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Siting an Apiary

Care needs to be taken

These notes are written with all beekeepers in mind, not just beginners. When choosing an apiary site you need to consider the bees, your family, neighbours and yourself. I have seen and heard of some poorly sited hives, on a few occasions where the "beekeeper" has shown little concern for non-beekeepers. As a responsible beekeeper I find that attitude appalling and on a couple of occasions I have had to say so.

Although there is much more awareness about bees by non-beekeepers than there used to be, many are still frightened of anything that flies. There is little point in arguing and I think the best thing to do is to avoid all possible confrontation. Even if someone is stung by a wasp, your bees may get the blame.

One of the well worn sayings in beekeeping is that bees and animals don't mix. I have lived in the country all my life and have known of few problems. Very often I have seen several colonies of bees in the corner or at the side of a field with animals in and there are no problems. On the odd occasion I have known of a problem it is because the fencing is bad, the animals have broken it down, possibly to get at some grass that looks better than what they have. They may have rubbed against the hive and knocked it over, in which case you would expect the bees to defend it.

There is much twaddle written and spoken about siting hives. In general if you observe the points made below you will be O.K. There is a saying that "bees in a wood never did good" and they should face the morning sun. Just think where bees live naturally - in trees and facing all directions! I have kept 20 colonies in an apiary in a square, all facing inwards and the yield is similar. Most of my apiaries were in open woodland. At the Wisborough Green BKA teaching apiary the bees are in a wooded area with the hives facing all directions. The direction a hive faces doesn't matter at all, other than for the sake of convenience.

There are three main options for an apiary site:-

Your Own Home.

This could be in your garden or orchard. If you have a paddock or small field, then read "Out Apiary" below. There is some very good advice in BBKA Leaflet L011 (button top left).

If there is no restriction in front of a hive, bees often fly about head height for some distance. This could be annoying to others if the hive is pointing towards an area where other people will be. If a hive is facing a solid obstacle, such as a fence, hedge or building they will quickly fly upwards to gain height and will be less of a nuisance. Leave a large enough gap so you can trim the hedge or work at the hives.

I suggest having a chat with your family and neighbours to see if they are happy about bees being close to them. You need them on your side.

I think you need to be careful on the number of colonies you keep at home. Situations vary with six colonies probably being too many in a small garden, yet reasonable in a large one.


Although this is likely to be similar to an out apiary I have treated it differently. There are likely to be other people in the vicinity and there may be a greater chance of vandalism.

The same care needs to be taken as if your bees were at home. It makes sense to find an area at the edge of the site, or if not, then make a cage similar to a fruit cage using fine net, but with an open top. The net should be reasonably fine so the bees see it, but not so fine that wind resistance will damage the cage. The height needs to be more than head height.

There is some good advice in BBKA Leaflet L015(button top left).

Out Apiary.

"Out apiary" is a term given to any apiary that is not at your home and where you have to travel to. They can be in a variety of places such as farms, nature reserves, nurseries, commercial orchards or woodland. There are often many odd corners suitable for keeping bees on that would otherwise be unproductive, but in siting and placing colonies you will make things easier for yourself if you give a little thought to it. It is a nuisance to move, so make sure the site is good and likely to be available for some time.

Some of the things you should consider are:-

Individual situations will obviously vary and there may be other considerstions. If you build up a good relationship with the landowner, you may have a good apiary for some time. The usual rent is a jar of honey per colony per year. Don't put it in old jars with battered lids, make it presentable and with the ease of producing labels on a computer, why not design a personalised label?

Sharing an apiary with another beekeeper may sound a good idea, but you need to make sure the others are committed and don't abandon their bees or leave you to do all the work.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 10/09/2015

Page updated 22/08/2022