how close can native bee hives be to each other?
Keeping hives close together is a question asked of us often.
Most native bee keepers will encounter this once they start getting a few hives together. And it doesn't take long at all, native bee keeping can be very addictive.
Small urban blocks don’t allow to much space for native bee keepers. A communal shelter or long shelf is a good way to accommodate housing more then 5 hives in a small place.
For the beginner native bee keeper with only a few/couple hives, keep unknown hives at least a few metres apart from each other (minimum 2 - 4m), varying the height of the hive and orientation of the entry holes will help the bees know which hive is theirs. This is very achievable with a few hives for the beginner. you can gradually bring them together until they are only 10 -20 cm apart.
For those with limited room and or hive numbers growing all the time, the following is how we keep so many hives in a small space.
Keeping Austroplebeia hives close together
An example of an AA Shelf (left) and stacking shelter (right) we have on our property for keeping AA bee hives
A simple shelf made from 2 x angle brackets and 2 lengths of aluminium angle works great.
Keeping AA hives close together isn't a huge issue when it comes to Austroplebeia species bees. My guru has 100 odd aa hives stacked on top of each other in a 25m length of fence. He swears by his method of keeping AA bees like that, and i have to say we have had no issues with keeping AA hives either Stacked or on our shelf.
But BEWARE - if you are keeping Red Abdomen AA bees (western variant). Keep them away from the black (eastern Variant). the black AA bees will breed the red out of the colony's over time. We keep our red abdomen native bees out of the black variants reach. we saw this happen over a couple year period, we gradually watched all of our red AA bees become black after replacing the old queen and lost the variant coloring they once the new bees had gone through a hatch cycle. we now have 2 different sites for keeping each variant.
Keeping Tetragonula (TC & TH) hives close together
Tetragonula species bees can be tricky, they suffer a lot more from defensive swarming behavior if you bring in a new colony, or if you have them bunched up and they aren't all that well known to each other.
An easy tip when keeping tetragonula species bees close together is to always move the oldest colonies together gradually. if you have a new hive rescue, or an unknown box come to your property, place it on the outside edge and move them together over time (weeks or months) don't just sit the hives side by side and expect them to get along.
We don't mix Tetragonula Carbonaria and Tetragonula Hockingsi on the same shelter or post mount. TH generally will attack anything, so its just better that way, as they are the more aggressive of the 2 species in our experience.
below are an example of our TH hive shelter (left), and our TC post mounted hives (right)
(we are slowly moving all of our hives except AA onto a post mounted system for easy eduction)
My top tips on keeping native bee hives close together.
-Move hives together slowly over time. Allow a new hive to sit near the older hives for a couple of days weeks or months before moving it closer. Move hive about 20cm a day max inwards.
– We allow hives to sit for a couple of months before being able to swap boxes into any position. It takes a long time to get 10 hives or more used to each other. but colored entry rings or colored entry tubes do help the bees identify their hive (they are very visual insects)
– Add new hives to one end of the rack or shelf your using to store them. Do not add a new hive to the middle, this will cause a huge defensive swarm from other hives.
– If splitting hives from your group of hives they generally wont fight if being placed back into the group.
– Over time it is said that the hives will share worker bees, i do agree with this in a sense, in our communal shelter we rarely have a swarming or attacking event.
– Colonies of AA bees kept in groups can be used to help a young colony grow. hives that have very few bees in them, will collect workers from other nearby hives without fighting. Or if you are using a colored ring or tube system, you can swap the box positions and the tubes to boost the weak colony along without fighting (the Entry tube or colored ring has a colony specific scent).
– Take your time to add a new colony of bees to your group. Rushing it will make one very very large swarm.
– Once all your hives are together they will rarely have a swarm. and will rarely come under attack from an outside colony. who in their right mind would want to take on such numbers of bees.
– Leave room to the edge of your shelter or shelf so you can add a new hive AWAY from the existing hives.
– When you place a new hive, lock them in the hive for 24hrs (1 FULL DAY), and only let them out at night time. that way they will gradually leave the hive in the morning, instead of in one big rush and cant orientate to the new hive location. remember its all new to them and they don't know which hive is home yet.