In my earlier topic I asked if there were a minimum number of hives one should have. I didn't even consider at the time that one might have too many bees until I started reading other's posts.
Jacqueline, you have mentioned all the different types of hives you have but I don't remember hearing how much area these bees cover. I have seen pictures of the multitude of hives brought in for pollinating the almonds, even though I understand that is sure not how bees would operate on their own. Could one have too many hives on their property? Is there a way to tell if the bees are feeling crowded?
Furthering Permaculture next to Lake Ontario.
That's a good question. How does one determine how many hives their land can support?
In my first few years I collected swarms like crazy and when I got up to 15, I felt so proud of myself. I was a REAL beekeeper, with plenty of hives. And I'd get more. Maybe a hundred.
Really, that's what I was thinking.
And then I all of a sudden realized that I hadn't seen many bumble bees around lately, or sweat bees, or carpenter bees, or those teeny tiny bees that look like flying ants. Everything was honey bees. I had a stomach-dropping moment realizing that I just introduced over a half million bees onto our farm and they were displacing my native bees. Oh what a terrible moment! So if you took a class with me that year and didn't yet have bees, you got some from me. I was gifting bees like crazy for a while there, and brought us down to about 6 hives that year. Phew!
Then I started planting bee forage because I knew that if I wanted to have more than a small cluster of hives, I needed to ensure that I was also adding good bee pastures and that there was plenty plenty of natural weeds and such to feed the natives. Over the new two years I saw the missing native bees return and felt lucky I caught that in the nick of time.
If you're planting forage on your own land for all the bees (honey and natives), like multi-seasonal hedgerows and field flowers, then you can have more. I'd say assess what your natives are when you get started (it's crazy fun fun fun) and take photos and make lists. Then be sure they're all still around as you add bees. Go slow. Add a hive each year or two. There is NO hurry. Don't go hog wild and start out with 8 hives. Start with 2, get good at caring for them, then go up to 3 and if it takes you 5 or 6 years to do that, it's fine. Better you take good care of those in your charge than to get more hives just so you can say a high number when someone asks. How many hives someone has is NO INDICATOR OF GOOD BEEKEEPING. I'd rather know that you love your bees with your whole heart and they are fond of you in return.
When we first bought our farm 13 years ago, I remember saying to my husband, "At last, now we can have 17 cats!" and he wisely answered me with, "Will you be able to give each of those 17 cats all the love and care they deserve?" I really thought about that and came to understand that I can really do that with 3 or 4, maybe 5 in a pinch, but a steady 6 even would be over the top. So we have 3 cats and that's just fine.
Figure out your number of hives like that. Don't get overwhelmed. Give them stellar care and be sure you've got plenty of food for any seasons they're awake for. Creating healthy forage is a better place to focus your energy than on a higher number of hives. If you don't have much land, find out if you can populate your neighbors' yards, or even the strips between the sidewalks all down your road. I've seen city friends do that and it's pretty impressive. Oh so permie!
One good point to start, when thinking about the maximum numbers of hives your land can support, is to remeber, that naturally bees would live in solitude.
This means you would at least have a distance of 150m between any two bee hives. For practical purposes, you still will want to cluster them. Two or three hives will probably be fine.
But of course, those hives will already be in competition with each other and with your native bees. (Remember honey bees are not native to north america)
Dr. Ritter (a german bee scientist specialising in 'naturnahe Bienenhaltung') gives a numer of 10-20 hives in the flight radius of your hives as optimal bee densitiy. Up to 40 hives in this area will be ok. Everything above this ... well you get the picture.
Ludger Merkens wrote:One good point to start, when thinking about the maximum numbers of hives your land can support, is to remeber, that naturally bees would live in solitude.
This means you would at least have a distance of 150m between any two bee hives. For practical purposes, you still will want to cluster them.
I haven't seen the data, but David Heaf has recently mentioned a couple of times some work that Tom Seeley has done on hive spacing. in two groups of twelve hives, the twelve spaced 30-80 meters from each other fared much better after five years than the twelve clustered together. Seeley also noted that 50% of the bees in the closely spaced hives were not from the hive being sampled, while that figure dropped to 1% in the hives that were more widely spaced. after two years without treatment, five of the widely spaced hives survived, while none of the crowded hives did. I'm sure there was a lot more data gathered, but that's most of what David has posted to his e-mail list.
bearing that in mind, any new hives I establish will not be placed in close proximity to others. that doesn't help the three I've got that are only a few feet from one another...