3rd Honey bee Management revision post: the criteria used in the selection of apiary sites

A 3rd revision post for the British Beekeeping Association’s Module 1 exam, Honey bee Management, which I’m taking in March. Onto 1.7 on the syllabus:

“The Candidate shall be able to give a detailed account of:-

1.7: the criteria used in the selection of apiaries

It will rarely be possible to find a perfect location for an apiary, but below are some factors to bear in mind when searching for a suitable spot.

Family, neighbours and the public

Unfortunately many people are afraid of bees. While honey bees are usually not aggressive whilst out foraging, sometimes the public confuses wasps with bees and may come blaming you when they get stung. To try and make your bees less visible, it’s good practice to enclose the apiary with a barrier of some sort, such as a hedge or fence to force the bees to fly in above head height. Below is a picture of the hives in the Chelsea Physic Garden, which have their entrances facing the wall and tall foliage and mesh between the hives and the public.

Keeping your hives less visible also helps reduce the chance of vandalism or theft. Sadly the Ealing Association’s apiary has experienced vandalism before when the hives were dumped in the stream bordering the apiary. Some Ealing members who keep their hives in allotments have also had damage done to their hives, whether from insecticide poured in or honey combs being grabbed and stolen. There have been many sad cases nationally when hives appear to have been stolen by beekeepers or at least people familiar with handling bees, who then presumably sell the hives on. In many ways other human beings are the biggest threat to your bees – keep your hives unobtrusively!

Keep your hives away from horse stables or bridleways. Bees need to collect water in the summer, and sometimes they like collecting the sweat from the back of horses. This can lead to the horse and rider getting irritated.

Beekeepers can reduce any potential problems with the public by keeping good tempered bees and replacing the queen in any bad tempered colonies. This will also make inspecting more pleasurable for the beekeeper.


Try to find out the amount and type of food sources available within your potential site, by taking a walk about and/or by asking local beekeepers. An area will have a maximum number of hives that it can support; so ten colonies, with all the extra work they entail, could end up bringing in the same amount of honey for you as five.

Think about sources of early and late supplies of pollen as well as the main nectar plants. The bees need pollen continuously whilst rearing brood, which in the UK is usually from February through to late September or even October/November if we have a warm autumn like 2011’s. Colonies only store about 1kg of pollen (about one week’s worth of their requirements), during summer – so a pollen shortage will quickly impact on the health and development of brood emerging 2-3 weeks after the shortage. Also look at your local soils – plants growing in very light sand and gravel soils will produce little nectar in drought years.

Bees usually forage within a 2-3 mile radius of their hives. It takes four pounds of nectar evaporated down to produce one pound of honey; it takes about a dozen bees to gather enough nectar to make just one teaspoon of honey, and each of those dozen bees needs to visit more than 2,600 flowers. So there will be a limit on how much forage is out there – no location supports an infinite amount of colonies. The density of bee forage in most areas will not support more than ten to fifteen colonies in one place.

When is the forage available? Maybe the apiary site is within an urban area, in which case gardens and parks usually provide a variety of forage throughout the year. Alternatively you might pick a temporary apiary site in the countryside to exploit a seasonal crop such as heather or oil-seed rape, which your bees are moved to for a month or two. Prior permission needs to be obtained from the landowner. The traditional rent for an apiary is a pound pot of honey per hive annually.

Beehives on heather

A photo of Scottish bees moved to heather for their summer holidays (from the marphotographics.co.uk website). “Around the first day of August the Ling heather buds burst open, flooding the mountains with a vivid purple. At the end of the month this honey is removed and extracted.”

Seasonal beekeepers should take into account walkers, pony trekkers, shooting parties etc and place the hives away from footpaths. Avoid having hives near main roads too, as bees can be hit by passing cars as they attempt to fly or crawl over the road.

The photo above I found via the Beginner Beekeeper page on Facebook, posted by Benoit Lesueur.


  • A flat site is easier to place hives on!
  • South facing is warmest.
  • The site should be sheltered from wind, so that foragers don’t struggle to land at the hive entrance and the roof stays on. A hedge provides good cover, as the small amount of wind coming through prevents areas of turbulence which occur behind a more solid surface such as a wall.
  • It should be a site which does not flood. Hives on moorland have been partly submerged and even washed away after torrential downpours. Generally avoid muddy sites or low-lying areas near rivers.
  • Keep hives away from the bottom of dips in the land as these are likely to be frost pockets and therefore a few degrees lower in temperature. Bees won’t start foraging until the temperature immediately outside the hive warms up enough (12-14°C for nectar foraging).
  • Most books advise that sites under trees are unsuitable because they are usually damp. Bees naturally produce water vapour as part of their metabolic processes. Excess moisture is usually removed by bees standing at the entrance and fanning, but if the location is too damp, they may not be able to sufficiently reduce the humidity and mould may start to grow on the woodwork and pollen stores.

Below is a photo of the Ealing Association’s apiary.

The apiary in April

Yep…we do have a lot of tall wooden things growing out there. Which many people blame for the low honey yields most beekeepers at the apiary get. One super here is doing pretty well, two is exceptional. On the plus side the trees hide the hives from members of the public who might want to steal or vandalise them. But they do shade over the hives, making the apiary temperature cooler than out in the open.

  • Dense foliage cover can make hives too wet and cold; however some shade in the afternoon helps prevent bees having to work hard to cool the hive or even dying from heat exhaustion or collapsing honey combs. Position your hives where they will be woken up by morning sunshine but shaded during the hottest part of the day.
  • If your hives are in a rural location, fence them off from livestock like cows or horses which might like to use them as a scratching post and knock them over.
  • The bees will need a water source to produce brood food, dilute honey stores and cool the hive in hot weather. If a suitable pond or stream is not available consider providing a shallow water source in a sunny position, with stones bees can rest on to avoid drowning. Place this away from their main flight paths to avoid fouling. Adding a distinctive smell, such as peppermint essence, will help the bees find the water.


Easy access to a site throughout the year, with a hard path down to the apiary, is important. Honey supers are heavy, so if you are using an out apiary it helps if you can park your car nearby. Sites which require climbing fences or ditches to enter are a bad idea.

If you have no garden and plan on placing your hives on an urban rooftop, think about what you would do if American Foul Brood (AFB) was diagnosed and your local bee inspector required the hive to be burnt. Do you have somewhere you can light a bonfire? Calling an external company in to destroy a hive is expensive.


You need room to stand while inspecting and somewhere to put the roof and supers down. Generally you should allow nine times the hive footprint area per hive, though this is not a strict rule as two hives placed side by side reduce the overall space needed.

Make sure you have enough room to add a hive or two. Swarming means two colonies can quickly become four during a single season. Even if you plan to recombine hives following an artificial swarm, you will need extra space temporarily.


  • Collin’s Beekeeper’s Bible (2010)
  • Guide to Bees & Honey, Ted Hooper (2010)
  • Heather Honey essay by Colin Weightman
  • Heather Honey‘ by Tony Jefferson, BBKA News, No.216 – August 2013, p.19-21
  • Keeping Healthy Honey Bees, David Aston & Sally Bucknall (2010)
  • Module 1 Study Notes, Mid Bucks Beekeeping Association

Other Module 1 revision posts:

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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8 Responses to 3rd Honey bee Management revision post: the criteria used in the selection of apiary sites

  1. ceciliag says:

    Good work, our hives are in the sun facing south with big hedges just far enough away not to take the sun.. i am really saddened by your stories of vandalism to hives.. how awful.. ignorance is more dangerous than a little knowledge, I think! c


  2. mike mack says:

    Lots to comprehend in the syllabus but all worth while knowledge to have and.share.

    Here in America, thief of hives has become a.major problems in some area because of shortage of bees and the increase cost of purchasing bees. Beekeepers are being advised to tagged their equipment for identification purposes. Some keepers are even buying the small gps “bugs” like used in spy movies to keep track of their equipment in the field. Strange days indeed.


  3. pixilated2 says:

    Amazing. I cannot fathom the mentality that does the type of thing you write about here. Knowing that the bee populations are under duress and dwindling it just boggles the mind to think someone would go out of their way to further harm them. So sad. ~ Lynda


    • Emily Heath says:

      It is very sad that a few disturbed people out there can cause so much hurt to the rest of us. My local park has a little small animal section which has recently suffered some overnight wallaby killings. The poor wallabies had been beheaded, clearly by a human rather than a fox or other animal.


  4. hencorner says:

    Another fantastic post!
    I’m keeping them all on file…. x


  5. Pingback: My bees flew away (Part 1) – Eukarya

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