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Author Topic: How much land are you advised to have to take up bee keeping?  (Read 2984 times)

Offline Duffield1

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I quite like the idea of having fresh honey on tap, but worry about the children or dogs getting stung.  Is there a recommended 'clear area' size required for people who want to keep bees?

Offline Hiheels

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Re: How much land are you advised to have to take up bee keeping?
« Reply #1 on: 07 March, 2010, 07:57:40 PM »
I've had a good old dig about on here http://www.britishbee.org.uk/index.php and although it's jam packed with information I can't find anything about a suggested land area per hive. I did find something that said to set hives up in shade though, so if you've no shade in your garden it might be best not to pursue anyway.
I suppose it's sensible in a way not to have a recommended land area, as from the bees' perspective all they need is the hive as when they leave they fly, but maybe for dog/child protection a fence around it may be sensible.

Offline KentPDG

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Re: How much land are you advised to have to take up bee keeping?
« Reply #2 on: 15 March, 2010, 07:03:44 PM »
It's not so much a matter of land area, as of vegetation.  There needs to be an abundance of wild flowers and/or clover, or other continuously blooming vegetation (such as goldenrod), within a relatively short distance of the hive(s) -- say, half a mile.

Beekeepers, in the US at least, characteristically rent space near farmers' meadows during the summer months.  It would be very uneconomic to own land, only for the production of honey.  The yield per acre would be absurdly low, and would quickly bankrupt such a land owner.  So beekeepers pay farmers a few dollars per hive, to place their hives somewhere in the fields, so the bees have something to fertilize and feed on.  (Typically, that might be three or four hives near a 40-acre field; but that is not a rigid rule, as the nature of vegetation and the strength of the hives are important factors).

The only exception is orchard owners.  Bees are absolutely necessary for pollination during a very few weeks in springtime.  Hence, orchard owners pay the beekeepers to bring in hives, just during blossom time.

You won't get stung around a (closed) beehive unless you stand in a line more or less perpendicular to the hive entrance.  Bees fly in a straight line, and they will line up with the hive entrance from quite a distance away.  Anything in their way runs the risk of being stung.  That said, a honeybee sting is not all that painful, except on very tender body tissue such as the tongue.  Bee stings are helpful, in that they stimulate the body's natural production of cortisone -- which is why beekeepers don't get arthritis.

Thus, there is sound basis for the old expression "making a bee line" toward something.  Because bees fly in a straight line, the hives are placed at the center of a row of fruit trees.  The bees fly up and down the row, but they will not cross the open space between rows of trees.  Hence, the orchard owner has to rent at least one hive per row of trees.

Bumble bees, a considerably larger species, differ from honey bees.  They will fly much longer distances, and they will cross open spaces.  (In the meadow, honey bees fly low from blossom to blossom).  Bumble bees fly higher, often in erratic patterns, and their sting is much more painful.  Bumble bees do not live in hives; they live near the ground, in brush piles and tight little thickets.  One has to wear protective clothing, when cleaning up a brush pile.  (Hornets, another species, live in nests under the ground surface; they have very painful stings also.)  Bumble bees are very desirable near orchards, because they don't cost anything and they do an excellent, widespread job of pollination; but they do not produce honey in commercial quantities.

Just getting a queen bee, and setting up a hive in a productive area, is no guarantee of getting abundant honey.  For unclear reasons, some hives are much stronger than others.  They produce many, many more worker bees, and correspondingly much more honey.

Even in a strong hive, the beekeeper has to withdraw or kill the new queens produced.  Otherwise, at some point a new queen will cause the hive to "swarm", leading a large percentage of the bees away to form a new hive somewhere else, such as in a nearby hollow tree.  In that manner, the production of a good hive can be decimated.

If you live in an area with cold winters, you will need to have cold-hardy bees.  Even so, a short period of uncommonly cold weather will freeze the hive, and kill the bees.  Ordinarily, though, the bees will produce heat and circulate heat throughout the hive during winter, keeping workers, drones, queen, and larvae in good shape.

One cannot harvest all the honey produced in a beehive.  Some has to be left, to feed the  hive over the winter.  In a weak hive, little or no honey can be extracted, or the bees will all starve to death.

Keeping bees requires a fair amount of ancillary equipment, in addition to the investment in the hive itself.  This includes smokers, veils, gloves, broad knives or heated wires (for removing the wax cap from the combs), and a centrifugal extractor.  Most likely, the cost of such equipment can not be justified for only one or two hives, and it is cheaper to buy honey commercially (but best from a beekeeper, not from stores where the processed honey has been mixed to a uniform flavor, and diluted with water).

Incidentally, the bees sacrifice no honey.  The combs are put back into the hives, and the bees will clean every bit of residual honey from the platforms where the honey has been extracted, and they will store that in new combs.

But having hives does not mean that one has honey "on tap".  One does not take honey from a hive during winter; the available honey is harvested in the fall, and the hive is left untouched during winter, because opening it would let in the cold and the bees would freeze.  New honey production begins in spring, but it takes a considerable time for a new comb to be filled.  It usually doesn't make much sense to harvest only one comb at a time, so hives are usually harvested in late summer or during the fall.

The conclusion is, it generally makes little sense for an individual to attempt to meet his personal honey needs by keeping a beehive.  Either plan to do it on a commercial scale, or buy your honey at a farm that keeps bees.

All of which leads to the eternal question: Why do bees sting?

Tha answer (if you're ready): You would sting too, if someone took your honey and nectar.  (necked her)

Another interesting question: What is the only food that does not spoil?

Answer: honey.  You can leave a jar of honey on the kitchen shelf for years, and the worst that will happen is that it may crystallize (easily remedied by heating the jar in hot water).
« Last Edit: 15 March, 2010, 07:21:40 PM by KentPDG »