Buzz the Apiary

© 2017-19, ZBees Apiary, Waynesville, NC.                                                                                                          Buzz the Apiary

Lifetime member of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association

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 Hive Management Plan (HMP). 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 they will reveal a decisive answer for the beekeeper. First, understand that beekeeping is not a hobby. Hobbies are “mood-based” undertakings because you can set a hobby aside without any dire ramifications. Last, beekeepers cannot afford such an attitude because beekeeping is like “parenting,” it needs constant attention by the beekeeper to preserve a healthy apiary. Curb your attention span and the apiary will surely suffer, guaranteed. Review these three plans for a successful apiary and note the order most important to ZBees Apiary, your importance may be different:

Hive Management Plan (HMP) – this plan is akin 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. Consider beekeeping as a business, because it is your business. To have a successful apiary one must plan for success and consider issues like:

A. 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.

B. 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 Carnolian or Italian honeybees’ best suits ZBees Apiary.

C. 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, 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.

D. Data documentation – If you plan to manage honeybees you need to plan how you document your apiary data. Many beekeepers like me do not have photographic memories and it gets daunting to remember what action took place in any given hive on any given day. Document your hive inspections and record your finding in some oral or written manner. Use a digital recorder on your phone, take pictures, or write notes in a ledger pad.

Personally, I prefer to be more technical and 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 the brunt of an all the data collection. As necessary, I can manipulate what data I need for research study by exporting that data into a spreadsheet format.

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.

A. Apiaries need to be near the greatest food sources for the honeybees.

In the mountains of North Carolina - this is usually never an issue, as trees and wild flowers abound in every mountain county.

Find honeybee food in the planned apiary location and ensure that your hives are within the 2-mile radius from those sources.

B. 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.

C. 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) – is watching and controlling pests which may destroy the hive. Pests like ants, earwigs, and spiders are bothersome to the honeybee. Similarly, thieves like yellow-jackets, wasps, and other insect robbers are more of a nuisance to the hive. However, mites, diseases, mammals, and reptiles pose a much greater problem to hive survival and they dictate a different approach towards IPM. They can “kill” a hive if they ignored and not dealt with immediately. Your reaction” to IPM often decides whether you are a “beekeeper.” Even proper hive management does not always guarantee every hive will survive the current season. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) works with every portion of apiary management. When 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. Finally, be aware of large critters like opossums, skunks, or bears who are a whole different issue, so consider these pests when locating the apiary.

Management Types