Do you ever wonder where your honey bees go to collect nectar and pollen? I do. I spend hours watching my bees come and go from my beeyard. I still don’t know where they go, but I know what direction they head when they leave and what direction they come back from. My hives are surrounded by trees. I can look up at a certain tree top at a certain time of day and see hundreds of bees a minute whizzing past one another like cars on a freeway. That particular tree, which happens to be a single dog berry tree in a thick ring of spruce trees, seems to be a visual marker for the bees that says, “This is home.” It’s a hub of honey bee traffic. But I digress.
I don’t know exactly where my bees go to get nectar and pollen, but a free online tool, that came to my attention via Happy Hour at the Top Bar, allows me to map out the potential forage area of my bees. Let’s cut to the chase:
Go to FreeMapTools.com and click the link for “Radius Around Point,” or the map underneath it that looks like this:
In the box for “Place radius by location name,” enter a standard address for the location of your hives, or an address close by (it doesn’t have to be exact because you can easily shift to a different location later). In the “Radius Distance” box, enter 2 miles or 3 km, which happens to be the average distance honey bees will fly to forage.
Then do one of two things. 1) Click the “Draw Radius” button. The forage area of your honey bees will show up on the map right above on the same page.
2) And this is the one I like. Enter the location and radius distance and click the “Draw Radius” button as already described. Then under “URL to last radius,” check “URL loads full screen?”
Then copy the link from the “URL to last radius” box and paste it into a new browser window to produce a full-screen interactive map. You can zoom in and out of the map, zooming in for a detailed look, checking out fields and trees that might be of interest to your bees. By clicking and holding on the location symbol, you can drag the radius circle to a new location — to the exact location of your hives, one that doesn’t necessarily have a proper mailing address. The radius of the circle, or the forage area, doesn’t change, so you can move it to wherever you want and still get a good sense of where your bees might fly.
You can also click on the edge of the circle to change the size of the forage area.
All of these modifications can be performed on the non-full-screen version of the map as well, and you’ll even see the values for the radius distance, the latitude, the circle area and so on, change in real time as you change them on the map. That’s kinda cool. Then you can also re-check the full-screen option and save it as a full-screen map that you can send to your friends and post on your blog and Facebook and all kinds of fun things.
You can select from map to satellite view using the “Map” drop-down menu in the top left corner. By clicking anywhere on the map, you can add a second circle at a different location to determine where your bees might interact with the bees from someone else’s hives (not bad for trying to figure out if your virgin queen bee can mate with one of your neighbour’s drones). So far I’ve used the mapping tool to calculate what is most likely the maximum forage area of my bees (about 6 km out instead of 3 km). One third of my bees’ forage area is the Atlantic Ocean. Boo. But the area of a circle with a 1 km radius, which is the distance most bees will forage when they can get away with it — that looks great. My bees should do okay.
This is a fun and useful tool for anyone giving thought to setting up some hives in their backyard, on a remote location, or wherever. It’s always good to know where your bees can forage, if they have enough plants to forage on. The main page of the “Radius Around Point” tool (great name) has other handy features that I won’t bother getting into here but might be worth a poke and a peek for some. As a demonstration, click the image below to zoom in and out of a full-screen map that shows the forage area of another beekeeper I know who lives even closer to ocean than me.
Just for fun, here are some numbers I pulled from the forage mapping tool (that’s what I’m calling it now):
— The area covered within 1 km of the hive = 3 km² (almost 800 acres). Most foragers work within this small area unless they’re forced to go farther.
— The area covered within 3 km of the hive = 28 km² (a little over 7000 acres). 3 km is supposedly the average foraging distance for honey bees.
— The area covered within 6 km of the hive = 113 km² (about 28,000 acres). Honey bees will fly as far as they have to find nectar and pollen, way beyond 3 km if necessary. However, depending on weather and wind conditions, it’s usually a losing battle for honey bees that fly farther than 8 km (about five miles), because they burn up more energy flying that distance than is gained from the tiny bit of nectar they bring back to the colony. I think I read that in Mark Wilson’s excellent book, The Biology of the Honey Bee. But don’t quote me on that.
MAY 25, 2016: I just tried to use the tool and it didn’t work. I got it to work in the end but it was finicky. You may need to manually copy the location into the “Place radius by location name” box. And I’m not sure how to generate a full-screen map. Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t know. You’re on your own.