What You Need to Know About Apiary Layout
Needs to Consider Before Starting Beekeeping
The cold days of winter are a great time to plan for next spring and summer. These plans might include the garden, the orchard, livestock, or the apiary. An apiary is a place where bees are kept or a collection of beehives, it’s sometimes called a bee yard.
If you’re planning on beginning beekeeping or splitting hives and setting up a new bee yard, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your bees is to set up it properly.
If you don’t already have a map on grid paper of your property now is a good time to make one. It seems silly, especially if you have a small property, but I cannot tell you the number of times our grid paper map has helped us think out a project before we started it.
If you’re raising honey bees for the first time there are a few extra things you’ll need to do that someone who is setting up an additional bee yard won’t need to do.
The first thing you should do is check with your local municipality to see if there are any beekeeping ordinances you that you’ll have to accommodate. Many cities allow bees hives within city limits but they often have specific rules about how many you can have and where you can put them.
The second thing you’ll want to do is to find a local beekeeper’s group. You can check online or ask your local extension agent. A beekeeping group can help answer any questions you might have, especially questions that are unique to your climate. If your area doesn’t have a group, try to find a local mentor; this can be an active or retired beekeeper.
Lastly, you’ll want to start gathering up supplies. At a minimum, you’ll need a hive to house the bees, a smoker, a hive tool, and a bee suit. There are other supplies you’ll eventually need or want, but for starting out, these are the necessities.
Deciding on the Apiary Layout
The actual layout of your apiary will be unique to your property; there isn’t just one best layout. Sometimes I wish there were.
However, there are things that every well thought out bee yard needs. Some of those things are access to food and water, shelter from the harsh environment, and space around the hive.
Bees forage in a two-mile radius around the hive so you don’t have to provide for all of their pollen and nectar needs just on your property. But you’ll want to make sure that in the surrounding areas there is enough food. Take a look around and see what people are growing and what is growing naturally. All of this will affect the bees health and the flavor of the honey.
Our son does bee removals and brings the comb home. It’s interesting how every batch tastes a bit different. One batch tasted very different and I didn’t care for it at all. I had tasted honey from another beekeeper and it had the same flavor. After doing some investigating we realized that the bees our son removed had access to a huge field of bitterweed which is a yellow flowered weed that grows in our area. It can actually be toxic to sheep and affects the milk’s flavor in dairy goats and dairy cows. Our beekeeping friend lives in the same area and he confirmed that the odd flavor was from the bitterweed. While I don’t care for that flavor, many people like it, my son included.
Even if you think there is plenty of food for your bees to forage you can still plant some plants that attract bees and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
One easy way of encouraging your neighbors to grow plants that bees like is to just have conversations with them. They might not be aware that almost all of the food they eat is dependent on some form of pollination. They might also have questions such as, “do all bees make honey?” or “are your bees Africanized?” You have a great opportunity to help educate your neighbors and help your bees at the same time.
Bees also need a water supply. Bird baths work great for this. Just be sure to put some sticks or rocks in the birdbath to be landing pads for the bees, otherwise, you’ll have a bunch of drowned bees to remove each day.
Unless you live in an area that has mild weather year round, you’ll want to be sure your hives have some shelter from extreme heat and cold. If you live in an area that has day after day of extreme heat in the summer consider selecting a site that has afternoon shade.
If you live where the winter days are often below freezing, consider putting the hives on the south side of a building or wooden fence. This will give them a break from the northern winds. Be sure to put the hive entrance facing away from the building or fence. Bees take off like an airplane not like a helicopter so they need space to fly out and diagonally up from the hive. You don’t want the bees to be trapped in an area that is frustrating for them.
If you don’t have a wooden fence or building you can use hay bales in the winter to build a windbreak on the north side of the hives.
If you have more than one hive, you’ll need to decide how far apart to space your hives. How much room you have on your property will certainly be a consideration for how much space you can put between hives. Some beekeepers put their hives side by side in pairs and just work to each side of the hives and not in between them.
Other beekeepers space the hives so that there is one hive width between the hives. This gives enough room to put the hive cover down when they’re working in their hives. It also gives enough space to help the bees differentiate between the hives when they’re coming in from foraging.
And yet other beekeepers put their hives as far away as possible from each other to eliminate drift and reduce the spread of disease. Drift happens when the foraging bees are coming home loaded down with pollen and they go into the wrong hive. Personally, I don’t think this is a huge problem, however, if the drifter bee happens to be carrying mites because the other hive has mites then the mites will now be in this hive. So the concern of drifter bees spreading disease is certainly valid and one you need to consider, especially if you or beekeepers in your area have had a problem with mites in the past.
There are many things to consider when you’re deciding on the layout of your apiary, such as access to food and water, how extreme is your weather, and how much space you have. Like many projects, your apiary layout will change as you learn more about your bees and your climate, so realize that this is not your only chance to arrange the bee yard. It can be changed later.
How is your apiary arranged? Are there any special considerations you’ve had to work around?