One of the beautiful things about aquaponics is the sustainability of this profitable system, and you can make your setup even more efficient by integrating bees.
The benefit of bees in aquaponics is undeniable.
So many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs we consume on a daily basis are pollinated by bees.
So if you find yourself wanting to integrate bees to aquaponics, there are a few things you need to know in order to best set up your hives.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the basics of beekeeping equipment.
Choosing the right hive can also help you choose where to put it and how to prepare its final location.
Another consideration is the time of year you add your bees.
When planning where and when keeping in mind the fact that colonies can grow surprisingly fast and having new boxes ready when your bees swarm is essential to maximizing your productivity.
In this article, we’ll cover what you need to add bees to a variety of aquaponics operations.
If someone in your family is allergic to bees check out our guide on how to detour bees from aquaponics.
Learn the Basics of Beekeeping Equipment
The benefit of bees in aquaponics is fairly obvious.
But sometimes relying on the wild population isn’t enough.
So if you want your very own aquaponic bees, then the first step is naturally to familiarize yourself with beekeeping equipment.
The very most basics you’ll need as a new beekeeper is a hive, frames, and a bee smoker.
The beehive will serve as your future bees’ new home while frames are where the bees will build their honeycomb.
Some frames come pre-started while others are simply empty squares of wood.
The smoker helps keep your bees calm when examining the hive.
For the less adventurous beekeeper, a beekeeping suit helps avoid getting stung.
A second hive with its own set of frames can help you catch your ever-expanding colony when they swarm.
Depending on the scale at which you plan to integrate bees into aquaponics, honey collecting equipment such as a separator can also be well worth the money.
Pick and Prepare a Spot
Once you’ve chosen and purchased a setup for your aquaponic bees, it’s time to choose the location where you’ll place the hive.
Pick someplace close to your garden, but far enough away that you won’t have to squeeze around or step over the hives to get to your plants.
Someplace out of the sun and relatively protected from the elements such as in a grove, at the edge of a field, or under a large tree will do fine.
Make sure the ground is flat before you start setting up the hive so that your bees aren’t leaning.
If shade isn’t readily available in your area, some kind of awning or a freestanding roof over the hives can help keep them from overheating.
Consider purchasing a high strength electric fence to go around your bee boxes.
This will help to protect them and their precious honey from predators like bears.
If your hives are too far away from a building to plug your fence into the grid, a solar powered fence charger can be a great option for your setup.
Add Your Bees In Spring
Regardless of when you get your hives, it’s best to integrate bees to aquaponics in spring when flowers are beginning to bloom.
If you can find a local beekeeper with an extra swarm to sell, then that would be your best bet at getting bees that are already adjusted to your climate.
Another option is to purchase your aquaponic bees online.
There are plenty of online sellers with reasonable prices who will ship bees straight to your doorstep.
Depending on the climate they’re coming from, they might need a small adjustment period to get used to your weather.
You’ll add a young queen at the same time as the rest of your colony by placing a queen bee in the colony inside a queen box.
This tiny cage protects your future queen while the hive gets used to her smell.
Within a few days, they’ll chew out the tiny, candy cap holding her in and she’ll be a fully integrated member of your new bee colony.
Get Ready for Expansion
There is no denying the benefit of bees in aquaponics, but what you might not expect is that bees expand their colonies via a process called swarming.
Once a colony grows too large for the first hive, about half of them take a newly born queen and leave the box in a big swarm in search of a new home.
Part of the process to integrate bees to aquaponics is making sure you have a second hive ready as a safe place for this new colony to land.
If you miss part of the hive breaking off, they’ll leave entirely, and you’ll be out on a sizable investment.
Regardless of whether you want another hive to manage, these swarms are a valuable source of profit.
Swarms can be sold to other beekeepers or used to expand your own pollinating power.
Either way, it’s in your best interest to be ready before your aquaponic bees grow too big for their first hive.
Leave Your Bees Outside
While bumblebees are fairly commonly kept inside a good-sized greenhouse, honey bees need a lot more space.
That means unless you want to integrate bees to aquaponics using an industrial-sized greenhouse, it’s best to leave your honey hives outside.
During the day you can leave your greenhouse doors open or roll up the sides of your plastic to reap the benefit of bees in aquaponics.
This will allow you to simultaneously have the plants in your setup pollinated while at the same time making energy-rich honey.
Leave Enough Honey for Winter
If you live somewhere more south where winter means 60 degrees, maybe an occasional flurry, then leaving honey for your bees to overwinter with isn’t such a big deal.
A few frames of honey and an eye on the temperature for suddenly drops should be more than enough to keep southern honey bees happy over the winter.
But if you live in a northern area where temperatures reach well below freezing for months on end, then you’ll need to take a bit more consideration before you integrate bees to aquaponics.
If your winters are particularly harsh, you might consider an insulated hive, but the most important part of your winter beekeeping will be ensuring that you’ve left your bees with enough honey to last them through the winter.
In fact, many new keepers find they don’t get to harvest honey from their bees in the first year at all because in most cases a hive will need 60 to 80 pounds, or about ten frames worth of honey each winter.
Skip the Sugar Water
It might be tempting to feed new bees or bees who have just gone through a hard winter.
They love sugar water, and it gives them a much-needed energy boost when the food reserves they need just aren’t there.
But like it is with humans, granulated sugar is terrible for bees.
Over time this processed, sweet treat can essentially poison a colony.
If you feel like you absolutely must feed your bees or you’ll lose them, a bit of honey dissolved in water is a safer option for all parties concerned.
You’re much less likely to lose your bees, and your bees still get the benefit of a sugary boost when they’re not feeling so well.
Be Aware of Your Local Laws
Just like with any other animal you might want to raise, it’s best to check the laws of your local area before adding bees to your aquaponics setup.
Due to the potentially fatal nature of their stings, beekeeping is more regulated in some areas than others.
For example, if you live in town, there may be a limit to how many hives you can have, or you may not be able to have any.
To save yourself the heartbreak and potentially hefty fines simply check with your town office before you do anything else.
If raising honey bees isn’t something that’s allowed in your area, consider making a bug hotel.
Not only will this attract your local bees, but other pollinating insects as well.
To wrap it up, aquaponic bees can add a ton of profitability to nearly any aquaponics system.
There are a few key steps you can follow to integrate bees to aquaponics.
After you’ve gone over the basics of beekeeping equipment, you can decide where you want to put your hives.
When preparing a space for them, keep in mind that your hives will need room to expand as the colony grows.
Missing a swarm can be a huge financial loss.
But before you get bees or even think about selling honey, be sure to check your local laws.
Even with all the hassle, the benefit of bees in aquaponics far outweighs the downsides.