© 2017-2022, ZBees Apiary, Waynesville, NC.                                                                                                          Buzz the Apiary

Lifetime member of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association Honey Harvest 2020 header

It is a fact that every honeybee apiary is not the same, either in location, size, availability of nectar and pollen, or in the management style of how the beekeeper tends to their colonies. However, there are standards that must be met for the apiary to remain healthy and grow. During the first year as a “beekeeper” I learned a valuable lesson in managing honeybees. The size of your apiary should not be one’s primary concern, for it is the bees who matter as they are the primary concern, not the number of hives or the amount of honey they might produce. The “beekeeper” who properly manages their apiary is more concerned about bee stress and having a good-producing queen than they are productivity or how large of an apiary they might manage. If you do not know the answer to a puzzling issue in your apiary, then confer with other beekeepers and ask questions. Often another beekeeper has already experienced what the issue which you are now experiencing.

A word of caution! The “person who just keeps bees” typically fails to plan for any Sustainable Hive Management (SHM). This differs from Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and both practices should be an integral part of the beekeeper’s Apiary Management Plan (AMP). Beekeeping is not a mood-based hobby. You cannot work the hives at your leisure because apiaries need regular maintenance. Beekeeping needs regular attention to honeybees needs, whether one feels like it or not.

Apiary Management

Which category offers the greatest value?

Examine each management style and you will notice that they will reveal a decisive answer for the beekeeper. Understand this…, beekeeping is not a hobby because hobbies are “mood-based” undertakings. You can set a hobby aside without any dire ramifications and beekeepers cannot afford to ignore their bees because beekeeping is like “parenting,” the bees need monitoring to maintain a healthy apiary. If you curb your attention span, then the apiary will surely suffer, guaranteed! Review the following plans for a successful apiary and note the order most important to ZBees Apiary, your importance may be different:

Apiary Management Plan (AMP) – this plan is similar to a business plan for any company, regardless of its size. Examine as many concerns of your beekeeping goals as you can to see the full picture of how you expect the apiary to grow. Consider beekeeping as a business, because it is your business and to have a successful apiary one must plan for success and consider issues like:

  1. Beekeeper attitude – approach beekeeping with a lax attitude and your apiary will likely never survive the important “first-year.” Approach beekeeping with a “positive” attitude of planning, reading, learning, and studying honeybees and the chances are good that your apiary will survive year after year.
  2. Apiary size and location – start out small and grow as you learn how to manage your honeybees. Every race of honeybees is different: from genetics, temperament, honey production, and even the method which they comb a hive. Starting out small, say two or three hives minimum, allows the new beekeeper to discover if the race of honeybees selected fits well with the selected location of the apiary. It also increases the chances of apiary survival during the first year.

Example: ZBees Apiary lies within the city limits of Waynesville, NC and neighbors are all around. It is unwise, and poor business and neighbor practice, to have Russian honeybees at this location. A gentler race of honeybee like Italian or Saskatraz honeybees’ best suits our apiary.

  1. Bee supplies and suppliers – this is crucial to the new beekeeper. How much equipment and supplies do I need and where will I buy them? Research, research, research… I cannot say it enough! The numbers of bee supply sellers and choices can be daunting. Try finding a supplier in your geographical location if possible and build a camaraderie with them. If a local supplier is unavailable, then the logical choice is “Internet” shopping. Careful here! Internet prices vary a lot and though you may find what you need examine and compare the costs of shipping. Shipping cost often “make” or “break” a sale when I buy supplies. The best practice is to locate a local suppliers who has products in stock and you can see the merchandise before you buy it.
  2. Data documentation – If you plan to manage honeybees you need to plan how you will document your apiary data. Many beekeepers like me do not have photographic memories and it gets daunting to remember what action(s) are necessary on any given inspection, based on previous data collected. Document your hive inspections and record your findings in some oral or written manner. Use a digital recorder on your phone, take pictures, write notes in a ledger pad, or use a software application.

I am a technical beekeeper and I use my iPad Pro with a great application called HivesmartHQ to manage ZBees Apiary. Spreadsheets were my first method of tracking hive data, however, HivesmartHQ does all the data collection and correlations. As necessary, I can manipulate what data I need for research purposes by exporting that data into a spreadsheet format for a more detailed analysis.

Sustainable Hive Management (SHM) – this plan involves preserving a healthy environment for honeybees to pollinate and thrive. Much of the Sustainable Hive Management plan has to do with protecting the environment and the honeybees natural foraging range. That range is technically 1.86 miles or about a 2-mile radius surrounding the apiary location.

  1. Locate your apiary near the greatest food sources
  1. Find honeybee food in the planned apiary location and ensure that your hives are within the 2-mile radius from those sources.
  2. Pesticide-free yards and commercial or common places - make for excellent apiary foraging and honey production. If pesticides become necessary to control pests, use common sense and either cover the hives during daylight treatments or wait until “dusk” when the foragers are back safely inside the hive.
  3. Flower and vegetable enriched landscapes – one of the lower level sources of pollen and nectar comes from the flowers and shrubs planted around yards. Plant bee-friendly gardens of the floral and vegetable kind and you will experience a vast improvement in the quality and production of both gardens.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – involves monitoring and controlling pests or diseases present any potential threat hive, like ants, earwigs, and spiders which are bothersome, yellow-jackets, wasps, and other insect robbers, or mites, diseases, mammals, and reptiles which can pose a much greater problem to hive survival will determine your approach towards IPM.

  1. Pests which can “kill” a hive must be managed immediately and your reaction often determines whether you are a “beekeeper” or “just a person who keeps bees.”
  2. Even when practicing proper IPM techniques, there is still no guarantee every hive in the apiary will survive the current season. IPM works best when the beekeeper conducts regular inspections of the apiary(s) and documents their findings.
  3. As you walk through the apiary, look for signs of pests like ants, rodents, and other types of flying insects because they love honey or larvae, and often both. Look for signs of large critters like opossums, skunks, or bears who present a whole different issue, so consider the pests in the area where you intend to locate the apiary.
Honeybees coolibg off on a hot day.