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Keeping Bees in a Forest Garden

 
master steward
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It seems to me that keeping bees in a forest garden would be a great addition to the garden.

Especially if there are some flowers planted for the bees.  These would be shade loving flowers.

https://permies.com/t/47686/top-plants-yard-bees




If I remember correctly, forests were the first native homes for bees.

Here are some ideas I found for keeping bees in a forest garden.

These are for mason bees:








Have any beekeepers tried using a forest setting for your bees?






Here are some threads on beekeeping:

https://permies.com/t/15424/Beekeeping-start

https://permies.com/t/43864/type-hive-Sheer-Total-Utter

https://permies.com/t/37135/permaculture-projects/ultimate-skiddable-bee-hut

And Mason Bees:

https://permies.com/t/136888/Mason-Bees-worth-investment

https://permies.com/t/139366/Native-Bees

https://permies.com/wiki/140436/Native-Bee-Guide-FREE



 
pollinator
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Honey bees do better in a sheltered spot, but with good exposure to direct sun. It helps them take advantage of forage from earlier in the morning as the day warms up.

Looks for sunny glade, and edge effect spots for siting hives.

Re forage; I would never discourage people from planting for bees, but unless you are planting large acreage you will have minimal impact on the overall nectar supply for a honey bee colony. If you are planting specifically for pollinators, look for plants that give good nectar flow in your local dearth. Local beekeepers can tell you when that is.
 
Anne Miller
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My dream location would be like the picture I posted.  Not in the middle of a food forest, it would be on the edges where the shade loving flowers would get a little sun.  That picture is just too pretty!

A girl can dream, can't she?  We, girls, dream of meeting prince charming, we dream of that beautiful wedding we are going to have, we dream about that cottage in the woods with children running about!

When we lived in Dallas, we has beehives.  Our backyard was mostly shady, like a forest garden! We grew no flowers.  Somehow the bees provided us enough honey for our family and some for friends.

Then there are mason bees.  They are pollinator and that is why people furnish homes for them.

Did you know that carpenter bees prefer to nest in shady areas?

Here are some suggestions for shade loving flowers that bees like:

Bee Balm


Bleeding Heart


Penstemon


Columbine



Threads that might be of interest:

https://permies.com/t/138194/Edible-Plants-Pollinators-Love
https://permies.com/t/137369/planting-zombie-apocalypse-herb-garden#1080164

Now I know we have plenty of folks here who raise both honey bees and mason bees.  Please help the bees out by making some suggestions!
 
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we caught 5 feral honeybee swarms this year and have integrated them into our forest gardens nicely. on about 1 acre in the heart of what we're actively managing, we put them in different niches. it's cool to see how the different colonies behave in slightly different settings. 1 is in the forest at the edge of our forest gardens. 1 is in an understory of a 25 ft tall native persimmon patch (that we're grafting various persimmon varieties onto). 1 is next to our gazebo where we hang out a lot in the heat of the day so we can have great observation of that hive. they get a lot of afternoon sun so they've been bearding often. another is near a natural building we are completing so we're also near that one a lot. and finally the other is near a couple delightful heritage smelly roses. i check on that one when i go to smell my roses.

it adds another layer to the forest gardens that are really delightful. catching feral swarms also expands the bounds of our community. each hive goes by the name of where we caught it - Lick Creek for example- further integrating us into our bioregion.

we do a lot of natural building here with earthen plasters as well and we've noticed that mason bees really enjoy drilling holes in the rough plaster coats (prior to the fine finish coats). it's something we didn't expect would happen as a result of natural building. again, another interesting, if unintentional, layer of biodiversity and habitat creation.
 
pollinator
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I wish I was confident enough in my bee handling to capture swarms! Oh well, maybe someday.

I kept bees for several years in a forest edge in a previous property and this week have just set up a new hive after a hiatus of about a decade from beekeeping. Here they are in a clearing of about an acre surrounded by forest.

They are busy working the gardens where we have lots of pollinator plants and have let last year's kale and some early greens go to flower. There are also hundreds of naturalized foxgloves and a few giant rugosa rose bushes in sunny edge areas. And although we have eliminated invasive Scotch broom on our place there is lots growing and flowering next door.
 
wren haffner
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Love to hear of all of your biodiversity! I enjoy seeing all of the different pollen colors they bring in!

We don't catch catch them as in off of a branch or something - we set up swarm boxes (a la horizontalhive(dot)com) and use natural lures like propolis and lemongrass. Dr Leo has a lot of the advice and even swarm box plans on his website if anyone is interested in reading more. it's our third year successfully catching swarms and working with bioregionally adapted honeybee genetics. We love and have learned a lot from his natural beekeeping ethos. Natural selection at work creating strong colonies instead of propping them up!
 
Andrea Locke
pollinator
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Oh, now a swarm box is something I should look into. That is within my capabilities; wasn't so sure about capturing swarms out of trees and house walls!

I had no idea how many different colours of pollen there were until I kept bees. It's fascinating to watch the bees entering the hive with the different pollens and try to figure out what plant species they were visiting. There are quite a few beekeeping websites that have a pollen colour chart and I hope eventually to develop something for my own site.
 
pollinator
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Our neighbor across the street had his chimney taken over (and almost pushed over) by a large hive of honeybees. I said I wished they could be lured over into my yard, as I've got all kinds of flowering plants going, buckwheat covering up newly delineated beds, etc. They said the hive was in so deep, they might not be able to lure them out and would have to kill them, which made me so sad. But in the process of investigating what could be done, the head of the local beekeeping group turned me on to this guy's work:

https://www.newurbanbees.com/

My partner grew up with bees and didn't want me to get a hive. He said it would be more than I could handle. But the New Urban Bees guy came over and set up a hive for me free (scroll down at the above link to see the info and images). He seemed really excited to see all the honeybees working my buckwheat. He said what we'd do is first try to capture the local bees; that if they don't take to the hive, we can order some bees later. He complimented me on how much bee forage I have already gotten going just this year.

What he's doing is to save the bees, not to take advantage of them for honey. He said we might get a little honey just to taste, but he's more interested in the slow, steady, strong development of colonies that will then split to start new colonies. He'll come out and take care of the bees to the extent that I don't want to do it, and he'll teach me the ropes. Putting that hive up this morning was absolutely no big deal, and he said after we see how this one does, I can have more hives here if I want. The main reason I want the bees is for pollination and to protect them and help keep them from going extinct, so this really did work out!

 
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I went to visit my parents this weekend, and my dad just told me a story about a friend of his who recently drove to a convenient store, ran in, came back out to his car only to fine a swarm of bees had taken over the backseat...they called a local fireman, who happened to be a beekeeper, and he spent a couple of hours removing the swarm from the car. He took them home afterward and set them up in a new hive.

I also just recently watched really great documentary called Natural Beekeeping, which showed an excellent segment about how an expert beekeeper (Jerry Dunbar) removed a swarm from the walls of a house--definitely worth watching.

And I agree, Ann--that is a magical picture of bees next to the edge! I think it's a great idea to situate bees next to a food forest...I think people sometimes forget how many trees are pollinated by bees: maples, lindens, serviceberries, tulip trees, hawthorns, willows, etc...the list goes on. I'm getting a nuc in a week and setting it up in a sheltered spot in our newly planted orchard/food forest--I interplanted fruit trees with shrubs and perennials for bees, both honey and native:
--thyme
--oregano
--lavender
--a whole load of mints, including bee balm and other Monardas
--raspberries
--blueberries
--inkberry shrubs (Ilex glabra--bees love it!)
--Rosa rugosa shrubs
--shasta daisies (I see a lot of little native bees on these)
--bristly locust (Robinia hispida; this is my go-to nitrogen fixer, and the flowers happen to be beloved by the bees)
--Northern Catalpa (I have one closely planted to fruit trees that I am pollarding; bees love the flowers)
--blazing star (Liatris)
--coneflower (Echinacea)
--yarrow
--Lysimachia (for native bees)

I'll probably plant some Jerusalem artichoke tubers in there, too. I think I'm also going to plant a few goat willows (Salix caprea) into the mix, if I have room.

I'll be observing, as well--trying to look out for the preferences of native bees. Great article about PA native bees (over 400 species!!) and where they nest: https://extension.psu.edu/bees-in-pennsylvania-diversity-ecology-and-importance
 
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Andrea Locke wrote:I wish I was confident enough in my bee handling to capture swarms! Oh well, maybe someday.

I kept bees for several years in a forest edge in a previous property and this week have just set up a new hive after a hiatus of about a decade from beekeeping. Here they are in a clearing of about an acre surrounded by forest.

They are busy working the gardens where we have lots of pollinator plants and have let last year's kale and some early greens go to flower. There are also hundreds of naturalized foxgloves and a few giant rugosa rose bushes in sunny edge areas. And although we have eliminated invasive Scotch broom on our place there is lots growing and flowering next door.



The situation you describe here is very similar to what we have on our land. We're on the edge of town, in boreal forest, with only a few neighbouring properties within a half mile radius. We're contemplating bees and wondering if we have the forage to support them, let alone produce a surplus. I had read somewhere a quote saying "Bees in a wood never do good." and it discouraged me. Now I'm wondering what they meant by "wood". We have about 1.5 acres of our land free of big trees and heavily populated by wild and cultivated forage plants, plus fruit bushes, and juvenile fruit trees. I'm hoping you have success to report from your efforts and that you (or someone) can help me comprehend the above quote.
 
Andrea Locke
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Michael Helmersson wrote:

Andrea Locke wrote:I wish I was confident enough in my bee handling to capture swarms! Oh well, maybe someday.

I kept bees for several years in a forest edge in a previous property and this week have just set up a new hive after a hiatus of about a decade from beekeeping. Here they are in a clearing of about an acre surrounded by forest.

They are busy working the gardens where we have lots of pollinator plants and have let last year's kale and some early greens go to flower. There are also hundreds of naturalized foxgloves and a few giant rugosa rose bushes in sunny edge areas. And although we have eliminated invasive Scotch broom on our place there is lots growing and flowering next door.



The situation you describe here is very similar to what we have on our land. We're on the edge of town, in boreal forest, with only a few neighbouring properties within a half mile radius. We're contemplating bees and wondering if we have the forage to support them, let alone produce a surplus. I had read somewhere a quote saying "Bees in a wood never do good." and it discouraged me. Now I'm wondering what they meant by "wood". We have about 1.5 acres of our land free of big trees and heavily populated by wild and cultivated forage plants, plus fruit bushes, and juvenile fruit trees. I'm hoping you have success to report from your efforts and that you (or someone) can help me comprehend the above quote.



Hi Michael, it makes sense to me that bees would not do as well in an established woodland as in a sunny meadow as there might be limited flowering plants in the shaded understory and what is there might be very seasonal. Cooler temperatures and less daylight might also reduce foraging hours.

My bees did pretty well with about an acre of sunny open ground to forage but I think they could have done better.  I have since moved them to our new place where there is more open space but if I had continued to keep bees at the original location would have added some forage plantings to address a couple of seasonal dearths. I think it is particularly important to pay attention to possible deficiencies when the bees are dependent on such a relatively small area and can’t just buzz over to some other yard with different plantings. That said it sounds like your property has a range of diverse flowering plants, there is probably some food for bees in the surrounding boreal forest especially before the canopy closes in spring. In your situation I would go for it. Maybe take care to situating the bees where they will get early morning sun and can warmed up and out and about early in the day.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Andrea Locke wrote:

Hi Michael, it makes sense to me that bees would not do as well in an established woodland as in a sunny meadow as there might be limited flowering plants in the shaded understory and what is there might be very seasonal. Cooler temperatures and less daylight might also reduce foraging hours.

My bees did pretty well with about an acre of sunny open ground to forage but I think they could have done better.  I have since moved them to our new place where there is more open space but if I had continued to keep bees at the original location would have added some forage plantings to address a couple of seasonal dearths. I think it is particularly important to pay attention to possible deficiencies when the bees are dependent on such a relatively small area and can’t just buzz over to some other yard with different plantings. That said it sounds like your property has a range of diverse flowering plants, there is probably some food for bees in the surrounding boreal forest especially before the canopy closes in spring. In your situation I would go for it. Maybe take care to situating the bees where they will get early morning sun and can warmed up and out and about early in the day.



Wow. I wasn't really sure if I'd get a reply, considering your post was a couple of years old. Thank you for the quick response and especially for the encouragement.
 
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Bees in wood never do good? I've never heard that before. I've kept bees for years, usually in the woods or on the edge of them. They seem to do as well as those I've had in open fields. It probably depends on what kind of trees are in the woods. Bees do pollinate & use sap & resins from many types of trees.

About a year ago a tree fell onto a bridge during a storm. Deep in the woods. No open fields nearby. The tree was hollow & it shattered. It was filled with bees. Honeycomb was all over the bridge.
 
Andrea Locke
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I think your comment that it depends on the woods is spot on. Boreal forest can be pretty skewed toward the conifers and may not have much flowering in the canopy or understory except for a brief period in spring before whatever deciduous canopy there is fills in. I have rarely seen bees foraging in this kind of woodland except around the edges in summer or maybe working the spring ephemerals. If they are way up in the trees collecting resin for propolis production or something like that I might not notice them, though.

It may not be a generalization that holds for all forest types. I haven’t spent enough time in forests south of Canada to assess that.
 
pollinator
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As Grandson of a bee keeper in a cold country like Germany (north) and now planning a food forest in Thailand I am back in business.

In Germany my Grandpa did living by the rule 4444...  
A saying I never heard anywhere else outside our district, but in average all bee keepers there get this right in any year, rainy or dry.

4 strong hives per hectare of forest, located entrance to south east facing for an early start in the morning.
If rape fields or wild flower fields (pastures) are around the forest in a radius of 4 Kilometers you will earn 44 kilo honey/hive per season.

My food forest plan in Thailand is different.
Shade and shelter (monsoon) but eastern direction, even it really doesn't matter in the heat.
(The eastern direction is my Grandfather in me.)

Then I want to increase the number of hives to 10 per hectare.

This I can only achieve with 10 Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) and about 30-50 Drunken Parrot Trees (Schotia brachypetala) which are raining nectar all year long. (Noting to park your car or garden furniture under)
and a decent spread of Tea Trees (Melaleuca alternifolia) as part of our medicinal food forests.

Above added to my fruit trees gathered from all around the world gets me there.

Additionally you need to know when is which fruit tree blooming at what month and what ground cover gives you an abundance of flowers.

Any wild flower and herb is of cause a welcome because no Honey tastes like "weed" honey...
 
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