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Bee keeping in Barnsley, South Yorkshire

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Keeping Bees - Apiary Set Up

One of the most important factors regarding bee keeping is - where should you place your hives. There are a number of important issues to consider before going ahead and getting those bees.

Beekeepers may want to keep bees in their own garden, on an allotment or farmland. Having a suitable place to site hives is essential. A well considered location is essential for the sake of the bees, people and farm animals. In this section we consider the main points in siting of hives.


Topics

Practical considerations

Arrangement

Shelter

Food and water

Distance (from people/animals)


Safety considerations

Neighbours

Public access


Other considerations

Permission

Farm animals

Crop spraying



Arrangement

There is no one rule to setting up an apiary. The arrangement of hives is down to personal preference rather than any set of rules, with the main consideration being ease of access within the available space.

Some beekeepers will choose to arrange their hives in an arc or otherwise offset the hives from one another or simply point hive entrances in different directions. This is in order to vary the approach of returning bees and reduce the likelihood of bees “drifting” between hives. Some believe (or are told) that bees may become confused if hive entrances are too close together.

Other beekeepers place the hives in lines, all facing the same way (as in the picture above). This is purely for practical reasons, allowing the beekeeper to access all the hives from the rear without having to walk or drive directly in the flight line of the bees. There may well be some drifting (something which is almost inevitable regardless of the orientation of the hives), but this will generally have a negligible effect on the colonies.

In the case shown in the picture above the hive entrances are all facing into the field. If there was a likelihood of people (e.g. the public) moving around near the hives, it might be better to face the hives toward the hedge. This will make the bees fly higher when they fly to and from the hive.

Not every beekeeper can find an ideal location, so the hives must be sited according to the lie of the land and the most practical arrangement to gain optimum access to the hives. top


Shelter

In the wild, a bee colony will find some cavity in a tree or rocky crevice to build its nest. In fact before domestication, the European or Western honey bee (A mellifera) would probably have been a woodland dweller. Such wild sites will be sheltered from wind, rain and flood.

We provide shelter from the rain with the covered roof of the modern beehive however, we should make sure our hives are not placed under trees or structures from which water may drip or pour. Hives should be raised off the ground to prevent heavy rain from splashing back up the hive wall. If an apiary is next to a river or stream, do make sure that the hives are not at risk of being flooded or washed away. During the winter the bees will often survive the cold providing they have enough food stores) but won’t last long if the hive becomes damp.

It is important to consider wind exposure. If strong drafts are able to enter the hive, this risks chilling the colony, resulting in the loss of brood during the season and loss of adults during the winter. Firstly, the hive entrance ideally needs to pointed away from the prevailing wind. This is normally achieved by siting the hives in the lee of a hedge or wall. If for practical reasons this cannot happen, then the hive should be orientated with the entrance away from the direction of the wind. If in a garden or allotment, a beekeeper may be able to erect a fence or plant a hedge to provide wind shelter.

If a location is quite exposed, the beekeeper should keep a heavy weight such as a rock or brick on the hive roof to prevent it from blowing off. Shortly following any gales it is worth paying a visit to the apiary just in case a hive has been blown over. top


Availability of food and water

Bees have been around for over 100 million years foraging for nectar and producing honey, so it may sound silly to worry about the availability of food (nectar and pollen) and water. However, mankind has only been keeping bees for around 2 ½ thousand years  - a relatively short time period during which the environment has been drastically altered by humanity and bees have been kept to suit us and not necessarily the bee.

Quite often the most natural of environments (or at least the perception of what is natural) such as open fields can actually be like deserts to bees. Since WWII, British agriculture has become more and more intensive involving the the wide spread use of herbicides and the tearing up of miles of hedgerow. Other than certain crops such as rape seed, field beans and borage, open fields are often poor for bee forage. Beyond these brief times of feast are long spells of famine. The chances are the bees will find enough for themselves but will not be very productive for the beekeeper. It is only in the last 10 years or so that farmers have been encouraged to leave uncultivated field boundaries (see more on conservation in farming) along with a growing trend for councils and authorities such as the Highways Agency to leave areas of grass to become meadow and purposely scatter wild flower seed. Therefore, consider what sources of nectar and pollen will be available to your bees.

A large number of people now keep bees in towns and cities (London having a surprisingly high number of urban beekeepers). Urban areas often provide an almost year round supply of food for bees due to the density of nectar rich plants in private gardens.

Why water? Bees need water to dilute their own honey before they can eat it. During production, the bees drive off the water from nectar whilst it is converted to honey by enzymes. The finished honey becomes stable when the water content falls below 20% making the sugar concentration high enough to prevent fermentation by natural yeasts. However, at this concentration the bees cannot eat the honey. The adult bees dilute the honey before they eat it and when they prepare the brood food (a dilute mixture of honey or nectar and pollen). The worker bees also use water to help regulate the temperature of the hive by releasing water inside which evaporates to cool the hive. A colony that struggles to find sufficient water will often not survive. top


Distance (from you)

Having your apiary reasonably close to where you live is distinctly advantageous. If you can find a spot in your garden you will easily be able to look after your bees. If your garden is not suitable then try and find a spot on a local farm or allotment (if you have one).

Proximity certainly helps when keeping bees. During long spells of inclement weather you will find it easier to visit your bees between showers if they are close by. If your time is limited (e.g. due to work commitments), you will be better able to look after your bees if you don’t have to spend long periods travelling. top


Neighbours

Before placing any bees in your own garden, consider the reaction of your neighbours. Some people may not mind living next to a few beehives providing there is enough distance or a high enough fence or hedge to keep the bees away.

However, many people will be alarmed to find they have bees just on the other side of the fence. Some will also fear for the safety of their children and occasionally you may find a neighbour suffers severe allergic reactions to bee stings and won’t take kindly to having hives next door. Hoping they won’t notice is something that shouldn’t be relied on as the moment they do notice (and they will) might lead to an order being served (under public nuisance laws) from the local authority to move them within so many days.

Bear in mind that at some stage (despite best efforts to breed mild tempered queens) the occasional colony will become defensive and may attack anyone nearby (particularly following a hive inspection). In such a case, you should be prepared - at short notice - to either re-queen with a “more friendly queen” or move the hive to another, less public location. top


Public Access

Placing beehives on other peoples’ land requires a sensible consideration of health and safety.

Is the site near any areas of public access (such as footpaths, playing areas, recreation areas, bridle ways, etc)? Are the bees likely to interfere with the work of the farmer?

Ideally an apiary should be sited an appropriate distance (8 m+) away from the nearest footpath, etc. with a barrier (fence, wall or hedge) between the hives and the public access. If no height barrier such as a hedge exists between the hive and the area of public access, the distance should be increased (e.g. to 15 m+) as the bees can fly low (particularly on windy days) and get caught in the hair or clothing of passers by. A very high wall, such as those typically associated with walled gardens, may be enough separation for most apiaries, even with a path directly on the other side. top


Permission

It goes without saying, if the land you intend to put bees on is not yours you will need the permission of the land owner.

We all pass rough patches of ground, deserted country lanes and rough field corners from time to time. However, if you think you can simply place some hives on some spare ground you have found, think again.

If the land belongs to a farmer, then maybe s/he will allow you to go ahead if you approach them correctly. In fact, many farmers won’t mind having a few hives on a spare bit of land and are often supportive of the craft of beekeeping. If they grow crops that require pollination, they will probably be delighted to have hives nearby. They will obviously want a say in where the hives are sighted to ensure they are not going to be a danger to people or animals or interfere with the farmer’s work.

If the land belongs to the local council you may find that they disallow hives from being placed on their land. This will be on the grounds of health and safety and the likelihood of them being sued if someone gets stung. If they find a hive on public land, they may remove it without warning under public nuisance laws. Some beekeepers manage to persuade allotment associations to allow the odd hive or two to go onto allotments, but as a general rule councils won’t allow hives on allotments (but there is no harm in asking). top


Farm Animals

If hives are sighted on a farm, it is important to consider what farm animals (if any) may have access to the apiary. Smaller stock animals such as goats and sheep tend not to interfere with hives however, larger animals such as cows, horses and donkeys can easily knock over a hive.  

If a hive is knocked over the resultant angry bees may sting the animal to death; a scenario that affects the farmer’s livelihood and may get the beekeeper into legal trouble. Even if the clumsy animal gets away unharmed, the bee colony may die (particularly in cold, wet conditions) if the hive isn’t put back together quite quickly.

If the apiary is to be sited permanently on a farm where livestock may gain access at some stage, a barrier should be erected by the beekeeper (if one doesn’t exist already). Normally a simple post and wire or post and rail fence will suffice. If hives are to be sited temporarily while the bees forage on a crops such as borage, rape, heather or in fruit orchards, care should be taken to place hives where large farm animals can’t get to them (or erect a temporary fence). top


Crop Spraying

Depending on the location of an apiary, a beekeeper may have to consider whether or not a farmer is likely to spray crops with something harmful to bees. Therefore, this should be a question that is asked of any farmer or land owner who allows hives to be placed on his/her land.

You should ask them to call you a week or so before they begin to spray so that the hives can either be closed up the night before or moved to another location. top