Process and control today |  Outdoor enclosures help protect bees with housing for the hive monitor

Process and control today | Outdoor enclosures help protect bees with housing for the hive monitor

Endangered in Britain, the preservation of bees is vital. Balancing the right temperature and humidity in the hive is crucial, so monitoring these conditions is important to understanding how to protect our bees. An engineer with a passion for beekeeping focused on creating an electronic sensor durable enough to survive a winter in northern Scotland. He turned to Spelsberg to supply the boxes that will provide reliable long-term monitoring.

Pollinators of trees, plants and crops essential to the preservation of our environment and our food supply, bees are vital to the global ecology. Since the 1970s the UK’s bee population has been in decline and, to address the potential for environmental disaster, initiatives such as the Department for Food, Environment and Human Resources’ Healthy Bees 2030 plan Rural Affairs (DEFRA) were launched.

Measures to reverse the decline of bees have also received commercial and agricultural support, and the area cultivated with insect-pollinated crops has increased by more than a third since 1989 (2). In addition to caring for insects in their own right, beekeepers have a vested interest in the health of hives for honey production, especially if scaled up commercially.

Ensuring the increase in the bee population requires optimal conditions within the hive, including temperature and humidity. If a bee hive is too cold, the bees can die, which can lead to the loss of the entire hive if the queen dies. Meanwhile, humidity can cause condensation, which can not only cause fungus and rot, but cold water droplets can also kill bees.

Near Ellon in Aberdeenshire, a number of hives are in the care of bee conservation enthusiast Rae Younger. Northern Scotland experiences shorter summers than most of Britain, giving less time to make the honey they will depend on for energy during the long, cold winters. In this climate, hive health is more important than ever.

Rae has developed a monitoring device that will provide round-the-clock notifications of hive health. The device includes electronic sensors and a microprocessor. So, like the hives it monitors, the device needs protection from harsh Scottish winters and defense against curious wildlife.

“I had used Spelsberg enclosures before for my day-to-day work in the oil and gas industry and was very impressed,” says Rae. “They were tough enough to protect against weather and impact, while being lightweight and easy to install. Additionally, the company was able to offer customization and engineering support, which helped makes excellent value.”

With five hives and a monitoring device for each, Rae used a Spelsberg TG enclosure, offering IP67 protection against driving rain and snow, as well as IK08 shock resistance. The compact housing, measuring 122mm by 82mm, houses temperature, humidity and pressure sensors. A microprocessor controls a signal, every 15 minutes, which transmits via LoRa, a long-range, low-power radio modulation technique, with a separate antenna. Back at base, about a mile away, the LoRa signal is received, providing 24/7 remote monitoring. If needed, LoRa can transmit up to 10 miles. The device is also powered by four 8650 lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.

Like many beekeepers who face colder climates, Rae uses a polystyrene-based hive, rather than a traditional wooden design. If the monitoring device signals that the temperature is dropping, the vents can be closed and, if necessary, insulation can be added to the hive to retain heat. During this time, if humidity increases, vents can be opened or replaced with permeable alternatives to allow moisture dissipation.

“The enclosures are also quick and easy to install, with a nifty quarter-turn screw that allows quick access and closure of the cover,” says Rae, who installed a transparent cover to allow visibility of the status LED.

Equipped with CAD drawings, downloadable from Spelsberg’s website, Rae designed and installed his own custom bracket to accommodate the device’s sensors, simply slotting into the case’s internal brackets. While early prototype hive monitoring devices are being validated in the field, Spelsberg’s in-house CNC customization engineers are available to ramp up production if needed.

“Existing monitoring devices are available, but they’re usually solar-powered,” Rae says. “This can significantly increase the size and cost, compared to the battery option, which operates for nine months before a recharge is needed. Other devices also transmit via a SIM card, but this increases ongoing costs compared to using LoRa.

With hive theft being a growing problem, Rae has also fitted a GPS transmitter to each device, meaning the location of each hive can be tracked wherever it is.

“Monitoring devices will help ensure that hives and their populations remain healthy all year round. Spelsberg enclosures provide the vital protection to keep the device running smoothly in all conditions.

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