Choosing an apiary site

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Choosing an apiary site

An apiary is a place where bees can be conveniently kept and managed. Siting beehives is a decision that affects the bees, the beekeepers and other people in the district so it is one that needs to be made carefully. However, all sorts of places can be used to keep bees. Bees can be kept near the homestead or far away from people. Depending on their species and nature, honey bee and stingless bees can be on roofs, yards, trees, or wild and waste places. They can utilise places that may not be useful for other crops; the first crop harvested from a minefield after a war can only be a crop of honey.

The decision about what place to keep the bees is a personal one that reflects personal circumstances. However, there are some helpful guiding principles: 

  1. Forage:         
    The bees need a source of food (or forage). This is best supplied by a diverse range of melliferous flowering plants within a 2-3 k radius of the apiary. A diverse range of plants will ensure nectar and pollen for the bees for the longest possible period and minimise any need for feeding during the dearth period. Smaller bees such as Apis cerana or stingless bees will have a proportionately smaller foraging range. The successful colonisation and productivity of a colony relates very closely to the quality of the natural resources in the area. Where tropical bees abscond it is often due to the paucity of forage at that time of year.
  2. Water:
    All living things need water and bees are no exception. They need a water source within 500 metres of the colony if they are not to cause a nuisance at public watering points or domestic taps. If water is not available all year round then water needs to be supplied. This does need to be large but does need refilling on a regular basis. A container of water filled with pebbles so the bees can drink without drowning is ideal.
  3. Space:
    Both bees and beekeeper need space. Beehives, especially those containing African bees, should not be too close together or they will be difficult to work with. Furthermore, too many hives in one place will cause unhealthy competition for resources.
  4. Access:
    Beehives kept using stands need to have a relatively level site. This is helpful to the beekeeper also to give accessible working space. Honey is heavy so thought needs to be given to the practicality of getting the honey home.
  5. Protection:
    Colonies need protection from extreme weather conditions; in particular extreme heat. Siting colonies under trees will provide shelter from excessive heat, rain and winds. Hives may also need protection from predatory or domestic animals or even thieves.
  6. Think safety:
    Bees should not be kept near public thoroughfares or places where people work or congregate, especially if they are African bees. Placing the hive high up or growing a live fence or bushes in front of the entrance encourages the bees to fly upwards over the heads of people where they are less troublesome. The gentle types of bees, such as stingless bees or Apis cerana, are the most amenable for keeping close the homestead.
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