You need to talk to your neighbours, in a positive way, about the value of bees as pollinators – “doing your bit for the planet” – and also educate them about the needs of the bees. Do they have animals? Dogs and cats, horses, ponies and similar, provided they are kept away from the hives should be fine. However if the bees becomes upset they could get stung, as could your neighbours and their children. Are the children playing in close proximity often at the times you would like to manipulate the hives? Remember, typically the best time to work on your hives is when most of the flying bees are out foraging. If you are putting your hives in your garden and you do have neighbours nearby, you can force the bees to fly over them by enclosing the apiary with nearby 2m barriers, such as a hedge, fence or trellis. Place the entrance of the hives towards the barrier. However, think about when you are manipulating the hives – you will probably wish to access both sides of the hives at some point.
Bees (and other insects, like the wasp in the picture) need a steady supply of water. Bees prefer dirty water. This means they will make a beeline for the best source they find. If this is your neighbour’s pond or worse, their swimming pool, you have an issue. You can train them to another source, but it’s hard to move them from the original one, and it will probably always be an issue. You should always make sure there is a steady supply of water with a method of allowing the bees to use it without the danger of drowning. A dripping tap for example, or you can put marbles or stones in saucers or at edges of ponds, or a bucket of water with plenty of “bee rafts” such as corks, sticks, sponges, or plastic packaging — anything that floats.
Unless you are an excellent student and really attentive, you will probably get a swarm. Your neighbours may be fascinated by this, or deeply unimpressed, depending on where it lands.
Image Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright
Arranging your hives
Leave enough space between hives so you can work them without being cramped – 1.2 to 1.5 metres is a reasonable minimum, allowing enough space to work between the hives without the possibility of tripping over. You can place a pair if space is limited. Make sure there is room for expansion and allow for at least 50% more colonies than you think you will have. During the summer colony numbers can fluctuate as a result of making up nuclei, taking in swarms or making artificial swarms. Place the hives at a height that is comfortable for you to work without getting backache, taking into account how you work your bees. If you work from the back of the hive you will probably put the supers to the side, but at the back if you work from the side. Avoid such hazards as thorny bushes or barbed wire fences, as they can tear clothing and veils.
A nice orderly line of hives looks nice and ideal; however, this could lend itself to drifting, which is where foragers return to the wrong hive. When in a line, especially if the wind is strong, the end hives end up with more bees and thus more forage. Some ways to prevent drifting are:
- Arrange your hives in an irregular manner. Hives situated among trees or shrubs with the entrances facing in different directions should not suffer from drifting.
- The hives are distinct to the bees, and the shrubs and trees act as landmarks for them.
- Place or grow landmarks in an apiary.
- Arrange your hives in a horse-shoe pattern, or in wavy lines.
- Arrange your hives in pairs with 2–3 m (6½–10 ft) between pairs.
- Paint different-coloured symbols such as a circle or cross on the hive entrances.
- If your hives are in rows, ensure there is at least 3 m (10 ft) between the rows.
Image Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright
Think about the footpaths, boundaries, thoroughfares. Your bees will take the most direct route to where they are going and if this is straight across a busy footpath, you have issues. If you can’t place the hives elsewhere you will need to place 2m barriers in the path of the bees so they go up and over.
How many other hives and apiaries are there nearby? If many you may have greater chances of your bees catching diseases and running into lack of forage as they are competing so much with the other hives.
Be careful of overhanging tree branches as these will drip onto the hives during and after rain. An actual tree canopy will create a damp and/or frost pocket underneath. Beware dips and hollows, you will get frost pockets there too.
It is ideal if the hives get the early morning sun; the bees will get out earlier to forage. Have late afternoon shade to avoid the harsh sun and overheating and then evening sun if at all possible to help the bees stay warm at the end of the day.
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. The hive entrance ideally needs to be facing away from the prevailing wind.
Make sure your hives are not in a flood risk area, for obvious reasons. With an out apiary you would need to do extra research.
Research into what forage is around your apiary during the year if you can. There is actually far more forage to be had in cities than in monoculture fields, especially when the crop is not useful to bees, like wheat or sweetcorn.
On a warm winter’s day, the bees may come out en masse and defecate on the nice white washing on the line, or that shiny car next door. It’s always a danger, so think of the flight paths when you site your hives.
Store your tools and equipment well. Any foundation needs to be kept flat ideally and out of reach of wax moths, as do used frames and comb. You should always clean your tools after each use and be tidy! Having a decent toolbox helps – there is nothing worse than having a hive apart and realising the thing you need is back in the shed somewhere.
Out Apiary advice
You must have permission. It is always best to have it written down if you can, but not an agreement that doesn’t suit you.
Put the location of the hives on a laminated notice, use OS co-ordinates and any other information to identify the location quickly with a contact telephone number on the site so you can be contacted easily. Always tell someone you are going, make sure they have your number and the rough timing.
If the land belongs to a farmer, then maybe they will allow you to go ahead if you approach them correctly. Most are supportive, especially if they grow crops that require pollination. They may want a say in where the hives are sited to ensure they are not going to be a danger to people or animals or interfere with the farmer’s work; however, the farmer may not have the knowledge of what is good for the bees.
Do research the footpaths and rights of way and the location of the hives relative to the public. Bees can become aggressive for a number of reasons including bad weather, so the less chance of the public being in range the better. You also do not want the public coming across your hives by accident when using a rarely used public right of way. Ideally an apiary should be sited at least 8 m plus 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 to about 15 m plus 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.
Local council land is usually not viable because of health and safety regulations – the likelihood of them being sued if someone gets stung will be mentioned. You may 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).
Consider what farm or any animals 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 and angry bees can sting the animal to death, not a good scenario. Your bees may also die of cold before you know anything has happened and can put the hive back together.
If the apiary is to be sited permanently on a farm where livestock may gain access at some stage, you should create a barrier. Normally a simple post and wire or post and rail fence will suffice.
Make sure the ground is level and even and will not sink over time. Hives can become heavy!
If you can store on site at the out apiary then you do need to consider security, ease of access and conditions. If off site, how will you get it there and not forget the one thing you really needed? You also need to think about carrying all your equipment to the hives. When you are transporting supers, don’t underestimate their weight and how awkward they can be to carry. You will need a wheelbarrow or similar, and enough easy access to use one. Minimise tripping hazards and see if you can get vehicle access as close as possible with safe and easy paths from the vehicle to the hives.
It is best to keep your hives out of public view if you can. Sadly vandalism does occur as does theft.
You may have to consider whether or not a farmer is likely to spray crops with something harmful to bees; you need to ask the land owner who allows hives to be placed on his/her land if this is something they are likely to do. If they do spray, 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.