The Apiary

A place for bees

I need to “build” an apiary to house the hives but before we set out to do that, we had to check the requirements.

Photo of the apiary site
The Apiary site

What do the bees want?

After much research I found that in terms of hives they’ll be quite happy anywhere. I know some of you will be dismayed at this but, trees, chimneys, old logs, compost heaps and holes in the ground have all been used. However, what I do need to look at was the immediate setting for the hives.

Water

Bees need water, so we’re running a water source near the hives. I’ve read that one full hive will go through about a gallon of water. And the way they consume it is through their tiny proboscis, so they need very shallow water and be able to stand on pebbles or wood to prevent them being waterlogged or drowning.

Shelter

They need shelter from the wind. So we’ve built some fencing that will act as a windbreak for them. They also need a 10ft (ca. 3 m) glide path to take off and get to their cruising altitude of 30ft (ca. 9 m). Some people shorten that by putting a fence a few feet in front of the hive, but we’re fortunate not to need that.

Mr A mentioned that they hate grass rustling against the hive and also dislike being under trees or bushes as the drips land on the hive causing damp and irritation. I think we’re good with that.

Sun

The jury is all over the place on the next one, multiple sources conflict and state the hives need to face south, others say east, some others say south-east. The explanations of the south facing crowd are that the maximum sunlight is needed.

The explanation of the east facing crowd is that the bees would be woken up by the rising sun. Our hives would naturally face south-east and would get sun throughout the day with a welcome break of shade sometimes. But I have to admit my OCD would go mad if I made them south facing as they’d not look right. Sorry bees but you’re getting the compromise position.

There’s also talk of dappled sun which, as I understand, is to prevent direct sunlight and overheating. There is a natural shadow cast for a couple of hours a day that might help with this and if I do see the bees “bearding” to cool down, we’ll put up some sort of shade.

What do we need?

We needed to be sure the bees wouldn’t cause nuisance to our neighbours. What we have done is place the apiary so the bees have enough room to gain altitude and also provided a water source. We’ve also limited ourselves to a maximum of two hives, with one nucleus and a swarm trap. The nucleus and swarm trap are always temporary and are used when managing swarming, without them you’re at risk of having an out of control swarm on your hands.

A note on swarming

Swarming is a natural process whereby the bees simply reproduce in enough numbers and feel they need to go off and start another colony. When they swarm, they are not the killer bees as you see in B movies (sorry), they are absolutely stuffed with honey and really cannot be bothered to move around much. At this point they are very docile unless disturbed.

They hang around on a branch or similar with their queen until the scouts report a suitable hive location and that’s what the swarm trap is for. Then, if the swarm came from one of your own hives, you’d merge or start a new hive. There’s more to it than that and other methods of dealing with and preventing swarming in a later post.

Security

We need security for the hives, so the fence will help with that. We’re also installing gates, and we already have a CCTV system. None of these are likely to be your requirements but it is a good idea to implement some sort of security to help prevent and discourage vandalism and theft, as yes, some people do that although I’d be amazed if that happened here.

Well managed space to work

We need a space to work with the hives, and we also need space for the two hives themselves. This needs to be level and stable. The level is needed in case bees create comb that falls at an angle, that can lead to a situation known as cross-comb where comb from one frame merges into another. It just makes the management of the hive an absolute nightmare.

What we’ve done is run three wooden poles along the hardcore and placed heavy paving slabs on top. There was some fun and games getting it level but we got there in the end.

We think we have all the requirements in place, there’s still a little more to do to get the site ready, but we’ve broken the back of most of it.
Until next time folks!

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