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Practical beekeeping – the setting has to be perfect

Wolfgang Ritter, OIE Reference Laboratory at CVUA Freiburg, Am Moosweiher 2, D79108 Freiburg, Germany

Apiary location and placement of colonies during the season

The selection of an ideal apiary location is mainly according to forage availability and there must be a source of fresh water in the vicinity. Bees forage most economically within a radius of one kilometre. Anyone who owns an animal or takes care of it has to nourish it appropriately, according to its species and requirements. This means that one must consider not only honey yield, but ensure sufficient food supply before and after the foraging season. A bee colony starved for even a short time will produce less resistant bees with shorter lifespans. Moreover, Good Beekeeping Practice requires the avoidance of residues in bee products. Therefore a polluted environment, intensive agriculture, industry and traffic in the neighbourhood should be avoided.

Microclimate in summer

When there is a strong wind, bees fly hesitantly because their return to the hive is uncertain. Therefore, an ideal location has a natural windbreak to the north and east. Extra shade and/or additional water supplies are necessary in hot regions. Colonies in damp places face difficulties in regulating humidity inside the hive and in sufficiently concentrating the honey. This results in a loss of quality and increased stress for the bees. Bees at these locations are often less vital and more susceptible to diseases.

Changing the location

When changing location – moving colonies from one place to another or because of selling colonies – statutory provisions must be fulfilled. To avoid the spread of pests and infection of your own colonies, you have to follow local pest control laws and regulations.

At the apiary, the owner’s name and address should be displayed in a legible way (perhaps on the health certificate) to facilitate quick information in case of a pest outbreak or other hazards. This is not necessary when the owner’s name can otherwise be easily identified – for example if the apiary is in the owner’s garden or allotment.

A loose arrangement in double blocks reduces drifting and avoids the spread of diseases

Neighbours and neighbouring beekeepers

It is important that bee colonies are located so that they do not disturb private or public interests. Beekeeping must comply with local conditions and respect neighbours’ legal rights. Beekeeping should not interfere with the use of adjacent plots or hamper passers-by.

Also the requirements of existing apiaries sited at fixed places must be respected. During periods of nectar dearth or total lack of foraging opportunities, robbing may occur, especially between colonies of different strengths. In late summer at the end of the foraging season, it is incompatible with Good Beekeeping Practice to leave colonies for a long time at the latest out-yard, because diseases and parasites are not only spread by robbing, but also by drifting. Those who leave their highly Varroa infested colonies in a wood without any treatment deliberately risk their colonies’ ruin and act in an unsocial and irresponsible way.

Number and placement of colonies

There are controversial discussions about how many colonies are compatible with a location. Depending on the size of an apiary, accessibility and working time required will of course make a difference. Whilst considering these factors, animal health is most important. If bee density in the environment is not too large, 20–30 colonies during summer is an ideal number. When concentrating on honeydew forage, even 40 colonies can be managed. However, times when there is no foraging opportunity are the critical period, especially if additional feeding is necessary. At these times even 20 colonies can be too many. Also in late summer at the time of high Varroa pressure, it is better to have a smaller number of colonies.

The spread of diseases between colonies can be reduced by placing the hives in a way that minimises drifting. Bee houses and migration wagons as well as a serial display of the hives are causes of high rates of drifting. Colonies standing alone, or in pairs, show considerable advantages in colony management. A good choice for beekeepers and bees is to place four colonies facing different flight directions on one pallet.

The arc of honey and pollen provides food for the brood and indicates the nutritional situation of the bee colony

As long as the larvae are covered with food there is no shortage. The twins in one cell will soon be removed by the bees

In some federal states, the health certificate wrapped in plastic has to be displayed clearly visible at the apiary


Improve the microclimate

Evaluate the microclimate in summer (wind, humidity, heat) from the behaviour and the condition of the bee colony:

• Determine the prevailing wind direction and flight activity of the bees – if necessary erect a windbreak.

• Mouldy peripheral combs and honey containing too much water indicate a humid location – ensure a spaced arrangement of the hives and ensure good air flow under the bottom board.

• Bees cluster outside the hive entrance on hot days, so provide shade with branches or covers.

• Do not continue using unfavourable places.

Check supplies

To meet its own needs, a colony requires about 40 kg pollen and 140 kg nectar each year. To maintain sufficient food supply, a bee density of 20-30 colonies/km 2 can be appropriate in our area of Germany.

• Monitor food supply by means of a hive balance or by observing the honey and pollen arcs in brood comb.

• Take the food provision of the larvae as an indicator of the actual food situation of the colony.

• Balance lack of water at temperatures below 10°C and on hot summer days by providing drinking troughs.

• Roughly estimate pollen and nectar sources within the flight radius compared to bee density.

Respect regulation

Following the Bee Pest Control Regulation, bee colonies in Germany are allowed to be removed from a place only with a health certificate. However, different countries have different requirements.

• An examination is possible as soon as the bees rear sufficient brood.

• Information on the situation regarding epidemics at the new location has to be requested from the veterinary inspection office, from the bee expert in charge, or the office monitoring migratory beekeeping.

• Next, the intended migration has to be announced by submitting the health certificate.

• Afterwards, the health certificate must be prominently displayed at the apiary.

Protect neighbours

• Adapt the number of colonies to the local setting.

• Do not place entrance holes towards a neighbouring plot or towards streets and lanes.

• Encourage bee flight upwards by using obstacles, for examples hedges at least two metres tall.

Checklist for Good Beekeeping Practice Yes No

Appropriate number of colonies and placement guarantee simple access for management, little drifting and minimal robbing

Forage sources and bee density ensure sufficient food supply     Yes/No

Food supply is monitored regularly, especially at critical times     Yes/No

The microclimate facilitates good bee health and honey quality     Yes/No

The owner of the bee colonies can be readily identified at the location     Yes/No

Regulations in place are respected when the location is changed     Yes/No

Neighbours are not disturbed by beekeeping     Yes/No

BfD acknowledges www.diebiene.de as the original source of this article