The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Bee hive density and pollen diversity

Honeybee visiting ragweedThe final eye-opener in The Bee-friendly Beekeeper wasn't specific to Warre hives at all.  Instead, Heaf's information about the optimal environment for apiaries is relevant to any kind of beekeeping.

Most beekeepers, like me, tend to think that as long as bees have plenty of flowers around, they're in good shape for food.  However, Heaf explained that all pollen isn't created equal, and that each species' flowers produce pollen with different amounts and types Bees storing pollenof proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.  Just like the healthy homesteader wants to eat several types of vegetables rather than relying on carrots alone, the healthy bee needs a diversity of pollen sources to round out its diet.  Scientists have found that bees forced to subsist on only one or a few types of pollen tend to get sick more often, presumably because they're malnourished.  So, don't just plant fields of white clover or buckwheat for your bees --- work to diversify the wild and cultivated landscape to keep your hives healthy.

The other interesting environmental issue relates to cramming bees together into apiaries.  A variety of scientific studies have shown that feral honeybees spread their homes out across the landscape, both so they don't compete with other hives for forage and also so they don't give each other diseases.  In areas like Australia where varroa mites are absent Apiaryand other parasites and diseases are rare, honeybees may live as close together as 197 colonies per square mile (or 3 acres apiece).  However, problematic areas in the U.S. with high varroa mite counts have been found to support only 3 feral colonies per square mile.

The middle ground seems to be providing around 21 to 35 acres per colony of honeybees (a density of 18 to 31 colonies per square mile).  When you're looking at your bee density, you should take your neighbors into consideration, figuring that bees avidly forage within about a mile of their home and do 95% of their hunting within the inner 3.7 miles.  So, if you only own an acre, but know there are no other honeybees within four miles, you can have a lot more hives in your apiary without undue crowding than if you owned 50 acres but were surrounded by beekeepers on every side.  You might also consider spreading your hives out across whatever land you do have rather than keeping them close together in an apiary situation.

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This post is part of our Warre Hive lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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