Ann Chilcott, Scottish Expert Beemaster, examines what to consider when siting the apiary.

So you’ve decided to keep bees and you’re not allergic to bee stings - as far as you know. What about your neighbours? Might they be annoyed by your bees soiling their laundry and cars or swimming in their pool whilst seeking water? Have you had a chat to discuss their potential new neighbours? Does your insurance policy cover you for beekeeping? You do need insurance and it comes with membership of The British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) and The Scottish Beekeepers’ Association.

Most people are aware of the need to protect bees and other pollinators and are generally open to the idea of beekeeping--especially if they receive a jar of honey now and again.

Siting Your Apiary

* South facing is good, but some beekeepers face hives south east to catch the morning sun and encourage the bees out of bed earlier and off to work in a nectar flow. No northerly winds must come whistling in the entrance and do avoid frost pockets.

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* Keep the furthest distance that you can between hives to reduce the risk of spreading infection when bees drift into the wrong hives. I used to line my hives up like beds in a hospital ward which was not good but now I have at least 10 feet between them. Spacing hives three feet apart is better than having them close together. If you don’t have the luxury of space then face the hive entrances at different angles.

* If you live near a road or public footpath, ensure that the bees have a tall barrier, like a hedge, between the hive entrance and the roads so that they must fly up and over thus avoiding pedestrians, cyclists or horse-riders.

* Avoid siting hives under trees since anecdotal evidence suggest it makes for grumpy bees and I’ve seen a beekeeper perform an entertaining version of the highland fling as bees got up his trousers legs in a heavily wooded apiary. In winter, hives under trees are subject to lumps of snow crashing down on the hive roof. Disturbing water drips annoy bees. Dappled shade is ideal with a bit of shelter from hot sun if you are blessed with that where you live.

* A water source is essential as bees require lots of water during brood rearing to make brood food and they can only utilise honey stores for their own energy needs when it is in a 50/50 solution. In hot weather bees paint water on the combs and fan their wings to evaporate it and cool the hive. Ideally site the water source where it catches the winter sun because water- collecting bees are most vulnerable when flying home with cold water in their crops on a cold day. Bees like muddy water from which they obtain minerals and salt—plants (their food sources) contain very little salt. Put structures, such as pebbles, moss, or sacking in place to reduce the risk of drowning. If they don’t have a handy water source your bees will fly to your washing line and suck water from your pristine white sheets. Even worse, they may visit your neighbour’s washing line or swimming/paddling pool.

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* Hives need air circulating round them so avoid long grass in the apiary. Bees are fearful of vibrations so you can use a hand scythe very efficiently without disturbing them. Otherwise suit up and mow.

* Try to have hives on even ground with no hidden obstacles for the beekeeper to trip over. Best if you don’t have far to carry equipment to and from storage and when carrying off heavy supers of honey.

* Adequate forage sources throughout the year (if unsure ask a local beekeeper)

* Siting an out-apiary requires a few additional consideration such as permission from landowner, protection from livestock and human vandals, vehicle access and shelter.

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This article first appeared in Smallholder magazine. For your copy subscribe here or buy from a newsagent.