Learning Opportunity, Mistakes, and Other Miscues!
By year three in our beekeeping journey, my wife Sally and I realized we had a problem; we were running out of room for bees at our home bee yard! Solution: Find property and setup a new bee yard… aka: Out yard!
I quickly found out that options for new out yards wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, more options were available than I had bees to place! The purpose of this article is to share a bit of our “out yard” journey – and more importantly, provide some help (and laughter) so you will know how to plan and hopefully avoid some very interesting mistakes and miscues we’ve seen and experienced along the way.
Opening an Out Yard Offers Some Incredible Benefits
- Options – Having multiple bee yards provides many significant options. This past year we had a “testy” hive that was manageable but too defensive to stay at our home (bothered pets and neighbors which we simply couldn’t tolerate). Having other location options allowed us to move the hive quickly and easily to an out yard where their behavior wouldn’t be an issue and we could still monitor them regularly in order to decide whether to re-queen, split, or leave as-is.
- Growth – We had maxed out our home bee yard and simply couldn’t continue to increase without creating nuisance issues for our neighbors. Having new out yards allowed us to reduce pressure at home yet continue growing at a pace that worked for us.
- Diversity of Honey – To the delight of our family, friends and customers, our honey harvests yielded a fun variety of tastes and colors each season even though our bee yards were quite close in proximity! Sally now sells a “Hill Country Sampler” and bottles our honey with different colored caps based on its production location.
This has been a huge success and unexpected way for us to sell a lot of honey!!
- Risk Reduction – During the past four (4) years there have been flash floods, freezing weather, and predator issues that impacted our hives. When temperatures fell to single digits for almost a week last year, some yards fared better than others. Instead of having a massive loss, we had losses in only one of our yards and learned valuable lessons for the future.
- New Friends! - We have the great privilege of sharing our bees with property owners and found that most people love bees and love the idea of helping them. One ranch owner frequently drives his elderly mother by the bees so she can sit in the car and watch them. Another rancher sells flowers on the roadside each spring and summer and really loves having honey produced from her ranch to sell along with her flowers. Our out yards have brought us new friends who are excited and proud to have a role in helping honey bees.
- Income Potential – Agricultural Exemptions have really opened new income opportunities for beekeepers. Several of our beekeeping friends have shifted their original goal of producing honey to providing bee management services where property owners compensate them in exchange for help receiving significant property tax savings. We see this as an intriguing option for beekeepers who might want to consider having out yards.
Moving Bees to another Out Yard
So, you decided to setup a new out yard. Now what? Have no fear! We have a checklist that guides us when establishing our new out yards!
- Foraging Potential – All sites are NOT equal! We carefully assess and evaluate possible out yard properties first and foremost by considering the foraging potential for our bees. Although bees can travel for miles, it allows us to get a feel for the site, including the nearby surrounding areas. For our out yards on ranches, we look for specific native plants (e.g., wildflowers such as Indian Blankets, Horsemint, Datura, Thistle and Milkweed). We also look for native bushes and trees (e.g., Agarita, Texas Persimmon, Texas Kidneywood, Flaming Sumac, and Honey Mesquite). Having strong foraging options is crucial for our long-term success.
- Distance – Checking our four (4) bee yards can be a lot of work depending on the time of year. I strongly prefer to minimize driving time! This may not bother some, but I have worked hard to have all of our bee yards within a ten (10) mile radius. When we have a lot to do with our bees this maximizes our ability to get things done.
- Bee Safety and Security – Our honey bee yards are very hard to find. We seek locations on properties that are out of sight from roadways and far away from people. We do this for peace of mind. By locating our honeybees out of the paths of anyone coming and going on the property, it protects people and our bees from theft and vandalism.
- Fencing – One of the realities of rural property is livestock and wildlife. We have a standard fencing approach. We use affordable t-posts and welded cattle panels that keep curious cows and other animals away from toppling our precious honey bees!
- Weather Protection – Our out yards are primarily tucked away along tree lines (two are even better) in order to offer natural wind breaks. We also put wind break cloth on our fences. We have found this cloth blocks 90% of the wind and helps our bees and further camouflages them from sight.
Here’s a fun list of what we have learned and… “What could possibly go wrong?!” We hope these help you!
- Access – Yes, this photo actually happened! In our 2nd year of beekeeping, I built a bee yard across a creek. While it was beautiful, it wasn’t very fun when I had to figure out how to carry honey boxes back across the 90’ long dam! And it wasn’t very fun to have to take a canoe to get to them when we encountered strong flooding a few years ago!
- Readiness – Because you never know what you’ll see – I now carry a little of everything with me in my truck when visiting out yards. We may have a simple plan to just check food stores, but instead find 5 (five) other things that require attention (e.g., add box/frames for space, reload beetle traps, etc.)
- Secure hive stands – A friend near Waco asked me to help him rescue an abandoned bee yard. Upon arrival I noticed the bees had been placed on unstable stands that had rotted, resulting in 10 colonies laying on their side. While it sounds obvious, we should think carefully about making sure our stands are durable and stable. It’s no fun to deal with what we saw in Waco, and unlike your home bee yard, it could be a while before you even know there is an issue.
Abandoned Hives we Rescued
- Swarms will come! – One of the most incredible by-products of having bee yards is seeing how swarms are attracted to them. Each year we have 2-4 swarms land near our bee yards. I have personally enjoyed watching 2 fly in from a neighboring ranch – it was truly magical! Our advice? Setup swarm traps in all of your out yards. Our experience has shown us that we’ll welcome several new colonies each year by having the welcoming mat and red carpet waiting for them!
Beekeeping is extraordinary! We enjoy it so much and are hopeful that you will find strong, sustained, and fun success on your journey! If you have any questions, please feel free to email me @email@example.com or find us @www.sallybees.com. Go out there and have some FUN!!