Both beginners and established beekeepers should select each apiary site carefully. Throughout the foraging season, nectar and pollen sources must be within a short distance (roughly 1 mile) of the hives. Pollen is essential for brood rearing, and nectar (honey) is the bees’ basic source of energy. While bees can be kept virtually anywhere, large concentrations of floral sources (and populous colonies) are needed to produce large honey crops.
Bees also need a source of fresh water so they can dilute honey, regulate hive temperature, liquefy crystallized honey, and raise brood. If a water supply is not available within 1/4 mile of the hives, you can provide a tank or pan of water with a floating board or crushed rock for the bees to land on. The water source does not need to be “pure.”
Bees are less irritable and easier to handle when located in the open where they can get plenty of sunshine. Shade from trees retards the flight of workers and hinders finding the queen and seeing eggs within the cells. A southern or easterly exposure gives colonies maximum sunshine throughout the day. The apiary is best situated near natural wind protection such as hills, buildings, or evergreens (Figure 22). Other requirements are dry ground and good air drainage. Avoid windy, exposed hilltops or sites near the bank of a river that might potentially flood. You should also avoid apiary locations in heavily shaded woods or in a damp bottom land since excess moisture and less sunshine retards the flight of the bees and encourages development of such bee diseases as nosema and EFB.
Your accessibility to the apiary is important—perhaps the most important factor in apiary location because you must visit it throughout the year in all kinds of weather. Avoid locations where carrying equipment and heavy supers of honey any distance will be necessary. Hives should be secluded from traffic, constant noise, and disturbance from animals and children. To discourage vandalism, placing colonies near a dwelling or area frequently visited yet screened from view if possible (a vegetative corral) is advisable.
Safety from pesticide applications that can affect colonies directly or the bees’ forage is also important. Acquaint yourself with the pesticides commonly used in the area. When practicable, place colonies away from fields that are routinely treated with pesticides.
When selecting sites for outyards (apiary sites away from your residence), make inquiries to determine how many other beekeepers are operating in the area. A location can easily become overstocked with bees, which results in a poor honey crop for everyone. Beekeepers tend to neglect out-apiaries that are located too far from home. Soaring energy costs and efficient use of time should be included in each apiary site decision. Many farmers do not object to beekeepers locating outyards on some unused piece of farmland, but obviously you should obtain permission before considering any site owned by someone else. Outyards are usually “rented” with payment of harvested honey.
Since legal problems with bees most often occur in cities and suburbs, beekeepers should manage bees so that they do not bother neighbors. You can take several precautions to decrease the chances of your colonies becoming a public nuisance.
Maintaining gentle colonies is imperative in highly populated areas. Keeping colonies with bees that try to sting each time they are examined, or that consistently hover around the bee veil even after the colony is closed, is not advisable in the urban setting. Selecting hybrid strains that have been bred for gentleness and requeening on a regular schedule will certainly help. If a colony becomes too defensive, requeening with a new queen will likely change colony temperament in a month or so.
Providing a source of water near the hives will stop a lot of unnecessary complaints. Otherwise, the bees may get their water from the neighbor’s swimming pool, dripping water faucet, birdbath, children’s wading pool, or hanging wash. Once they have become accustomed to a watering place, they will continue to use it throughout the season, and correcting problems after they develop is not always possible short of moving the bees.
Most colonies have a basic flight pattern as they leave and return to the hive. People and animals passing through this flight path could be stung. Bees also spot cars, clothing, and buildings in the vicinity of the hive by releasing their body waste in flight. Spotting from a single colony is generally not serious, but several colonies flying in one direction may make a car or house unsightly in a short time. If possible, do not allow hives to face children’s play areas, neighbors’ clotheslines, houses, and so forth. Planting a hedge (vegetative corral) or building a fence at least 6 feet high forces the bees to fly above head level and thus reduces the chance of encounters with pedestrians. Fences and hedges also keep colonies out of view, which helps reduce vandalism and concern by the neighbors who might have unfounded, but to them very real, fears related to bee stings.
When manipulating and examining hives, keep your neighbors foremost in mind. Weather and time of day influence the disposition of a colony. Colonies kept in the shade tend to be more defensive. Work the bees on warm, sunny days, when the field force will be actively foraging. Avoid early morning and late evening manipulations if possible. Use smoke efficiently and work carefully and slowly to help prevent defensive behaviors by bees. During a nectar dearth, keep robbing at a minimum. Robbing stimulates defensive behavior. Keep examination time to a minimum and make sure honey supers and frames not being inspected are covered. All spare equipment stored outside should be bee-tight. Also, top entrances should be avoided in close neighborhoods during the summer season. Whenever a hive with a top entrance is opened and the supers moved, hundreds of bees will be flying around confused because their entrance is gone.
Swarming bees can be a major concern for neighbors. Even though swarming bees are quite gentle and seldom inclined to sting, the presence of a swarm in the neighborhood tends to excite people, and your apiary, rightly or wrongly, will likely be identified as the source of the swarm. Having sufficient equipment to manage your colonies and reduce swarming is a must (see “Swarm Management”).
Rules of thumb for urban beekeeping:
- Keep only gentle colonies and employ good swarm management techniques.
- Keep no more than four hives on a property of 1/4 acre or less.
- All hives within 20 feet of a property line should have a solid fence or vegetative obstruction 5 feet or more in height between the hives and the property line.
- All hives within 30 feet of a public sidewalk or roadway should have a solid fence or dense vegetative obstruction or be elevated so as to direct the flight path of the bees well above traffic and pedestrians.
- An adequate supply of water should be provided by the property owner or beekeeper from March 1 to October 31.
Part of being an urban beekeeper is good public relations. Beekeepers who permit their bees to become nuisances force communities to institute restrictive ordinances that are detrimental to the beekeeping industry. Do not keep more colonies in the backyard than the area forage can support or more than you have time to care for adequately. Giving the neighbors an occasional jar of honey will also sweeten relations. Only a very small number of communities prohibit keeping bees. In most instances, violation of an ordinance or keeping bees in a negligent manner usually means moving the bees to another location.