Setting up and managing a new apiary

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Setting up and managing a new apiary

Good honey begins with a good apiary. A good apiary site is central to having healthy and happy bees that are productive both for the beekeeper and the environment. A good apiary site is easy to get to, away from human activity and disturbance, near plenty of nectar producing trees and flowers and sheltered from heat and extreme weather.

Once the place has been selected it may need some preparation. Access paths help to make the work of attending and managing the hives easier but can sometimes make the site more accessible to thieves. If necessary protect the site from stray animals. Move rocks, undergrowth and debris as levelling the site will help to make the beekeeper's work easier and remove places that may harbour pests.

Where bees are very defensive, planting a 2 metre high hedge around the apiary will force the bees to fly upwards over the heads of any people passing. If the plants in the live fence (hedge) are well chosen they can provide food for the bees over the longest period of time which will help to reduce absconding. There is a small fuchsia, known in Kenya as the 'Ladies Eardrop' that is an excellent plant for this purpose. Planting good bee plants can provide both food and shelter for the bees and, if carefully chosen multipurpose trees are used, can also provide useful products for the household.

An apiary needs enough space for both the bees and the beekeeper. It is important to allow some working space around the hive so the beekeeper can carry out essential tasks. The beekeeper needs to able to work without being in the flight line of another hive or disturbing its guard bees. The distance between colonies will depend on the level of defensiveness of the bees and is best left to local experience. It is helpful if hives can be arranged so entrances face in slightly different directions.

When setting up a top bar or frame hive, a sturdy stand or strong wires should be used to ensure that the hives are safe and secure. Hive stands should be protected from rot and damage by termites by using waste oil or grease on the legs. This will also prevent entry by ants.

The position where the hive is placed will be where the colonies make their home for a long period - until the colony dies, absconds or migrates. The bees learn where they live (much as we do with our own homes) and will continue to return there even if the hive is moved. This means that if a new hive or colony is moved into the apiary it must be placed with care into the intended position as it cannot later be moved without difficulty. Unless an area is exceptionally productive, Apis mellifera colony numbers should be limited to 10 in any one place in order to minimise competition for available food resources. Apis cerana colonies are smaller and consequently they do not collect food over such a wide area - around 1km compared with 5km for Apis mellifera. This means that fewer colonies should be kept in one apiary - ideally no more than 5 - otherwise all the colonies risk becoming less productive. 

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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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