The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Honey Bee Biology

Finding Apiaries: Back on the Ground (part two)

- August 1, 2017 - Wyatt A. Mangum - (excerpt)

In the previous article, we saw how to use Google maps to evaluate potential bee forage surrounding a proposed apiary site, typically in a rural location.

After I find a favorable foraging area, I need to look at the vicinity from the ground and verify that the general foraging terrain looks feasible for the number of hives I plan to move there. This determination depends on local conditions. You need to know the honey and pollen plants for your area, and if possible, how to spot them from the road. Veteran beekeepers in a local club know this information.

For finding the final site to place the hives, the traditional apiary wisdom is still relevant. Let’s review those points, along with my requirements, which beekeepers may want to consider.

I require 24-hour access to my hives, which means no locked gates or seasonal obstructions, like irrigation pipes, parked farm equipment or other surprising things (see Figure 1). The dirt road to the apiary needs to be reasonably smooth and passable year round. A dry hard dirt road is good in the summer, but in the spring it must not turn into a mud bog, where my two-wheel-drive truck will get stuck. I realize snowstorms will block access to most of my apiaries.

I avoid apiary sites in pastures shared with cattle because the hives would need a protective barbed wire fence around them. In the cold, the cattle will push over the hives trying to rub on them. That means a chronic hassle with opening and closing gates. In areas with bears, the apiary needs protection by an electric fence, which I also avoid.

The apiary should be well away from penned or tethered animals, for example numerous hunting dogs of a hunt club housed in multiple kennels. (The water pans attract the bees.) Although it is rare, but quite unforgettable, the bees might start stinging the dogs. More bees join in the stinging, probably driven by a positive feedback from the alarm pheromones and the motion of the defending dog. I know of two such cases. One was personal, occurring when I was eight or nine years old. The bees were stinging a dog chained in the backyard of a subdivision house. The dog, a German Shepherd about a year old, barked and howled, so loudly, the neighbor mothers and kids nervously looked on from a safe distance. The crowd wondered how to help the tortured creature. I would not get my first beehive until ten years old. At the time, I cared for and studied numerous wasp nests in a box under my bed. I think that might have qualified me as a volunteer. I ran to the dog, wondering if he would bite me. The exhausted creature must have quit fighting. He sat still, howling in a small cloud of stinging bees, a few dozen or so. I quickly knelt down by him. He never moved as I unhooked the chain from his collar. We both bolted. I do not recall being stung. If so, it was not memorable, perhaps because my wasps stung me worse. The lesson from that long-ago day was clear: no confined animals anywhere near beehives. (A similar case occurred while I worked at North Carolina State University.) In both situations what initiated the stinging remained a mystery. I do not know the distances between the restrained dogs and beehives except that witnesses initially assumed they were not too close together. For the dog I released, the hive had been in the next backyard, well hidden from view.

With my hives on someone else’s property, I would rather not drive past the landowner’s house to access the apiary. At 3:00 a.m. for example, alarmed by their barking dogs, the landowner wakes up wondering who is out there. My apiary work is far from normal beekeeping. I night check my hives for …