, maybe just seen the flyers or the ads online and or in the magazine. Why don't you tell us a little bit about Hive Tracks, some of the history, and what it can do for a beekeeper?

James: Sure. Yes, thanks for the intro. Part of the update is I'm not CEO anymore. I'm Chief Technical Officer, CTO is my official title.

Jeff: Very good.

James: We can get more on that later.

Jeff: Congratulations.

James: Yes, thank you. It's a good, whatever move that is. Horizontal, down. I don't know. Anyway, Hive Tracks is my brainchild and a friend of mine here. In Boone, North Carolina is where Hive Tracks originated. The original idea was in 2008, really, in my bee yard. I still have the same place, same bee yard. There was a seminal moment in my beekeeping experience where I was in my bee yard trying to remember what I had done. I was trying to think about all the other hives that I had in yards, and just trying to keep up with all this information and had what you would call an aha moment.

The idea for Hive Tracks that really technology should be able to give me an assist, as a beekeeper. There was information that was not readily accessible or easy for me to look at or to use as part of my decision-making process. I had to stop. I should be able to take my mobile phone, which at that time was relatively new in the technology space, and should to be able to give me information help as a beekeeper. Cloud computing was also coming on the scene at the time. By the way, my background is a computer science professor at the University. I have a PhD in computer science. Had been in technology since the early '80s. I've grown up in the in the tech transitions over that time. Yes, it was really a clash with my beekeeping out of small family farm at the time, and my technology side. That was the genesis of Hive Track idea.

Then we launched in 2010, with our product, Hive Tracks, which was a web platform. Since then, we've been iterating on business model on technology. We've gone through several technology transitions, rebuilding the platform and rebuilding the technology stack. We're in another one of those transitions right now. We can talk more about that as well as we go.

Hive Track was really, as I said, original idea was to help beekeepers make better decisions when they're taking care of their bees. What's the next thing I need to do? What should I be paying attention to right now? Then we also have the idea that what's happening in your neighborhood with the other beekeepers in your geographic region, or in similar circumstances to you, they're experiencing the same questions. They're having the same problems. They're having the same, having to wrestle with the same things that you are. Creating a platform where we could leverage that information from a community of beekeepers, and help them learn from one another in the digital space. That's what we try to do all the time with our beekeeping meetings and clubs. Generally, you have a beekeeping buddy that you talk to if you use the same yards or similar locations. You're talking to them about the flow or how are the varroa loads or what is the things look like. There's this weather event that bother your bees or things like that.

Bringing that real-life interactions into the digital space, and creating a framework, if you will, for allowing that process to happen, that was part of the original plan. We are continuing to double down on that original thought. Now with 10 years of experience, one, and trying to deliver technology solutions to beekeepers, we were the first in the space really. There was one other mobile app at the time. They're numerous ones out there now. We are continuing to innovate in terms of that original vision.

As I said, we changed technology platforms over the years. We've changed business models over the years, trying to create a sustainable model that will help us be a successful business. The tech business obviously is not a cheap space to be in. In terms of keeping up to date, you can create things fairly easy in your garage, but if you want to scale and go to production level, that's a different ballgame. We've learned a lot over the years and experience and bringing all that to bear in where we are now with our latest iteration of Hive Tracks.

Jeff: Definitely very busy work that you're doing, and I'm thinking about all the technology behind it. One of the last time you were on the show, you had one of your partners, a Dr. Joseph Kasier, and you were talking about your data model that you were working on. Are you still progressing on creating the industry standard on sharing information?

James: The primary work there we were talking about, I think was probably with Bee-XML, which was a data standardization group that was formed within Apimondia, created this committee, and we are still engaged with that group, and that group is still active. One of the pieces that came out of that that we are really using as part of what we're doing is how granular should location data be for beekeepers, because that is sensitive information. There's this tension between how close do you want to get to where a beekeeper is located, and not so close that it gives away too much information.

That group decided a three-kilometre radius was still useful from a scientific standpoint, but again, it's given enough fuzziness to the data that it's not giving the exact location of a beekeeper. That's still pretty close, but that's what they came up with as a starting point for a standard. There's still work going on. Creating standards is for thankless work, if you will, and requires a lot of engagement and participation from the stakeholders. I'll be honest, a lot of the stakeholders are busy. They're building stuff, creating technology, and it's hard, in the very early stage technology development spaces we're in, to get the time to do that, but that work is still progressing, and we're having our input into that group.

Jeff: Very good. Going maybe in a somewhat different direction, as not from the creative point of view, but from the user point of view, tell me what I have to do to take advantage of all these things you are creating. What's the process?

James: It depends on what you want to take advantage of. What kind of stakeholder are you? Let's just start with beekeeper. If I'm a beekeeper and I want to engage with Hive Tracks, we are launching within, I would say a three-week window, a completely new Hive Tracks product. It's called the beekeepers' companion, and that's going to be the most visible, tangible thing outcome that's coming out of Hive Tracks in the near term, and that's a manifestation of a complete rethink, redo of our platform, of how we want to engage with beekeepers, even with our long-term vision of how data plays into beekeeper success.

That's where we get that data-driven beekeeping concept that you see on the website. There's something coming very soon for beekeepers to see specifically for them impact that we hope to have with beekeepers. Otherwise, if you're a stakeholder in the honey industry or research or a government or NGO, some of our other longer-term solutions that hinge off of beekeepers using the app are in the space of the kinds of things that those groups do.

Whether it's monitoring or doing research about data and what's happening with beekeepers, some of the be-informed type work where you're tying outcomes to management practices, but actually having the real data rather than survey data, those kinds of possibilities. In the honey space, which we've talked about before, we have a whole roadmap of authentication traceability solutions that we want to bring in from the technology side into that, and that's super fascinating, and all is at the data ground level as well.

Maybe that was a longer answer than you wanted, but there's layers. Depending on who you are, I think we have-- Well, in the end, part of our message is that we want everybody who eats food to be interested in the health of honeybees and all pollinators. Our long-term vision is really to make sure that we have an impact in that direction.

Sponsor: Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today podcast. For over 40 years, Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

James: I haven't seen a lot about people accounting for the impact of just your bees, Kim. In your backyard, they're actually providing an ecosystem service within the two to three miles, the forage radius of your bees. You're not in an almond orchard increasing the yield for an almund, but you are doing something, your bees are creating life, having an impact on the ecosystem in the area, and there's measuring that, accounting for that. That's some of the thinking that we want to bring into the space. Take a more holistic view, what's the impact that honeybees, wherever they are, are having?

Jeff: Well, I think I'm looking back at the hive from the other side, "What's the world doing to my bees?"

James: There's a two-way street. Your honeybees are having an impact. We can measure that in a way, but how do we measure that while the health of your bees is a proxy for what's going on around them. That feedback coming back in, how are your bees being affected by the two to three-mile foraging radius? What's the forage like? What's this diversity? What other exposures are they getting, whether it's pesticides or whatever, or just there's too much concrete? The impact of the effect of your bees on the ecosystem and the effect of the ecosystem on your bees, measuring both ways is something that we're super keen on pursuing and coming up with ways to measure that.

What does it mean for the health of your bees, plus what impact do your bees have on the surrounding environment? In that respect, it could be in spaces like-- We're even looking at what's the connection between your pollination effectiveness and biomass increase, say. There's a definite connection, but what is it? How big is that? Can we measure it? Those are some pretty tough questions, but ones that we're willing to ask and see where the gaps are.

Jeff: This is pretty interesting, but back to-- Let's drawback into what Kim can do as a beekeeper in his backyard with the Hive Track apps. We're looking at the big, big picture, but let's-- What does the Hive Tracks do for the individual beekeeper?

James: The individual beekeeper is trying to keep their bees healthy. They want their bees to be healthy, they want to enjoy their bees, and so how do I do that as a beekeeper? You heard the name of our new app, we're calling it the beekeeper's companion, and that's how it's going to feel, that's going to be our attempt to make it be like that keeping buddy that you have, that you bounce ideas off of, not the mentor guru that you go to, but the person that's walking there alongside you because nobody's going to have all the answers. Even the mentor doesn't have all the answers. If they think they do, then find another mentor, I would suggest.

The new version of Hive Tracks is called the beekeeper's companion, and the idea is based on, again, our years of experience with people using the app, ourselves using the app, and what do we need to fulfill that original vision of, "Give me an assist in keeping my bees being more healthy."? There's several pieces of information or data that are important to you in making decisions about your bees, and you can think of these as data inputs or layers of data. We can articulate what those are.

Jeff: Such as what?

James: Weather is a big one. What's the current weather. There's a component of weather that we've really elevated to and more critical position in the app and how it affects your decision-making process.

The other is the flora around you, or the current foraging conditions that you're in, so what data sources or floral sources are within the foraging radius of your hive, and what's blooming right now. That's going to be dependent on both the time of season and the location of the beekeep. By the way, that's one of the big pieces of this new app, is it's going to be sensitive to location, and to time of year, and not just time of year, but actually bee season time of year.

We've got this rail running underneath of the bee season, and we all go through the same cycle of a bee season. Having that as the backdrop for the app is part of the decision-making process. We have weather, we've got the flora or the bee season, and then there's the beekeeper's data themselves. You as a beekeeper, you know, "When did I last visit my hives? What was the last thing that I did? What did I see? How are the bees doing? What was the brood like? What was the Queen's status? What's food?" Those kind of normal health assessment inspection questions.

Then the fourth piece is that community information. If you take all that information I just mentioned about that the beekeeper is going to be adding themselves, and then aggregate that within some proximity to your location, then you've got this community information, and we term that community intelligence, is the label that we've given to that. If you take that whole group of data sources, and those are on our back-end, on our web platform, if you will, and are feeding into through logic in the app delivering that to the beekeeper. Now, what's the beekeeper going to see, we're making this very task-driven, task-oriented.

Jeff: That'd be really good. I would be wondering, "Well, what do I need to do next?"

James: And what's going to change that next thing to do. Keeping a good cadence with your bees, and looking at the bees within this context of this information, the weather, the flora, what's going on in your neighborhood, and what you did before, all of those are the framework for the app. Now, all you're going to see on the app is not all of this information, but what's getting delivered through the app, through notifications that are all based on your circumstance. How many hives you have? Where you're located? What time of year you're in? What you did last time? That's the reframing of the app.

In the past, it's been what I would term a passive data collection tool, and people who love data, if they were happy as clams that they would love entering all that data, but the rest of us who are really busy, and, you know, "Oh, I'll do that later," and then you never do it, and you feel guilty all the time because you didn't use the app well, that's the refrain that I've had from customers, is I really liked the idea, I really liked the concept, but I just don't use it very well. I took that as a clarion call to, we need to fix that.

There's things that I can do on my side, from a technology standpoint, make it easier to use, make it more delightful, and fun, if you will, and make it valuable. That's the other piece, is what's the value out of it. Those three factors we put into a whole design process. We've designed, like I said, the whole app. Even our database back end is completely new. There's a huge amount of work that this behind all that is going to emerge in this one little app that's going to pop out in the store, but you're hearing some of the pieces that are behind that.

Again, the idea is that I want this app to be part of my beekeeping experience. It's going to walk with me. It might give me a notification says, "Hey, today's a great day." It's a good bee day. It's a good bee weather day, and you have an inspection window coming up. Think about going into bees today if you can." Or you might get, "Hey, 10 beekeepers in your area has swarms yesterday or today, and so make sure you're doing swarm checks, things like that." That's the idea. I'm not sure I gave all the pieces of that, but that's the newness in the new app. The mindset is this companion.

You're the beekeeper. You're the one that has to do the work. You have to make the decisions, like, give a quick view to make those decisions, and less dependent, real on you being an expert that what the data means and how to interpret it giving some guidance in that area as well.

Kim: Well it sounds like my record-keeping is probably all d-minus. I'm really good in April, not so good in May, and by July, I can't find my book.

James: The data says that, whether you're doing the book, or whether you do it in digital, early season, lots of data. I'm going to be a good record keeper this year and then it all goes out the window at some point.

Kim: That's me. Okay, you got me.

James: Well, that's I think that's pretty universal, even all the way up to the commercial guy.

Kim: What you're telling me is that behind on the back of my cell phone that I'm looking at one of in the bee yard, some knowledge is telling me this is going to be blooming in a week or is this blooming now, people are having swarms. Raw populations are building up, maybe you want to look at that. I am reading the data that you're giving me from the community and from the knowledge base that you've supplied with this program, and then I'm reacting to it by doing something and then entering some data of my own so other people can take advantage of all of the people in the communities actions. Am I close?

James: That's close, yes, and like I say, the information that you enter is certainly the critical piece for your own well being of your bees, and it also sets the pace. It sets the pace for the app itself. For example, if you went through, and you noted that your hive was queenless, well, we're going to drop the interval down for what we're going to recommend when to visit next. We're going to shorten that. We have this baseline inspection interval that we're going to operate on that's going to be dynamic. We're going to do some tweaking of that in the background based on what you're telling us, even what's going on in the neighborhood.

It sounds more complicated than it is right now, but it's setting the framework, it's setting a system in place where we can get pretty sophisticated with the data itself, and that's really what we're doing with the new app, is we're positioning it with features and with infrastructure in place so as more data comes in, we can do more and more interesting things, more targeted information for you as a beekeeper based on your circumstance. Getting customized advice would be the ultimate goal, and that's a super difficult problem, but that's what we're trying to do.

Jeff: There's a couple of things that you mentioned that they're intriguing. One was the floral blooms, and weather. You're pulling that from some other service, and based on the beekeeper's geolocation, you're able to let them know that in my area, the blackberries are in bloom or something like that, so you can give those alerts or notifications.

James: Right. One way to think about the data is, there's data the beekeeper's input, that's within Hive Tracks. That's within the hive tract universe. Then the aggregated data, that's still within our purview. We keep that, steward that data. Then there's what we call secondary data sources, and so your weather, we're pulling that from a service, and then the flora as well.

One of the outcomes that, in attempting to do that, is we are, in essence, creating a catalog or an inventory of flora data sources that are out there in the universe. We have a couple of guys on our team, that's what they've been doing a lot of work on, and it's fascinating. From them, they say the US has some of the most amazing data sources from flora and that thing compared to Europe, in particular, where these guys are. Yes, so these secondary data sources, or these other layers where going around looking at what's available out there. The other component of that, is going to be accessible, is you start with some granularity of whatever data is out there that's available from these other sources. However, we can begin to build our own internal sources of that. We can say, Hey, let's take sour wood, for example, we could ping our Sourwood, we could send notifications, specifically to our beekeepers that are in a sour wood region and begin asking them, is the sour with blooming yet. This is sour with blooming yet. We actually can have beekeeper data that then feeds into that forest source, that round Shrew sip that begins to give some more finer grain, resolution to blooming dates, things like that.

Jeff: That'd be really interesting. If you could geo map it, you could basically animate it across the region of the rolling.

James: That's been my dream for a long time, is essentially mapping honey flows, and in particular, just watching the progression. If you go to Florida, I've been down to commercial beekeepers there in late February, early March, and Maples have started blooming as you come north, and so you can see maple trees, and they're blooming here and then it goes down and you get back to my house and it's snowing. It's that progression. Obviously it goes on all the time, but having the beekeepers give data to help define that as well is part of this.

Jeff: Well, that is interesting. What about pulling in live information regarding active disease processes, say, for neighbor within my locale came down with a yard full of American Falbert, would I receive notification of that?

James: Of course, you could. There's some interesting layers there, both on privacy, and just data ownership, stewardship and responsibilities, whole bunch of interesting issues there, that we're certainly aware of and are being very deliberate about how we're approaching. The other side of that is, different jurisdictions have different rules, and so Tennessee has very different rules than North Carolina, which has very different rules than New Zealand, which New Zealand has their own whole technology system set up to do the reporting, and that sort of thing. One of the challenges there was, even if we had the information, where does it go? Where does that information flow? Disease overload or a flow, any of that information that is accumulated has value. That's an instance of its value to certain stakeholders. The other beekeepers around, whatever regulatory, people who are looking in, and might want that information, and we are very interested and keen on who are the stakeholders and who can this information benefit in carrying out their mission. That's really what we're trying to do.

Kim: You're bringing up two points, and I want to go back to something really fundamental here is to make sure that I understand it. You've got a set of data that your app is drawing information from. You mentioned weather, you mentioned plants blooming in a region, you mentioned if my colony, when queen list it's going to change the recommendations that makes in terms of what I do when. All of this data is someplace. It's coming to essentially my cell phone. Is it calling me up in the middle of the night and saying you better get out and check your colony tomorrow before noon?

James: No, it will operate just like any of your other apps, will have notifications settings, and we are very aware of not wearing out users with too many notifications. There will be ways to change that setting to your preferences, so there'll be preferences for that.

Kim: One of those settings, will it be you haven't been here in 10 days, what have you been up to?

James: Yes, absolutely. No, that's the other side of it, was our objective is to get as many beekeepers around the world using the app and using it well, and using it well simply means using it. In the past, you could use the app, but you still had to be very deliberate about how you entered data. The way we've redesigned, is if you use the app, you're going to input the data, hopefully frictionless or effortless, the way we've designed the app and set it up. You are necessarily going to collect the data. That's going to be good for you. That was really one of the goals.

Back to your question, if you're not using it, then there's many triggers, we would call them, that says, Hey, Kim, you haven't been paying attention to these notifications. Can you turn them off? What are you doing? I probably won't say, Kim, your bees are going to die if you don't go visit them.

Kim: That's good. I like that. That would probably motivate me.

Jeff: Followed by a shrieky flax.

James: There's some psychology there. I'm sure.

Kim: I'm sure that I can investigate your webpage and find out much of this, but all of this, you've been putting together and you've mentioned several countries already, so your global April Monday and all of these people are working to make this work better, not only for me, but for them and for all of us. How is this getting paid for?

James: That's a great question. The short answer is that, well, no, there's not a short answer, because in the past year and a half, we've repositioned hive tracks, and that we've had an investor come in about a year and a half ago. Interestingly enough, she only lives like a half a mile from me, and her original initial investment is Laura Dye. She's part of the management team. There's a new management team with Hive Tracks. It's myself, Laura Dye and Max Runzel. Max is our CEO, and Laura is our COO, and I'm the CTO. Then we have a much bigger team of others behind us as well. In the last year and a half, Laura came in and gave us enough investment to reposition the company. We've reorganized it. It's a different-- it was an LLC, now it's a C4, and we've changed the structure so that we can take investment capital.

In fact right now we're in a pre-seed funding round,. We're raising 500K,. We're about two-thirds of the way there, and that's going to give us enough runway to get this new product out and get us to next season when we really have a lot of these other more interesting-- not more interesting, but just extensions of what we're releasing here soon. It's being paid for by capital that people are believing in what we're doing and investing in the company. That's how it's getting paid for.

Certainly some of our revenues prior to this point, I talked about different business models that we've tried. Originally we were completely free, and then we were freemium premium, and now we're in the SAS model, a subscription-based model, and that's what we're going to continue to be, and that generates revenue. This was part of the problem that we were bumping up into, is that, that doesn't provide enough for your research and development to really rebuilding the whole technology stack and doing the things that we really wanted to do. I could have just pushed autopilot and let it run as it was, technology would get stale. It would be useful, but that's not what I set out to do. In order to do the things that we want to do, we're in the capital raise right now. We do expect revenues to support part of that, and that's actually another component, in addition to the investment capital, another part of our business model is really on what I would call sponsored projects. The subscription model is a one-to-one. You get a beekeeper signs up, pays a subscription, buys the app, and that works great. What my CEO, Max, would say is the global north, the subscription model works.

Also we might do things through a club. A club might buy subscriptions for there. In one too many type model, but in places where we really don't want the beekeeper to be the one responsible for paying for the app. If the app is going to be an assist to help them learn more about beekeeping or create a market for their honey. In the global south, this one too many business to business really model, is what we're working on, and we had our first example of that that we're in the middle of right now. I mentioned it briefly in the pre-show, and this is a project that's funded by the German federal foreign office, their human rights division, and this is for women beekeepers in Uzbekistan and Ethiopia.

What we're doing in north America right now, we're releasing this app, and it's going to be customized, more or less, to North American beekeeping, both in terms of language, types of hives, just the normal beekeeping flow. We're customizing this to the Uzbekistan environment, and we're going to customize it to the Ethiopian environment. We've had user UX testing. We've already started in Uzbekistan, so we have, I think it's 20 women beekeepers in Uzbekistan, where they're sitting there with our app and trying it out while we had to translate to Russian and Uzbek.

Jeff: Wow, that's a lot of work. What is the benefit for Hive Tracks to do all that work?

James: You can think of it as a use case for the app. We're getting experienced with the app in this new environment. Different data sources, different florist sources, different beekeeping language, different beekeeping practices, and how does our app respond. Can we pull off what we're trying to do in these different places. We really got this Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and North America, and really, any English speaking, the traditional Hive Tracks locations with the current app that's coming out. We're going to have a lot of good information coming back from all those to feed into our iteration on the app.

Jeff: You've got an app that will tell me it's time to re-queen, all the way to dealing with beekeepers in several countries. You've got a global community of people on the data driven size and people on the user-driven side working to make all of this better. I'm impressed, James. Very impressed.

James: It's a zoo.

[laughter]

We don't shy away from trying big things.

Jeff: That's good. How do I get involved in this? What do I have to do?

James: A couple of things. One, you can track along with us from our website, so if you sign up there, we're sending out updates about what's going on like any other big tech company. You can sign up and get their newsletter, and so, that's one way to keep in touch. Or if you're a beekeeper, you can sign up to be a beta tester. We're still taking, if you want it, the first look in two weeks window. You can probably go ahead and still jump on that train, or the app itself is going to be coming out in about three weeks.

Jeff: The key is to go to your webpage as soon as we're done here.

James: Listen to this podcast.

Jeff: There you go.

Kim: There you go. Okay good.

Jeff: You do a real good job in the social media to follow you on Instagram.

James: We do. Yes, we try. We've got a pretty good flow there from the hive tracks, both on Instagram and Facebook. Got a little bit of Twitter going on, as well. A little bit of LinkedIn, so we have a presence in all those, whatever your preferred mode is. My farm, faith Mountain Farm. I have a pretty good presence there if you're interested in bee-related things for this Northwest North Carolina, which, anybody who likes sour with honey should.

Jeff: Well, there you go. That's where I was going here. Some of that sour wood honey. Okay, I'll look for a jar. James, this has been overwhelming and very useful and informative. I'm going to sit down for a while and then I'm going to go take a look at your webpage, and take it from there. Thank you very much for all of this information.

James: Oh, you're very welcome.

Kim: It's been great having you back on the show and look forward to future updates. I've always enjoyed having James on the show. Boy, he really enjoys what he's doing. He's doing a lot. [laughs]

Jeff: Doing a lot doesn't even come close to what he's doing. I'm amazed at the all the things he's got his fingers in. His farm and his bees and his hive tracks program. Then now, his new business or his business expanded, and now he's dealing with people in other countries trying to get his program, essentially universal. Just listening to him wears me out. I can't imagine doing all the things that he's doing but boy, I am intrigued. I am really intrigued with what he's got going. He also teaches. He's a professor. He teaches there at Appalachian State there in Boone. I don't know. He probably sleeps less than I do [chuckles].

Kim: The combination of the things that he's got going, his app and I can see where you could marry his app on your phone with some of the people that we've talked to with these hives that are giving you information. You've got his program telling you, what you should be looking at taking care of if you've got some of these electronic gizmos going. They're going to be recording and taking good records for you. I think record keeping for me, may be solved.

Jeff: [laughs] You just have to remember to hit on [laughs].

Kim: There you go.

Jeff: I meant to ask him about that and didn't while he was on the line. The integration into the hive sensors. Whether, choose your brand, but if their app automatically can be set up to pull in that information and I started to go there when we were talking about the data sharing in the bee XML as he called it, and a standardization of that language but I didn't ask him directly about the integration of sensor data. We'll have to save that for next time he's on.

Kim: I got to believe that the cloud is getting crowded.

Jeff: [laughs]. That's a cumulonimbus cloud up there, I think it's.

Kim: I know. There's a lot of stuff floating around. They're doing a lot of people who were putting things up there and if somebody is smart enough to gather all of it and put it together. I like his approach of using a community. He doesn't tell me where my neighbors live, but he tells me what my neighbors are experiencing in the region that I'm at, which gives me a feel for. It's like going to a bee meeting every day.

[music]

Jeff: Or, having the information for that bee meeting right at your fingertips, actually. Well, that now wraps it up for this long show. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you'd like.

You can get there directly on our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank bee culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of the beekeeping today podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast.

Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Better Bee for joining us as our latest supporter. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, we want to thank you. A beekeeping today podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments of questions at beekeepingtodayspodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else? Kim.

Kim: Well, I think that wraps it up. You hit the keywords. There's a long show this time, but there's a lot of stuff here.

Jeff: A lot of great information. All right. Thanks, everybody. Take care.

[music]

[00:57:51] [END OF AUDIO]

James Wilkes

Founder - Hive Tracks, Beekeeper, College Professor,

James Wilkes is a beekeeper, college professor, farmer, and entrepreneur. With a career in computer science higher education (Appalachian State University) and years of practical beekeeping experience that includes building a small family farm and bee business (Faith Mountain Farm), his sweet spot is working at the intersection of computing and honey bees. He brings to life technology solutions that create a positive impact for honey bees and the stakeholders and food systems that depend on them and enjoys engaging the beekeeping community to improve our understanding and care of honey bees and the planet we inhabit.

James’ mathematics and computer science background (B.S. from Appalachian State University and M.S. and PhD. from Duke University) collided with farm and beekeeping life to create the environment for the creation and founding of HiveTracks as well as the genesis of the Bee Informed Partnership both of which were launched in the same week in August of 2010 in concert with the EAS conference in Boone, NC. Life since that moment has been full of growing businesses, research projects, honey bees, children, and relationships with people from around the world who share a common love of honey bees and their environs including the hosts of this podcast!