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How Much Land to Feed One Bee Colony?

How much land does it take to feed one colony of bees?

Conventional wisdom suggests that to nourish one colony of honeybees it takes one acre of blossoming trees, shrubs, or flowers to thrive. No one really knows for sure, and of course, there are so many variables that no generalization can be assumed. It may be one acre in some regions but five or more elsewhere. For almond pollination, two colonies per acre are needed for a well-pollinated crop. Crop insurance policies often require this rate before they pay any claims for a poor crop.

How big is an acre? Visualize a football field (minus the end zones) and you’ll see that a lot of blooming flowers are needed. Your bees will assure a good backyard crop yield for your local, melons, squash, and apples, but your garden furnishes only a tiny share of the nectar needed for feeding a colony. One acre becomes sufficient if there is a continuous pollen and nectar supply available from spring to fall, with sources including herbs, fruits, vegetables, bushes, clover, flowers, flowers, and more flowers.

You can’t go to a store and buy a bag of “Purina Bee Chow,” although beekeepers do occasionally feed supplements when their hives do not have sufficient natural forage. Sugar syrup is fed to bees to provide calories to help the bees survive. For them to raise and feed the brood they need protein, which is pollen, or a rich pollen substitute. This supplemental feeding is useful for short time only and is used especially when they need lots of bees ready to pollinate crops before the optimum bloom time.

First spring pollen comes from willow, aspen, maple and alder but each of these are only good for a few weeks. Dandelions bloom about three weeks followed by clover. Next comes the fruit trees with lots of nectar and pollen but in a few weeks they are gone. Black locust, basswood and other trees can furnish nectar from millions of blossoms for a large tree but the bloom time is short. Even with these trees, an untimely rain may wash out most of the nectar.

A bee yard surrounded by a forest does not yield a good honey crop. Dense shade from a conifer forest does not allow growth of sun loving nectar plants. Open meadowland, preferably with wetland nearby, is the best location for a bee yard and for good honey yield.

Some native meadow blossoms sustain a longer nectar flow. The drought-resistant, yellow sweet clover bears tiny flowers, hard to see, but blooms from early July through September and produces a good honey surplus where it is grown. When they can’t find local blooms, bees sometimes travel up to five miles to find the food that they need.

Bee on a flower

It can take up at least one an acre of blossoming trees, flowers or shrubs to feed a colony

A recent report from London highlights the need for adequate foraging area for a good honey yield. Beekeeping in cities has become popular in European cities as well as in New York City. A London business group called “InMidtown” wants to supply more hives to new urban beekeepers to increase honey production. Although it sounds like a good idea, the London Beekeepers Association opposes this and claims that there are already too many hives in the 600-square mile London region. With 3,337 registered hives, that means 5.5 colonies per square mile and they limit honey production to only 37 pounds per hive—way below the national average. The InMidtown group is busy planting honeybee forage in whatever space they can find, but the beekeepers group prefers limiting hives to increase the honey yield per hive and educating the public to sound beekeeping practices.

20 comments on “How Much Land to Feed One Bee Colony?
  1. Sharon Wing says:

    Interested in beekeeping, I believe I have excellent property for placement. Love honey and believe I have what it takes to be an attentive/patient honey supplier.

    • Justin Fischer says:

      What is your location? By 2021 I’m hoping to have around 2000 hives if I can get enough Farmers that have land for the bees to settle for a month or 2.

  2. Randy Pierce says:

    We will be starting our first hive this coming spring of 2019.
    We have around 35 acres of land In the south central part of Kansas with around 15 to 20 acres of it being in Sand Hill plums. One the West side is a large field of Alfalfa field on the East is a grazing pasture for cattle.
    We have some Black walnut trees along with Elms and Cedar trees and various wild grasses,and weeds.
    Also this coming spring we will be planting some food plots along with Sunflowers.
    What would be some other good Flowering plants and Shurbs to plant?
    We have also installed a solar water pump with a 300 Gal stock tank. what should be the Maxium distance from the stock tank to the Hive?

    • Kelley Beekeeping says:

      Hello Randy,

      Clover and Wildflower are highly recommended. You would want to ensure your water source is within a 1/4 mile from the hives.

    • Jim Berk says:

      and of course, you won’t be using any economic poisons to manage your pasture, fruit trees, or keep the grass dwon on your fence line I hope. Otherwise you’ll end up with bees that suffer with compromised immune systems and quickly fall into the commercial bee keeper model of having to replace half or more of your hives every year. Managing bees is as much about adopting sensible farming methods as anything else. Don’t plant monocultures for starters. Mix a dozen or more varieties of bee forage into your cattle pasture as well. Use intensive rotational grazing methods to better utilize your available forage while also allowing the bee forage to reach full blossom instead of simply mowing it all down. Pasture management should not include glyphosate/Round-up, or 2,4-d, and nothing should ever go in your hive that you wouldn’t put in your own mouth, so that means stay away from the damnable mite poisons and fumigants as well. Most of the ag extension services promote unhealthy practices that lead to colony collapse because they have been inculcated into the industrial ag model that exists to sell more chemicals, and it’s pretty much all that they know. Investigate Warre hives for small holdings, low input management. They help the bees manage hive humidity better, which is typically their biggest challenge, even more so than heat. Plan your bee forage crops to provide successive blooms so that as one ends another is already started, and if two look good, three are better. Diversity is key. Create perennial pastures insted of constantly planting and reseeding limited variety or monoculture junk. Ideally you want to see at least fifteen or more different plants species in every square yard of pasture, Do that, keep your animals moving, and you’ll be amazed at the fertility you’ll build while creating a more drought resistant farm that doesn’t require spraying. 15 – 20 acres of one species of anything is just begging for chemical dependency, and that does not for healthy bees ever make. Oh, and don’t believe anything that the gov’t tells you about what’s killing the bees. That includes the land grant universities. They sold their souls and science to the chemical companies decades ago.

  3. arshid lone says:

    i have 40ac navada 10sc texas i need help grow bee farm my e mail lonewisdom1@gmail.com

  4. April M Szostak says:

    I own 26 acres in North Dakota, over 10k flowering trees. A 9000 sq foot shop to possibly start a business. My email is aprilmay4@gmail.com if interested.

  5. Gordon Sjue says:

    I am interested in bee placement for 2019 on my farm in Burke Co. ND near Portal. I have 320 acres all of it in In CRP. I have approximately 45 acres of trees and shrubs my of which are fruit bearing. There are sloughs throughout the property.

  6. Mars says:

    Hello, can you please provide a link to the report you mention (or a title):
    “A recent report from London highlights the need for adequate foraging area for a good honey yield. Beekeeping in cities has become popular in European cities as well as in New York City. A London business group called “InMidtown” wants to supply more hives to new urban beekeepers to increase honey production. Although it sounds like a good idea, the London Beekeepers Association opposes this and claims that there are already too many hives in the 600-square mile London region” with my thanks!

  7. Ann Waddon says:

    We have 2 hives on 20 acre of mixed forest and open fields. We do not use pesticides but cut down weeds once or twice a season. Main wild flowers are black eyed Susan, clover and chicory. Later we have a lot of golden rod. We do have Apple and fruit trees and many flowers in our garden. The site is protected at the back by a number of aspen and silver birch. Water is provided via a trout stream close by. We are experiencing a difference in opinion from our land use organization whe tell us we do not have enough hives to make a claim. We believe between 2 – 5 acres should be claimable as farm land. Any advice/ information would be appreciated. We live in Southern Ontario

  8. Brittney says:

    I have a small yard that is 3 blocks from a county park and protected wetland. I think I’m in a good spot to have a hive. My biggest concern besides food for the bees is the safety of my dog. Can pets and bees coexist?

    • Kelley Beekeeping says:

      Hello Brittney,

      Pets and bees can coexist. Your pet may be curious once you start your hive and is likely to sniff around the hive. There is a chance that your dog may be stung, the first sting usually deters them from getting too close after that. Many beekeepers have dogs that visit their hives with them.

  9. Jake Anderson says:

    I’m going to be planting around 8 fruit trees and a small variety of berries over the next year or two. Would it be beneficial to get some bees or is they not enough fruit trees and berries to supply a hive?

  10. Diana L Darden says:

    I would like a bee keeper to teach me the trade. I own 7 acres in Ellis county texas of overgrown pasture land and woods. Lots of wild flowers in spring. Im willing to learn.

  11. If there is a constant supply of pollen and nectar from spring to fall from fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and bushes, one acre of land should be sufficient for one colony. In your own backyards, you can “feed” your bees by not mowing dandelions, planting pollinator-friendly plants, and avoiding neonicotinoid plants, (which may feed your bees but then will kill them!).

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "How Much Land to Feed One Bee Colony?"
  1. […] while the hives themselves don’t take up much space, a honeybee colony needs about an acre of nectar sources (flowering trees, shrubs, herbs, weeds and flowers) to thrive. While bees will travel up to […]

  2. […] Kelley Beekeeping: How much land to feed one bee colony? […]

  3. […] of pollen and nectar from spring to fall from fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and bushes, one acre of land should be sufficient for one colony. In your own backyards, you can “feed” your bees by not mowing dandelions, planting […]

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