An easy way to intimidate a new beekeeper is to read the list of requirements for a perfect apiary. Here’s my list. It’s not comprehensive. But even as a starter, it’s menacing:
Your bees should be:
In partial shade: avoid searing, scorching, blinding, bright, direct sunlight, especially in the afternoon when wax is most likely to melt, but also avoid the dark side – let the morning sun greet your hives to rouse them gently and early, Ben Franklin-style;
Facing south: when south-facing bees fly out, they have the entire top half of the globe to forage, but if you face them north, they just get polar ice caps. (I guess this is for northern-hemisphere beekeepers. If you’re a Kiwi – lucky you – just flip these instructions.);
Protected from wind: dampen your index finger, stand outside, point to the sky, and experience the wind. Arrange your hives so that they face the lee side of your finger. If the wind often switches directions, consider putting your hives on a rotating table (any discarded lazy-susan will work) and bolt a weather vane in the center so the apiary spins freely;
Near water: without actually submerging your hives, have plenty of water nearby;
On a gently-sloping hillside: this is to allow damp air to drain downhill (seriously, it says this in all the best bee manuals), but most beekeepers put their hives on a gently-sloping hillside just for the view;
Away from pesky neighbours: you might be tempted to face the hive entrances toward your meanest neighbour and then sit back to watch what happens, but this might backfire if your neighbour is careless with matches at night.
Of course there are other things to consider. Not mentioned on most lists is the comfort of the beekeeper. Let’s face it, bees are just insects and you are probably a human. Bugs can put up with mild discomfort, but why should you? Plant your bees somewhere that you’ll enjoy hanging out. If you have to struggle past thistles and thorns every time you need to scare away rabid skunks, your bees will soon be overrun by rabid skunks. Make your beekeeping afternoons a delight and you and the bees will benefit.
Most of us are stuck with what we’ve got. You might have a nice roof-top apiary, or hopefully, a back yard. It might have a slope. Or not. Maybe it gently rolls northward and gets pummeled by chill winds. Maybe it’s along the path of your city’s annual marathon, or a well-trodden horse and carriage route. You may have your sights on the perfect apiary site that’s cited in bee manuals, but probably not.
Here’s the bee spot in my own back yard. I took this picture last week. This evening my packages are flying in from New Zealand. Can you quickly spot any potential problems with my future apiary site?
Besides the snow, which is pretty-much year-round here in Calgary, this is actually an OK bee site. The snow was a half-metre deep last weekend, but it’s melting. This spot slopes slightly southward, gets a bit of morning sun, is hidden from neighbours in our mini-forest, and best of all, it’s fairly accessible, just a hop and skip from our dog run and deck. But no bee spot is ever perfect and we have to constantly compromise. The bottom line, if there is one, is that you’ve got to work with what you’ve got – and that’s not always perfect.