Aviary is to birds as apiary is to…..bees.
An apiary is any place where hives for honeybees are kept. Also known as a bee yard, apiaries can be as small as a single hive kept by an individual or can contain tens of thousands of hives for commercial production. Some of these commercial apiaries produce honey while others breed queen bees to sell to other apiaries.
Beekeeping is on the rise in the US. In some areas, the number of beekeepers has tripled. Apiaries can now be found in suburban backyards and on city rooftops. Even the airports are all abuzz. Chicago O’Hare has the largest airport apiary in the world. With huge tracts of undeveloped land, it only makes sense! This, combined with their grazing herd for brush management, makes them my favorite airport! Kudos for sustainability in action.
If you want to set up your own apiary, here are a few of the things you will need to consider:
1. You will need a hive. The standard hive is the Langstroth bee hive, which allows bees to build combs onto frames that can be easily moved and manipulated. Hives are composed of multiple boxes, some are for the bees to raise their brood and some are for the bees to store honey.
2. Choose the location of your hive carefully. Don’t just plunk your hive down anywhere. You want to put it in a location that will be easy for you to access, but will remain relatively undisturbed. If you live in the northeast, you want the hive to get full morning sun, preferably from the east and south. Also, try to choose a place where the snow melts relatively early. If you live in warm climates, your hive will need shade. You also don’t want your hive standing in wet areas.
3. Think about your area. Bees need flowering plants and trees for pollen and nectar. You want to make sure that resources aren’t scarce. Different species of bees will travel different distances for food sources, but on average, you can plan on your bees making a circle around their hive with a 2-3 mile radius.
Are there other apiaries in the area? If too many hives are kept in one area, bees can compete for food and even rob each others’ hives. The number of hives that can be kept in one area will depend on the food source and can even change from year-to-year depending on nectar flow. A good estimate is that one area can sustain about 20 hives.
Local farms – good and bad. Local farms can be a blessing as they provide a source of food for your bees. However, if the farmer uses pesticides, then a local farm could kill your bees. Many farmers are happy to have pollinators for their crops and some states have rules that govern when farmers can use pesticides to protect honeybees (they should spray at night). A little communication could keep your bees and the farmer’s crops happy.
4. Bee mindful of predators. Your hive may come under attack. Bears, skunks and ants will raid your hive for food. Mice may try to build nests in them. To avoid a ground attack, place your hive about 2 feet off the ground (cinder blocks work well). Consider using fencing around your hive(s). A strong picket fence will look nice and deter visitors however an electric fence will make sure no one gets in. If you do fence your hive in, make sure you leave ample room for you to move around.
5. Take a bee class. You can learn a lot about bees on the internet and from reading books, but most areas offer beekeeping classes mentored by local beekeepers. They are a great source of information and experience and you will hear their hints and tips. I am taking classes through the Hampden County Beekeepers Association and they also provide a mentor list. Any one of the people on the list have offered to come out and check out our hive setups or help with management and/or swarm capture.
And remember, I am not a bee expert. I am just sharing what I learn as I go along. I will be setting up my own apiary next month – stay tuned to see how it goes!
Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2015 April A to Z Challenge! My theme for this year: Honeybees.