One of the things you have to consider carefully when you decide to keep bees is where to put your apiary. Moving an apiary is a serious undertaking. I have been involved in two apiary moves. The first involved a considerable quantity of net curtain and bags of ice. The second was not so bad but still not something I would wish to repeat in a hurry – or even slowly! It is far easier to make the right decision when placing an empty hive rather than moving a hive containing 50,000 bees and honey stores.
Points to consider when deciding whether is site is suitable include:
Is it level? Or at least can the hives be made level? This may involve building a platform or digging out a level strip. Does the land owner have any objection to you digging out a level patch?
Is the site accessible? You are going to have to carry a lot of equipment to the site and hopefully you will be carrying those full supers away from the site. Ideally you need to be able to use a wheelbarrow or a sack truck to move the supers. I have seen sites surrounded by gravel and the wheelbarrow just sinks in. I have also visited apiaries where the track is so rutted it would take a four wheel truck to get close.
Is the site inaccessible? A full hive of bees is worth several hundred pounds and there are people who would steal your hives. For that reason you want an apiary which is not clearly seen by passing members of the public. Preferably you will have thick evergreen bushes between the hives and the road or footpath. I am fortunate in that my apiary is in a walled garden.
Is the site big enough? At the moment you only have one hive but if all goes well you could soon have two or three hives. Have you room to put three hives in the location? Can you walk right round the hives without tearing your bee suit on a barbed wire fence or a thorn bush or brambles. The hives should not all be in a straight line facing the same way. If you do that there is more likely to be drift as bees from one hive go into another hive. This can be a poblem if one hive is infected with a problem disease. In that case there is more chance of the infection spreading to all your hives. My hives are in the arc of a circle with all the entrances facing inwards. Recommendations from the BBKA are that you need about 1.5 metres between hives.
Is the site stockproof? Many a farmer would love to have bees in his orchard or near his market garden crops so that they can pollinate the plants. Unfortunately such sites can also come with large animals. These may be cows or sheep in the same field or deer coming out of the woodland. All these animals can enjoy a good scratch against the corner of the hive – and hives are not built to withstand the back scratching activities of a large cow.
Is the site near to public access routes? People will get stung – not necessarily by your bees – but if they know the hives are somewhere nearby you can guarantee that they blame your bees. Try to site the hives well away from anybody who might complain if they are stung. This may be your neighbours or someone using a public right of way near your hives. One way to minimise the risk is to put in a high wooden fence around the hives. That way the bees have to fly up over the fence before they set off to collect pollen and nectar and that puts them above head height. In some countries bees are kept in sheds with no roof. The bees soon get into the habit of flying up through the missing roof.
Is water available? Bees require a considerable quantity of water to make the honey and generally keep the hive in good condition and at the right temperature. A good source of water is desirable. In my own case the walled garden where I have my bees has a swiming pool and the bees use a corner of that from which to collect some water. My previous apiary had a dripping garden tap, which rather than be fixed, fed the water into a trough lined with stones on which the bees could stand to drink the water and not be drowned.
Is too much water available? As the climate changes we have to be more aware of the risk of flooding. A hive that is blown over by a strong wind may well survive if put back together quickly enough but a hive that has been flooded is a lost hive.
You can also have it too damp. It would not be good to put the apiary in a frost hollow or a damp hollow. Looking at the plants growing in the area will give you a good idea of whether it gets too damp.
Is forage available? If you are keeping bees in town the chances are that there is plenty of forage all year since we like to garden and we like to have a succession of flowers. A word of caution here. Many plants are bred for appearance and will have two rows of petals which look nicer but make it impossible for the bee to get to the nectar or pollen. When buying plants for your garden make sure they are “bee friendly”.
I have seen apiaries in the countryside and you might which look well positioned until you realise that the bees have to fly over several fields of wheat or barley to find any flowers. Even rape with its bright yellow flowers is only good for a short time of the year and after that there may be nothing for the bees.
Is the hive exposed to strong winds? Try to seek shelter for the hives. Bees do not want to have to battle strong winds to get in and out of the hive.
Are the neighbours understanding? Bees will swarm. People will get stung. Are the people who live near the apiary understanding. There will be a time when the bees swarm and it can be a scary sight. The first you will know about it is the sound of thousands of bees in the air. Then you see a black cloud of bees but they are not interested in you. They are simply following the queen and looking for a suitable home.
So you set off to find a suitable site. A first choice for many of us would be the end of our long garden but does it give the right answer to all the questions raised above. If it does not then contacting your local beekeepers association may well lead you to a suitable site.