Plan Bee

Bees are important. I find myself saying this a lot and, slowly but surely, the media seems to be coming to this realisation too. The plight of the bee is finally being brought to our attention with increasing urgency.

A colony of bees make honey

Welcome to the house of buzz.

In the UK, bee colonies are suffering mass losses. Due to the use of bee-killing fertilisers and pesticides within the farming industry, the decline of pollen-rich plants, the destruction of hives by mites, and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), bees are in decline at a worrying pace.

Bee Collision

When you find the perfect GIF…

One hint of a silver lining is that increasing awareness of the crisis has led to a rise in the number of beekeeping hobbyists. As getting your hands on some bees is now as simple as ordering a box from the internet, keeping bees in your garden is a much less daunting venture than it once was. 

Taking this one step further, beekeepers are now using tech to monitor the conditions of their bees, improving conditions for their buzzy workforce while also recording data which can then feed into studies attempting to lessen the decline of the bee.

WDLabs recently donated a PiDrive to the Honey Bee Gardens Project in order to help beekeeper David Ammons and computer programmer Graham Toal create The Hive Project, an electric beehive colony that monitors real-time bee data.

Electric Bee Hive

The setup records colony size, honey production, and bee health to help combat CCD.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is decidedly mysterious. Colonies hit by the disease seem to simply disappear. The hive itself often remains completely intact, full of honey at the perfect temperature, but… no bees. Dead or alive, the bees are nowhere to be found.

To try to combat this phenomenon, the electric hive offers 24/7 video coverage of the inner hive, while tracking the conditions of the hive population.

Ultimately, the team aim for the data to be crowdsourced, enabling researchers and keepers to gain the valuable information needed to fight CCD via a network of electric hives. While many people blame the aforementioned pollen decline and chemical influence for the rise of CCD, without the empirical information gathered from builds such as The Hive Project, the source of the problem, and therefore the solution, can’t be found.

Bee making honey

It has been brought to our attention that the picture here previously was of a wasp doing bee things. We have swapped it out for a bee.



Ammons and Toal researched existing projects around the use of digital tech within beekeeping, and they soon understood that a broad analysis of bee conditions didn’t exist. While many were tracking hive weight, temperature, or honey population, there was no system in place for integrating such data collection into one place. This realisation spurred them on further.

“We couldn’t find any one project that took a broad overview of the whole area. Even if we don’t end up being the people who implement it, we intend to create a plan for a networked system of low-cost monitors that will assist both research and commercial beekeeping.”

With their mission statement firmly in place, the duo looked toward the Raspberry Pi as the brain of their colony. Finding the device small enough to fit within the hive without disruption, the power of the Pi allowed them to monitor multiple factors while also using the Pi Camera Module to record all video to the 314GB storage of the Western Digital PiDrive.

Data recorded by The Hive Project is vital to the survival of the bee, the growth of colony population, and an understanding of the conditions of the hive in changing climates. These are issues which affect us all. The honey bee is responsible for approximately 80% of pollination in the UK, and is essential to biodiversity. Here, I should hand over to a ‘real’ bee to explain more about the importance of bee-ing…



Alex Bate avatar

Arguable the best feature image of any blog post.

AndrewS avatar

Your ‘real’ bees only have four limbs – even more fake than the Millennium Falcon!

Liz Upton avatar

It’s the FORCE, Andrew. Jeez.

Steve Richards avatar

How dare you suggest there is no such thing as a Millennium Falcon! (goes berserk, kicks a lamp post, trips over, bangs head)
Really inspired to start a beehive off in the garden now, although I’m not sure how Mrs Richards might react to that idea. I suspect it may ultimately lead to children running around in slightly panicky circles and flapping arms a lot.

Liz Upton avatar

That’d make for some great YouTube.

Alex Bate avatar

Wait… WAIT… are you implying that Bee Movie isn’t a documentary?

AndrewS avatar

According to Liz, they were FORCEd to have two of their limbs removed before being filmed. Poor things :-(

Vivian avatar

And apparently subjected to a sex change, since only female bees can collect pollen and make honey.

Arthur avatar

Check out (open hardware and open source software) used with

Don Rideaux-Crenshaw avatar

+1 what Arthur said. is a great resource. Anyone serious (or even just curious) about the intersection of beekeeping and open source hardware/software should head on over there.

Larry avatar

Nothing open source at! Everything is for sale and the sensor kit is an ardunio and not open source either- what a shame! Checkout

Neil avatar

Nobody’s even asked if the bees were ok!

Norman Dunbar avatar

I used to keep 2 hives at the bottom of my garden. They are quite hard work though, especially when you are trying to lift 80 pounds of honey in one “super”.

My advice to anyone thinking of keeping bees is,get trained. Join your local bee keeping society, do the training, and if your society is anything like the Harrogate & Ripon one (my one) then yu stand a good chance of getting free bees!

Watch out for Internet bees, they might be bringing disease, you don’t want European Foul Brood for example, and you definitely do not want American Foul Brood, no way, no how!

I had to give up my bees. My wife became allergic to bee venom. She’s been tested and on a scale of 1 to 15, she’s 16.5! Too dangerous to have them near her now. She misses them though.


Liz Upton avatar

One of our Trustees has seven or eight hives in her garden; it’s lovely to sit in the sunshine and watch the bees at work. Sad news about your wife’s allergy – bees are lovely!

Not Pi-related, but new hive tech which we thought was rather fun: – makes harvesting the honey much easier on you and the bees both.

Don Rideaux-Crenshaw avatar

Flow hives are really controversial in the beekeeping world. They’re more than a little pricey, they’re not well tested in the Real World™ (beekeepers are a conservative lot) but more important, they are considered likely to promote the South Park approach to beekeeping:

1) Get bees
2) ?
3) Honey

Norman Dunbar avatar

Hi Liz,

Looking at the flow device, I see a problem. The collected honey is going to be robbed by other bees and definitely by wasps.

Unless you clean the pipes after turning off the tap, that thing is going to cause havoc with the bees in the hive. I’m not convinced it will be a good idea, but collecting honey with minimal bee disturbance is a great idea.


Kwac ka avatar

I’ve always wanted to become a bee-keeper and after retiring and moving to Cyprus started to gather information. Unfortunately no clubs here (that I’ve found) and it’s against the law to site a hive within 130 metres of a house and I don’t have a garden that big!

Bjarne bachmann avatar

We have 19 hives in the garden. It gives a lot of apples ? And other fruits

Bill avatar

I can’t beelieve this hasn’t been thought of beefore!

Adrian avatar

Actually open source hive monitoring is in full swing with instructions and software over at and data may be viewed at
We have produced sensor hat boards to accept hive weight, hive temperature, humidity, ambient temp & humidity, rain, light level, Pi camera. Working on audio, various bee counters and Bluetooth sensors for multiple hives.

Graham Toal avatar

Thanks for the write-up guys! That was a great surprise to see in the Raspberry Pi Weekly email this morning! Unfortunately I’m just about to be offline for a week so I won’t be around for the followup conversation. (Taking the slow boat to the UK – no internet for over a week). By the way the latest news on our project is that we’ve pulled together a multidisciplinary team from local experts and our University (UTRGV) is setting up a center to support our project. We’ll be setting up hives on the Edinburg and Brownsville TX campuses to further develop the Electric Hive concept.

regards, Graham Toal
(PS Could you correct the spelling of my surname in the article please?)

Liz Upton avatar

Thanks Graham! I think we can blame Alex’s overenthusiastic autocorrect for that one – apologies! That’s fixed.

Ryan avatar

Please research existing efforts a little better. There are multiple projects doing the same thing and we could really use the collaboration instead of the competition. Please look at We have multiple worldwide collaborators for hardware engineers, software engineers, and data scientists. We are going into year 2 of working together and can use your help.

Tony avatar

If you like bees and what they do then please make natural habitats for them to live, don’t use pesticides, sow bee friendly plants and don’t buy commercial honey. Just search for youtube to see what happens to them.

Norman Dunbar avatar

Agreed! Commercial honey is usually a mix of many honeys from around the world, plus, it has been pasteurised to within an inch of its life.

If you taste honey straight from the comb, from your local bee keepers, you will notice a huge difference.

Don’t even begin to think about possibly starting to mention Manuka Honey. It’s no better than any other commercial grade honey – i have been advised – and it too has possibly/probably been pasteurised but I’m not certain about that. Plus, it’s far too expensive!

Oh, Privett honey will make you Ill.


Kratos avatar

After seeing that gut-wrenchingly accurate GIF, I do not think I will eat honey ever again.

max lawrence avatar

Hey folks! Just to you know about another Raspberry Pi Bee project, check out Wynn Geary and Maximillian Lawrence’s interview on NPR last summer (2015) using a raspberry pi noir camera and a whole ton of other gear to collect information on CCD.

Liz K avatar

Just a note. The article mentions that pollen decline is a threat to bee populations, and what I think you might have meant is a decline in flowers that produce rich nectar sources for bees. The bees that visit my garden are extremely focused on nectar gathering (where your honey comes from) and the plants they focus on are things like catmints like nepeta ‘Walker’s Low,’ Russian sage, penstemon, hardy hibiscus, speedwell/veronicas, blue beard, etc. These flowers produce sufficient pollen for bees also. If folks want to help bees stay healthy, we need to plant more species like this to help them find things to eat to keep the hive healthy and supported. These nectar-rich flowers also draw hummingbirds to my garden in the summers. Catmints are a favorite of bees—they bloom from early summer to frost and produce lots of nectar consistently to pull the bees through the warmer seasons when other things are waning. Catmint is low maintenance, don’t require heavy watering (although decent watering helps boost nectar production), and perennial so they keep my bees happy without a lot of fuss. If you love bees and honey, please plant some of these flowers in a sunny south or west exposure in your own yards and the girls will buzz with happy thank yous to you!

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