Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Should I site my hive in the Shade or Sun?

I am a great believer in the Natural Beekeeping Network (aka Biobees Forum) and often follow threads and conversations there especially as this is what got me into Sustainable Beekeeping in the first place. Occasionally I'll post a response or ask a question myself.

Wooded Warré in high summer 
Today someone asked about the merits of keeping bees in the shade as opposed to the modern norm of placing hives in sunny positions. It seems pretty clear that hives in the sun with south facing entrances produce more honey, that's why beekeepers do it, but I'm not so sure that this is good and I'm certain it ain't natural. I am consequently posting my response here to share it with all YABeePers who may themselves be considering where to place their hives:

Here in the UK, where bees are natural, our habitat was mainly deciduous woodland until the human clearances just a few thousand years ago - bear in mind that bees evolved in their present form over 30m years ago (some put this figure as high as 100m years). Ergo they lived mostly in shady areas in decaying trees, etc. Roll forward a few million years and man interferes and starts 'keeping' bees - ie managing where they live, etc. Man notices that bees in the sun work longer hours - logic suggests that longer hours = more honey to crop therefore believes 'this is good'! Over time keeping bees in the open/sunshine has therefore become the norm for us so that now all beek's believe that sun is good, shade is bad. 

However, we've not asked the bees their opinion. Ask yourself why bees apparently make excess honey for their needs? Does this happen to such an extent in the wild? Granted a shaded hive's bees work shorter hours so make less honey BUT does this mean they spend less time on other important duties that we don't yet fully understand? Is a colony in a shaded/sheltered area not better protected against the ravages and extremes of weather, hot and cold and windy? And don't forget that our woodlands were deciduous so those areas that appear shady and dark in the summer often get abundant sunshine in the winter and spring when the trees have no leaves. Maybe their winter shelter is more important than their summer forced labour?

My theory is that by keeping bees in the sun we are probably overworking them and/or diverting them from other duties and probably exposing them to additional problems; this may be one more of the many 'stresses' that we now see them suffering from.

I am keeping a hive in wooded areas like you describe where they only get sun in the summer to test this out - I'm using Warrés to try and keep them as near natural as possible but I'm sure it would work for hTBHs. Like you I notice they forage for far less time than my hives in the morning/evening sun. Now that doesn't mean they gather less - maybe they are fitter and therefore able to gather more over a shorter period - I don't know. Still early days for my experiment but I can confirm that my wooded bees are still alive now (Feb) - watch this space.

I hope this helps. I'm sure that many will argue against it, especially those whose main interest is in the honey, not the bees. But you can't deny it's a sound Natural Beekeeping argument. 

I hope that this helps new YABeeP beekeepers in their thinking about where they are going to place their new hives. I think it's a test really - are we in this for the bees or the honey?

You can follow or even contribute to any responses there may be on the Natural Beekeeping Network here.

© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys 
08 Feb 2011

Were they Listening?
Well, would you believe it? Having expounded this 'shady areas' theory only this morning, I later today passed near the hive I was discussing only to hear the wonderful sound of happy bees in full activity – so I grabbed my camera and took this video:

Now I know that, in fact, they were grabbing the opportunity offered by today's freak warm and sunny weather following a long and cold spell – the first 'fine' day here all winter. However, I prefer to believe that they had got wind of my words and were rejoicing in what I was saying!  Wink


Bentham Bees said...

I have to say I fully agree with the theory, I'm looking forward to hearing the result of the experiment! Being a beeginner I have a tendancy to follow a middle path, and sun is one thing I had taken as read!

Good luck and don't forget to share the results either way!

Unknown said...

So what's the verdict? How did the shaded hive fare?

FollowMeChaps said...


Sorry for the late reply but my wonderful wife died just a few weeks ago and I'm currently in a mess, as I'm sure you would imagine.

The experiment was a success and I continue to keep bees in the shade. I hope this helps.