The location of the apiary greatly conditions the development of future colonies. Bee health, productivity, feeding needs and various stresses are closely linked with the surrounding environment. Some beekeepers do not hesitate to affirm that the bee yard location amounts up to 70% of beekeeping efforts.
Fundamentals for finding the best bee yard location
The choice of a bee yard location is a compromise between several criteria. Much like looking for housing for your own family, you have to ask yourself similar questions.
Here we have chosen to divide the criteria into three main families: Resources, yard arrangement and finally a third category we called comfort aspects.
A good bee yard should have a good surrounding floral variety. If possible, with blooms that spread over spring, summer and also autumn. This will avoid periods of dearth. You can check the nectar and pollen potential of a great variety of plants in this catalogue from FranceAgrimer in Europe. In north America the Honey bee forage map form NASA brings good insight on blooming periods for different climatic zones.
It is also necessary to have a water point because the bees use water to manage the thermal regulation of the colony. If they do not find water nearby, they may invite themselves to your neighbor's swimming pool.
What if you don't know the characteristics of a particular location? In France you can consult the beeGis portal from ITSAP. In a few clicks you will have an overview of the environment of the apiary: crops, type of species, natural environment, hydrography... It is also possible to compare various locations!
Following the same logic but with a more detailed approach, there are tools such as AncGIS allowing you to point out floral resources. Once the different species have been entered, the tool provides the theoretical progression over the year of the nectar and pollen resources.
In the USA the Beescape project allows beekeepers to seek for the perfect bee yard location. With scores ranging from 0 to 100 you can point a place and see various aspects on nesting, insecticides and of course the spring/summer/fall resources.
Beware of locations close to monocultures. Not to mention the risk associated with pesticides and other phytosanitary seed coatings. Even in the case of melliferous crops, the risk will be higher for the colonies. They will have a peak of activity (if the weather accompanies) and then enter a (very) long period with few resources. That type of location is better adapted for transhumance. Avoid putting all the eggs in the same basket.
Nice arrangement for the apiary and the hives
Ideally your hives should orient south/southeast, not too much exposed to wind nor the humidity. The valley bottoms are sheltered but cooler than the slopes or heights, which can be windier. Here too is a question of compromise.
Ask yourself that question "At what time in the morning will my hives see the sun in February?". This parameter has a major impact on the spring colony development. You can find out more details in a previous article on apiary dynamics comparing the evolution over the season for three apiaries with different exposures.
In the hottest regions the shade of the trees can be an advantage in the middle of summer. While in spring it can delay the development of the colonies...
If you are in a mountain area and your bees have to forage on the side of the hill, it is better to install the hives down-hill. Why? Because they climb empty and descend loaded. which is much easier than the opposite!
Do not miss comfort essentials!
One of the first aspects of comfort is to be in accordance with the law. This can save you a lot of trouble 😅. Each region has its own rules for bee yards. Check those at your place!
The threat of the Asian hornets (vespa velutina) becomes more and more an essential criterion of choice in Europe. Some locations are more impacted than others. Even if there are variations from one year to the other, there are some constants: Flat yards locations, close to rivers for example, can be subject to strong pressure. In these places, if you don't have the means to closely manage hornets and colonies, they will suffer from July to November.
Having a good access, to reach the site by car, will make your life easier and free you from a lot of perspiration. And if the site is away from public roads, you will be double-quiet with lower risk of accident with a jogger or theft by another one who would fall in love with your apiary.
In the apiary itself place the hives so that you can work them all around. Leave enough space at the back to insert a drawer under the tray for counting varroa mites for example
Finally, if you can install a frame or a structure to place the hives at mid-height, it will be good for your back. The work will be easier and more pleasant. This is a small luxury that professionals cannot afford but within the reach of the majority of hobby beekeepers with a fixed apiary
We have explored a few tips to help you find out the perfect bee yard location. These are mainly "common sense" guidelines but we can also see that modern tools provide useful information that can help in the final decision.
Of course, it is possible to go even further in the analysis to finely characterize a location. This is what we show in this article dealing with the bee yard location relative to the neighbor environment of the apiary. You will see that sometimes these analyses can lead to rather unexpected results...