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Keeping Bees in a Forest Garden

 
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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



 
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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.
 
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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
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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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One possible problem regarding the “bees in a wood” quote is that it can get pretty humid under a full canopy, and lead to mildew problems. I have had this happen when keep hives under trees, instead of at the edges.
I suspect this is part of keeping them in commercial hives, close to the ground. They get a lot of drips from the trees above, and end up with mildew on the entrance, which would not happen if the hive were in a hollow tree.
 
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There are many trees that bees adore, like willow, which starts the season in Scandinavia.  We have wildflowers that tolerate some shade as well - blueberries and heather come to mind.

I have a couple of acres of birch forest with lots of bird houses. One of them was taken by a colony of bees!! See pic. I left it on the ground for a couple of days, and when I went to hang it, noticed that it is already occupied!
20230215_152536.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20230215_152536.jpg]
 
Anne Miller
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Lina Joana wrote:One possible problem regarding the “bees in a wood” quote



Please explain what you mean by “bees in a wood” quote as I am not seeing that anywhere.
 
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I would love to make a home for bees in my garden, but do I have to collect honey? Or could I just let them all bee?
 
Michael Helmersson
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Anne Miller wrote:

Lina Joana wrote:One possible problem regarding the “bees in a wood” quote



Please explain what you mean by “bees in a wood” quote as I am not seeing that anywhere.



It was in relation to a comment I made here: https://permies.com/t/141638/Keeping-Bees-Forest-Garden#1494582
 
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Michelle Gillian wrote:I would love to make a home for bees in my garden, but do I have to collect honey? Or could I just let them all bee?



I beelieve they would prefer that.
 
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Michael Helmersson wrote: 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.



Michael, when we had our homestead and had bees, the property was a former hay meadow.  Somehow the bees found pollen enough to make loads of honey.

We do not have hives where we live now.  We live in a live oak and juniper forest.

We have lots of bees on my flowers.

When it gets dry I put a bowl of water on the ground under our air conditioner in hopes of keeping them out of the air conditioner and subsequently out of our bedroom.   I am not crazy about having bees flying around the bed.

And thank you for clarifying about the bees in the woods.

Did you get bees?
 
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Anne Miller wrote:


And thank you for clarifying about the bees in the woods.

Did you get bees?



Not yet. We'll need to establish a safe place for them first. We have a lot of black bears around, so we'll need to protect the hive(s) somehow without electricity since we're offgrid. I'm thinking a chainlink enclosure with barbed wire and other pointy things as a deterrent.
 
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Michelle Gillian wrote:I would love to make a home for bees in my garden, but do I have to collect honey? Or could I just let them all bee?



You don't have to collect the honey that the bees produce. You will have to open up the hive and check on them on occasions though. Keeping an eye out for beetles, moths and mites. As well as signs of swarming.

I just moved my bees from pasture land to forest last year. So far (fingers crossed) they are doing well. Currently they are about 10 yards inside of a sparse tree line. The thing I like the most about having my bees in the trees is that I no longer have to mow or weed eat around them. I have future plans of setting up a large pollinator garden on another part of my property for them and other pollinators.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Ed Jo wrote:

I just moved my bees from pasture land to forest last year. So far (fingers crossed) they are doing well. Currently they are about 10 yards inside of a sparse tree line. The thing I like the most about having my bees in the trees is that I no longer have to mow or weed eat around them. I have future plans of setting up a large pollinator garden on another part of my property for them and other pollinators.



Can you tell us what region you're in?
 
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Have you looked at what they do at Wheaton Labs?

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




source

Mike said, "Someone mentioned possible problems with electric fencing & bees. I lost 3 hives a few years ago to a bear. Big mess, total loss. So we put up an electric fence & started a small orchard inside. Plus added some more bees. No more problems, although the bees have been moved since then.



https://permies.com/t/40/37135/permaculture-projects/ultimate-skiddable-bee-hut#757276


source



Janet said, "Emerged from this inviting trail at dusk to a collective buzz. The bees are back!




source

 
Ed Jo
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Michael Helmersson wrote:

Ed Jo wrote:

I just moved my bees from pasture land to forest last year. So far (fingers crossed) they are doing well. Currently they are about 10 yards inside of a sparse tree line. The thing I like the most about having my bees in the trees is that I no longer have to mow or weed eat around them. I have future plans of setting up a large pollinator garden on another part of my property for them and other pollinators.



Can you tell us what region you're in?



I'm in the mid-Atlantic, zone 6b and around 1,200 ft of elevation. I have my bees on a southern slope that in the winter gets mostly full sun and in the summer is mostly shaded from the afternoon sun but does get some morning sun. One thing I do really worry about is branches as well as whole trees falling on my bees. I remove any dead branches that I find and will trim trees as necessary.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Anne Miller wrote:Have you looked at what they do at Wheaton Labs?



I must have in the past because that looks an awful lot like the idea I had/have in my head. I'm nearly certain that none of my thoughts or ideas are my own, but that I just cram all kinds of stuff into my head and then pull them out with no recollection of their origins.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Ed Jo wrote:

Michael Helmersson wrote:

Ed Jo wrote:
One thing I do really worry about is branches as well as whole trees falling on my bees. I remove any dead branches that I find and will trim trees as necessary.



That's a good point. It's routine here for trees to fall, and it's rarely the tree that you're expecting to fall. I've been outside during high winds listening to the trees creaking and cracking and had a tree right beside me snap off at the height of my head. I'd probably provide a roof of some sort over the bees that could withstand a falling tree.

Welcome to Permies, by the way.

 
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Only in our Permaculture Design School www.permaculturedesignschool.org 9 yrs old Food Forest with flowers all year almost, they get so strong and best nutrient dense honey. Just don't let commercial beekeepers tell you unnatural methods to care for them, they don't need it. Anise Hyssup pollen  mints keep mites away. I wish we could buy colonies now, but have to wait till 2 feet of snow we just got melts again Facebook group  Utah Valley Permaculture Classroom Gardens  & Greenhouse  under Featured tab  watch tour 4th video with music of "2020 Open House" best place for bees
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Food Forest tropical microclimate in temperate climate 20 degrees cooler summer, 10 degrees warmer winter
Food Forest tropical microclimate in temperate climate 20 degrees cooler summer, 10 degrees warmer winter
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Entrance to school Food Forest
Entrance to school Food Forest
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Edible Nitrogen fixing Pea family Black Locust sensual smelling
Edible Nitrogen fixing Pea family Black Locust sensual smelling
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Black Locust flowers
Black Locust flowers
 
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Michael Helmersson wrote:
That's a good point. It's routine here for trees to fall, and it's rarely the tree that you're expecting to fall. I've been outside during high winds listening to the trees creaking and cracking and had a tree right beside me snap off at the height of my head. I'd probably provide a roof of some sort over the bees that could withstand a falling tree.


Unless your trees are less than 5 inches in diameter, you'll need to make that roof very strong (maybe with I-beams) to withstand a tree that falls on it.
 
Michael Helmersson
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David Wieland wrote:
Unless your trees are less than 5 inches in diameter, you'll need to make that roof very strong (maybe with I-beams) to withstand a tree that falls on it.



Most of the trees in the area I'm considering are under 5". The biggest threat would be from the tops of small spruces and poplars.
 
pollinator
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I can only echo what Michael [Cox] stated: Bees like to be able to catch the first rays of the warming sun, and they also like to be covered [i.e. be in a location where the hive doesn't get rained on, snowed on.
Interestingly, honey bees won't pollinate *right around* their hive. Is it fear of attracting predators? {Bee predators would seek areas  with lots of flowers to get at the bees, so perhaps they would not be seeking hives themselves? Hard to say.
As you mentioned, the edge of the woods is a priviledged place near which they can tap flowers that love the sun as well as flowers that grow in the shade. If a shelter like you mentioned could also be built there, they'd bee happy!
Couldn't resist the old pun. Sorry.
 
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We've been at this place for almost 4 years now, honey bees on year two and fruit tree blossoms sure did explode. Plus bait-hives up in a tree give a certain winnie-the-pooh flavour if you're into that sort of thing
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pollinator
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John Cleese once was a beekeeper. He was interviewed about it during the performance of Secret Policeman's Ball.

 
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