Something that has me thinking over the past few days is the “sustainable apiary” and what that means exactly. The venerable Mike Palmer is the one who I think has coined this term. The definition isn’t what’s really giving me a hard time, it’s exactly what a backyard beekeeper has to maintain in order to achieve this when considering the recent survival rates. We like to think that if we just develop a more local, hardy, survivable queen and have her mate with local, hardy, survivable drones then any hive will survive the winter. Of course some bees have more winter hardiness than others, but I don’t think it’s the case where if we simply have local bees then we’ll have such a high degree of success that any apiary can be self-sustaining. I think it’s more of a numbers game no matter the lineage or race of the bee.
Can a backyard beekeeper have a sustainable apiary with one hive? Clearly not. If the hive dies, no more apiary. Can two hives accomplish the goal, probably not. Three? Four? Essentially I think the only way an apiary can hope to be self-sustaining, and clearly there’s never a guarantee no matter how many hives, is to have enough hives so that there’s a certain degree of confidence in coming out of winter with surviving bees. And not only that, in accounting for dead-outs, enough bees must survive so that sufficient splits can be made to achieve that same minimum number in the coming season. I believe this minimum number goes up if a beekeeper decides not to treat for pests/disease, or at least the number has to be higher in the beginning of the apiary’s existence vs. later, once local selection pressures have killed off those not suited to the immediate area.
This feels like a math problem, so I’ll work on it maybe and try to possibly find a real equation to represent this based on a expected survivability probability.