I own a 100 acre ranch in the Canadian Rockies. The Elk Valley where the ranch is located is abundant with flowers through the summer. I want to start bee keeping over the next few years but I’m confused on how many hives my ranch can handle. Could I keep 100 hives? If so how would I separate them? Half on one end and half the other? If that is too many hives what do you think would be a safe amount and the best way to space them?
one tip right out of the gate: however many hives you have, spacing them as widely as is practical for you is likely to improve outcomes. this is due to horizontal (between colonies) migration of pests and pathogens, which is maximized when colonies are close to each other. Tom Seeley at Cornell University has done a lot of highly regarded research on this topic, so have a look around for his stuff if you're curious.
it's also worth keeping in mind just how far bees travel to forage. a five-mile (8 km) radius is common with decent forage. that's a circle with an area over 50,000 acres. so any bees you keep will not be staying within the confines of your own property. for hive density, I would look to density of feral hives as a starting point. I think Seeley mentions 1-6 colonies per km² in the Arnot Forest (but check my numbers), which is about 1-6 hives per 250 acres.
you can obviously go with a higher density than that, especially if beekeeping isn't common in your region and there's really good forage. but keeping that number in mind as a rough guide to what colony density can be naturally supported is a good idea.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 7 months ago
Bees forage over an area that extends several miles from the hives (>20,000 acres). They do most of their foraging over the closest 2000 acres. Compared to the area they range over, you don't gain much forage area by placing multiple apiaries on a 100 acre parcel. (An apiary in each corner of a square hundred acre lot would increase the primary forage area to 3000 acres.) Locating them next to a reliable water source will minimize the amount of time they spend carrying water.
The number of colonies that an area can support is highly dependent on disease pressures in an area. To most closely mimic wild population densities, and minimize disease sharing, you might consider putting only 1 colony in each of the 4 corners of the parcel. Another way to make the hives less likely to share disease is to paint geometric designs on them, and point the entrances outwards in all different directions (circle).
The amount of forage available to bees has a huge impact on how many colonies an area can support. Wild pollinators, and the neighbor's honey bees are also competing for resources. Around here, the commercial beekeepers limit apiary size to about 20 to 30 colonies with a few miles between apiaries.
One acre of prime forage is supposedly enough for a colony. But, that's for a large industrial hive and under intensive agricultural conditions. If it were me I would start with 25 and observe from there. I'd also recommend, if possible, to have at least some of those be log hives. Even if your goal is production, these hives have a terrific survival rate (especially in cold climates) and you can use swarms from them to re-seed other hives during bad years. It's best to fill them with a swarm of local feral bees, if that's available.
Also, log hives can be smallish and have healthy, smaller hives. This means your land can support more of them down the line, and that means you'll have a healthy supply of swarms for repopulating your langstroths down the line.
Past about 2 miles it becomes relatively inefficient for bees to forage. This is because of calories burned, and wear and tear (and therefore shorter productive lifespans) of the workers. They can go further, as already said, but only if there is impetus to.
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.