How long is a piece of string? Bees, and therefore beekeeping, are a beautiful, diverse balancing act which ebbs and flows with nature. So, how many acres are needed for keeping bees?
A very basic rule of thumb is 1 acre per hive is needed for beekeeping. The production of honey is determined by the geographic location, the size of swarms, fodder diversity, changing seasons, and beekeeper management. Beekeeping is the management of bees in relation to these factors and our goals.
Beekeeping is a science – but only as exact as the keeper! No one technically owns bees; we only get to house them. As with all housed animals, there are responsibilities as keepers we can plan and adjust depending on conditions. We can also reduce the impact of conditions and increase the value of the acres at our disposal. Let’s look at some of these strategies that can vary from site to site and seasonally.
Acres Needed to Keep Bees
Our goals are the first determining factor – for a backyard or hobby beekeeper, you only need a few square yards per hive away from human traffic and chicken coops! Your bees will find their own acres of food in the neighborhood gardens. Please remember safety first, especially at harvest time when your gentle bees might not be such good sharers. For anything bigger, 1 acre per hive is needed. Hives can be placed in groups of 8 or more.
Factors Affecting the Acres Needed for Beekeeping
Let’s look at the factors affecting the number of acres needed for keeping bees.
Let’s Look at the Impact of Geographic Location on the Acres You Need for Beekeeping
Your local geography influences what grows naturally and the species of food plants that are grown there. The key to bees being well-fed and, therefore, a key determining factor on how many acres you need is species diversity. In other words, different trees and plants flowering at various times throughout the season will ensure that your bees have access to good food for longer.
In addition, the better the different flowers overlap each other, the less variation there will be in the hive in terms of swarm size. This will have a major influence on your honey production – and even the type of honey your bees produce!
Bees have been known to range in circles of up to 4 miles but prefer a range of 2000 yards or less. They will usually go for the best source of pollen or nectar within a reasonable range. This seems to be quite hive-specific and is very self–regulated unless you move them to a field of high production flowers or a farmer plants an attractive crop near you.
How Does the Size of Swarms Affect the Number of Acres Needed per Hive?
Fortunately, bees can expand or shrink their families in as little as six weeks! A queen is triggered to lay by the abundance or lack that comes into the hive. As the flow of nectar or pollen increases, so does her laying capacity – up to 1500 eggs per day! Thus, your winter hive can increase from 10,000 bees to 60,000 in six weeks.
This self-regulated process can be influenced by artificial feeding to prepare hives for expected strong flows. However, bees kept in a stable environment and not moved around for pollination develop a natural pattern of growth based on area and weather conditions.
What Effect Does the Quality of Feed have on the Number of Acres Needed for Beekeeping?
Bees are very frugal feeders! The work rate is of the highest in the insect kingdom – and anywhere else for that matter. They are expertly designed to collect pollen and nectar and convert them into several products needed in the hive. So the energy output has to be justified by the energy they can collect in raw form.
Fences do not hinder Bees. Gardens in towns are the best places for diverse plants and, therefore, better bee fodder. There is always something flowering, and gardeners love different plants. Many gardeners are even becoming bee sensitive are purposefully planting beneficial species of plants for bees.
Keeping bees in a residential area might infer local legislation. Best to check for your area or, even better, keep them near to town in a safe location. Test clusters of 8 hives will give you a good idea of how many an area can handle.
Vegetable gardens can also be useful but deceiving as most vegetables are harvested before flowering. Pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumber, and herbs such as Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, and Lavender are great for bees and flowers for really long.
Fruit trees are also great but have a narrow window of blossoms for the bees to pollinate. Beware, however, of commercial orchards, as many use insecticides that can also affect our insects! This has greatly improved over the last few years but getting to know your farmer and his practices can save much heartsore.
Also, not placing hives too close to orchards gives bee options. Orchards can benefit from 1 up to 3 hives per acre, depending on the fruit trees growing there.
Natural trees species vary in usefulness. Some of the better trees in the USA are Maples, Serviceberry, Sourwood, Crapemyrtle, Liquidamber, Black Locusts, and Linden. Hawthorn and privets are also valuable.
High flowering commercial crops like Soya beans, Sunflowers, and Canola can feed many bees. Although bees are not essential to Soya and Canola, they benefit immensely from better pollination. The yields can increase up to 40% with bees being involved. These species can easily feed a hive per acre during their flowering time.
Do the Acres Required for Beekeeping Change with the Seasons?
Many parts of the country enjoy long, hot summers and then mild winter or extreme conditions. This has a major impact on bees – especially as they are cold-blooded! Different trees and plants flower from spring to fall, and these all have varying pollen and nectar values for bees.
Local knowledge becomes invaluable, and experience built up over a few seasons soon tells over-wintering your bees. As a result, bee numbers in the hive will dwindle to a sustainable group – enough to keep the hive functional and warm and survive on the available resources. You if you have enough space for your bees.
Bees can survive cold winter if they have sufficient resources. This can be in the form of honey and bee bread stored during the summer. It can also come from honey made from artificial feeding after the natural honey has been harvested. Bees can also be moved to another area where food sources are available.
Developing an over-wintering strategy for your area is essential.
Rainfall also determines natural flowers in an area. This also has an effect on trees for up to 18 months. So good rain today might only cause certain trees to flower next year.
Your surrounds determine the acres needed for beekeeping. As a rule of thumb, place hives in groups of 8 and observe how they develop and produce. If they flourish, try some more. Then, try halving the group until you find an optimal number of swarms for your area if they dwindle. The key is to find the sweet spot between diversity, pollen, and nectar, the length and number of different honey flows, and realistic and sustainable harvesting.
Nature is like a woman – if you love her, she will tell you her secrets!