Online Inspection Record Keeping

This article first appeared in YBKA’s June 2012 news letter and was written by Sheffield BKA’s secretary Phil Khorassandjian.

Something that we’re all told to do, but seems to be fraught with difficulty, is to keep hive or colony records. I must admit I’ve been struggling to:  a) Decide what information I need to collect and b) To find a satisfactory method of keeping and accessing my records.
A key issue is what data to record.

The problem here is that there are numerous examples of hive records – just about everyone seems to have their own idea as to what it’s important to record. And this is quite alright of course since we all have differing requirements. Are we trying to maximise our honey production, or raise new queens or breed in varroa resistance? Or all of the above? None of the examples I found gave what I was looking for. The card index forms had too little space on them and relied on a complex set of coded abbreviations that you either need to keep in your head or on a “handy” reference card. The spreadsheet versions weren’t developed enough and I wanted to avoid
double entry – first onto paper and then transfer to the computer. My main criteria became:

  • Spreadsheet based record
  • Entry through selection from a list wherever possible in order to avoid typing
  • Use of low cost Android tablet or Smartphone

Google Forms nearly gave a workable solution. The only thing that disqualified it and kept me searching for a solution was the limitation that you have to have internet access while you’re entering data. Fine if you’re in your garden within range of your wi-fi, not so good if you’re in a remote out-apiary without access to the internet.

The answer came eventually from an app that will work on a variety of tablets or Smartphones. Mobile Forms by Device Magic is designed for the survey market; it will use a form to collect data and then populate a spreadsheet with the answers. Best of all it will work off line. If your device is not connected to the internet you simply save your results on your device and upload to the internet later.

I found that most of the data you would enter could be presented as multiple choice answers. Instead of writing down 1, 2 or 3 litres of light syrup, you choose to put a tick against 1 litre, 2 litres or 3 litres light syrup. You may ask what happens to 11⁄2 litres – well you can be more precise if you wish but then is it really important to be that precise? (You can be if you wish).

It took me a few hours to set up the form to my satisfaction and I’m looking forward to my record keeping rather than dreading how to organise numerous pieces of paper.

See the screenshots for examples of form design. You start with choosing the question type from a toolbox:

Then, you establish the properties of the answers to suit – by entering data validation parameters, listing the multiple choices, or whatever. You can have calculated answers – so that a varroa calculator is included in the form design – you only have to enter the raw data.

The most useful question type, in order to save typing in data, is a multiple choice. The app lets you choose whether only one answer is allowable (say, apiary name or hive number) or whether you can choose several items from the list (say, hive configuration where you build up the components list)

Limitations? You design the form to your exact requirements – you don’t have to have questions that don’t mean anything to you and you can add whatever questions you wish. There is no need to worry about saving space on a paper form. The questions can be quite explicit, as can be the answers. You can try out the form for a while and adjust it to your exact needs. All the data is kept safe on the Google workbook but a new sheet is created every time you amend the form.

The app is free if you keep to one device. With a little ingenuity it should be possible for people to collaborate on their data collection and still be able to use the free version. If, for example, the association’s apiary management is shared by two or more people, each person would fill in the inspection report on his/her form which only populates their own specific spreadsheet. But, once there, it is easy enough to copy & paste the data into a common spreadsheet. If anyone is interested, please feel free to send me an email and I can send you the form I’ve designed to import into your app. See instructions below to get started using Phil’s pre-designed form:


1. Save this file: Hive+Inspections-V7-for-BKA somewhere on your computer (you will need in step 4).

2. Create a Google account if you don’ already have one.

3. You then need to visit and create an account; you do this on your computer not on your Smartphone or tablet.

4. On the Device Magic website, select the green button “New Form” and once there choose the “Import Form” button and browse to the file that you saved in step 1.  Make whatever changes you wish to the form – such as renaming it for instance, then “Save & Exit”.

5. Now install the app on your device – go to Playstore/Google Play or the Apple App Store, search for device magic, and install the app.

6. The final step is to go to the “dashboard” (on the Device Magic web site from your computer) and fill in an email address for the device that you will use for data entry. The programme will then send the form to your Smartphone or tablet.

The main attraction of the app is that each beekeeper can fine tune the form for the way they work. If you go to “form design” you can add questions and options or delete the ones you will never use. (The annoying thing is that you can move questions up and down the form but not the options – I had to cut & paste the options to rearrange them)

There is another app which is more flexible – but that costs something like £400 per annum.

All of the questions are multiple choice from a fixed list but I’ve included two general text questions – “any other info?” and “more action next time” (where the standard action list does not cover your needs). And of course when I say “fixed list” these are lists fixed by you – you can alter them at any time. Whenever you revise the forms by changing the lists of options or adding/deleting questions, the app creates another sheet in the same Google document. What I’ve done is to copy & paste previous entries into the newest one, taking care to make sure entries fall into the correct column.

Please let me know how you get on – I would be very interested to hear both as to how useful you find it and what changes you make to the form. Good luck and feel free to ask for clarification if my instructions are lacking.

I would also be grateful if you could let us have some information about yourself – it is only for general interest so please feel to ignore any questions you don’t like but it would be good to have your name so that we can gauge the level of interest.  Please use the form displayed below.

Best Wishes

Phil Khorassandjian (Secretary Sheffield BKA)