Contrary to popular belief choosing a site to keep your beehives is comparable to finding a home for yourself. Most beekeepers are tempted by the familiar and convenient location of their own garden disregarding the need to establish good relations with neighbors and the general public.
As a beekeeper you would like to avoid areas where children play which may cause instant complaints. Neighbors may not be amused by a cloud of roaring bees swarming into their gardens, or bees soiling the washing as they make their cleansing flights.
Finding the apiary site
If you have a small farm it will be important to talk to the neighbors about the value of bees as pollinators. You can educate them about swarms, flight paths etc and try to capture their interest and co-operation so that they can respect the bees and yourself.
That said these are the factors to consider when siting the apiary:
There should be ample source of nectar and pollen within a 3 km radius. Honeybees mostly forage for both nectar and pollen within a kilometer of their hive and up to about five kilometers for exceptionally rewarding sources. Choose an area with sufficient forage to support the bees and produce a surplus for honey production. It may be difficult to assess the foraging potential of a specific location but some idea of the potential can be gained by observing the flora of the area and keeping a floral calendar. However another method is to place colonies on the site for at least one season.
An apiary site may be permanent, where forage during all growing seasons is desirable, or temporary to exploit a crop or seasonal source such as sunflower. Arable farmland may provide an excellent source for a month but then nothing for the rest of the year. Gardens are usually planted with year-round flowering plants, shrubs and trees. An apiary within flying range of these but sited in an area of low population density can be ideal.
It is a good idea to find out the location and size of other apiaries that might provide competition for forage in the area.
An apiary should be accessible for ease of management and transportation of products and equipment. A well-drained area is recommended. Easy movement of equipment in and out of the apiary ensures that your routine inspections will be productive.
Adding and removing supers, controlling swarming, feeding and treating the colonies is a pleasure when it is not physically demanding or hazardous.
Do not consider a site which entails climbing fences or crossing ditches to enter. It is ideal to have access by vehicles right up to the hives when necessary. Remember, dry grassland may become impassable mud in wet weather.
A level site is easier to manage
There should be a permanent source of water e.g. stream or pond. If there is no permanent source, water should be provided in suitable containers away from the main flight paths to avoid fouling. Bees collecting water from a neighbor’s washing or pond can cause a nuisance. Bees need water to dilute honey stores for use in the dry season and to cool the hive in hot weather.
Hives should be sheltered from strong prevailing winds, frosts and shaded from strong direct sunlight. This is to enable foragers to land easily at the hive entrance and roofs are not blown off in windstorm. Colonies will not thrive if they cannot keep warm throughout the year.
The apiary should be fenced off to exclude livestock and other animals. A hedge around the apiary ideal but keep in mind that you may need to increase the number of hives in future. Just make sure that that you have enough space to manipulate the colonies within the apiary allowing a distance of at least two hive widths between each hive.
An apiary should be safe from vandalism. Damage to hives from thieves and vandals can occur, so hives need to be well guarded or unobtrusive.
Avoid areas prone to fire hazard
Due to the defensive behavior of bees an apiary should be placed at least 45 to 100 metres from dwelling places and 300 metres from any public facility e.g. roads, hospitals, schools and playing ground. Find out if there is a possibility of risk to humans or animals. The general public is often ignorant and frightened of insects. If they become alarmed about the presence of bee hives, their complaints can result in your bees being considered a ‘nuisance’ with the consequent loss of apiary sites. It is your responsibility as a beekeeper to ensure you do not put the public at risk from your activities.