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Stocking rates for hives, what's the optimum number per square kilometre?


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Stocking rates for hives, what's the optimum number per square kilometre? In late November my backyard hives, in Hamilton, were doing okay bringing in a fair amount of nectar, drawing out frames and filling up those supers. Then early in December everything reversed as the hives were using more than they were bringing in, so I had to feed sugar syrup to a couple of the hives to keep them going. Okay, the weather was a bit lousy at times so probably didn't work in the bees favour, but it got me thinking about stocking rates and wondering how many hives do I have within bee range of my hives and what's the optimal number of hives for my area. I was talking to a local backyard beekeeper who said that when they had hives in Hamilton a few years ago they could get 40 kg of honey from one hive, and now they know that beekeepers are usually getting 10 to 15 kg per hive. Is this difference because there's less flowers in town or are there more hives, consuming more than what's available to forage? Considering I've heard reports that in 2018 there were 1,500 registered hives in Hamilton City I'd say it's the latter. There must be a sweet spot for stocking rates for every area, number of hives per square kilometre, it's just knowing what that number/ratio is and more importantly getting every beekeeper in the area on board to adjust their hive numbers so we all benefit, including the bees, that is more honey harvested with healthier bees and stronger hives. So my questions are, how would you go about finding out what the optimum stocking rates are for your area? And if you found out that the area where your hives are is over stocked would you reduce your number of hives? Or put another way, would you want more hives with less honey to harvest with smaller weaker hives and having to feed sugar syrup, or fewer hives that are larger, stronger, healthier and have more honey that you can harvest?

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Urban areas can be extremely productive with a friend of mine on bluff hill Napier  once producing 200 kg in a year. At the time the area was probably under stocked. The trouble with urban areas is th

Here is a graphic representation of that.  The hive in question is a double deep lang, and it gets two supers at the start of the flow, both drawn.  We try treat it exactly the same year over year as

weather has a big affect also, no collation between one season to the next. Approx 9000 registered beeks in NZ, 2000 own 50+hives, 7000 own less. 7000 hobbyists own 1-2% of hives and produce

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I think it is only natural that if you have several apiary sites that over time you'd use the sites that generate surplus honey. So in some regards it is self-correcting over time. However all the hobbyists in the whole country don't have many hives in total, so overstocking is often an issue where commercial beekeepers have several home apiaries that hold hives while not in work. Given the dire situation for honey prices and relatively short period of pollination there could be hives that are being parked in the semi-rural areas while beekeepers are trying to minimise costs in any given local area this could put quite a lot of pressure on a relatively small forage supply. Not everybody will have manuka sites.. Disease issues are probably the biggest concern, but year round sugar feeding doesn't make it much fun for a hobby. For the beekeepers in financial strife moving the hives away to reduce overstocking will only increase their costs and it might reduce their disease surveillance, so we have to be careful what we wish for. The long established beekeepers might have this under control, but relatively new beekeepers that have poured into the industry in the last few years might be struggling if honey prices are below cost of production. It is really hard to know, but I think overstocking isn't seen as a priority for a commercial beekeeper who is struggling because of prices/costs/sites.

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weather has a big affect also, no collation between one season to the next.

Approx 9000 registered beeks in NZ, 2000 own 50+hives, 7000 own less.

7000 hobbyists own 1-2% of hives and produce corresponding % of honey, over crowding not a problem in town/cities.

This season so far has not been that great.

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16 minutes ago, Dennis Crowley said:

weather has a big affect also, no collation between one season to the next.

Approx 9000 registered beeks in NZ, 2000 own 50+hives, 7000 own less.

7000 hobbyists own 1-2% of hives and produce corresponding % of honey, over crowding not a problem in town/cities.

This season so far has not been that great.

Bees foraging 100mtrs from hive have 2.6ha of forage area, 800 mtrs -218ha, 1.6km- 809ha, 3.2km-3503ha, 3.2km/2miles is considered the limit bees fly to explore their area for resources, but have been known to fly further, if they flew 5ml/8km-20234ha

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8 hours ago, StephenP said:

Then early in December everything reversed as the hives were using more than they were bringing in, so I had to feed sugar syrup to a couple of the hives to keep them going. Okay, the weather was a bit lousy at times so probably didn't work in the bees favour,

Same here in the 'Naki, feeding bees hard out in early Dec, would've lost them otherwise. Not due to overstocking, was all due to bad weather.  First fine day, heaps of nectar.  Have to attribute the appropriate cause and effect.

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15 hours ago, Dennis Crowley said:

weather has a big affect also, no collation between one season to the next.

 

Here is a graphic representation of that.  The hive in question is a double deep lang, and it gets two supers at the start of the flow, both drawn.  We try treat it exactly the same year over year as it sits on the scale and becomes our sentinel for measuring and comparing the flows year over year.  The only manipulation of the data is to remove the artifacts from adding and removing supers.

 

2014 was the first year we put the scale under the colony, and the spring honey flow lasted exactly 9 days, those who did not have colonies 'ready for flow' at that time, missed the flow.  2015 was a bumper year.  2018 was indeed a different colony, altho in the same spot on the same scale.  During winter 2017/2018 a 4 legged critter visited the colonies and knocked this one off the stand.  They didn't survive till spring after spending a few days scattered on the ground (wife and I were out of town when it happened), so I restocked the spot with a package from NZ in March 2018.

 

2019 and 2020 data are missing for various reasons.  2019 due to beekeeper health issues, not much got done in the yard for that season, 2020 came with it's own host of issues, so we have not been collecting scale data for a couple years.

 

yearly.png

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1 hour ago, john berry said:

Most areas would have supported higher hive numbers at the peak of the flow but sensible stocking rates mean less feeding and more production at both the start and the end of the season giving less costs and much higher production per hive on average.

I think there was less AFB, and even in some bigger operations it was considered a rarity, and if found drastic measures were undertaken with quarantines, traceability and culling gear.    

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