What Is an Apiary?

an apiary with five beehives with different coloured frames

An apiary is a place where more than one beehive is kept. This means apiaries can be owned and operated by private individuals in their back gardens or by commercial businesses on a much larger scale.

Alongside honey, when managed effectively, apiaries provide a number of other valuable resources for beekeepers and individuals to collect such as beeswax, royal jelly, bee bread and propolis. 

Naturally occurring beehives do not often exist in such close proximity as they do in apiaries, so these structures can be very beneficial in terms of pollination of plants in their surrounding area. 

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    History of Apiaries

    The practice of beekeeping and apiaries have a long history dating back thousands of years. Since the word “apiary” means a location where more than one beehive is kept, apiaries are technically as old as the practice of beekeeping.  

    Several sources, including prehistoric cave drawings, indicate that human consumption of honey and potentially the earliest forms of beekeeping date back to 10,000 years ago.

    It’s clear that humans have been engaged in beekeeping in some form for millennia, as indicated by the cave drawings found in Spain approximately 7,000 years ago. 

    It is also believed that the ancient Egyptians practised beekeeping around 2,500 years ago. Ancient Egyptians collected honey in jars to preserve it for future use.

    Johann Dzierzon, a Polish apiculturist, invented the first man-made movable beehive. The movable-comb hive provided Dzierzon with the ability to manipulate individual sections of honeycomb without destroying the entire hive.

    The work that Dzierzon had begun was continued by L.L. Langstroth, the “father of American beekeeping.”. L.L. Langstroth developed a hive frame that was fully movable without causing damage to the hive. While Langstroth is often credited with the invention of the “bee space,” Dzierzon also contributed significantly to this concept.

    Today, apiaries are still in use, although beekeeping continues to evolve. Modern beekeepers are looking for ways to make apiaries and beekeeping more environmentally friendly. 

    As a result, many modern apiaries allow bees to construct their own natural hives within the apiary itself. Natural combs are one of the ways in which apiaries continue to evolve over time.

    A remake of the Spanish cave painting showing a human gathering honey from a beehive dates back over 7,000 years.
    Credit - Archillea

    Apiary Etymology - Where Does the Word Apiray Come From?

    The name “apiary”, pronounced: ay-pee-a-ree, is derived from the Latin word for bees, “apis”.

    From “apis”, the term “apiarium” (meaning beehouse) was born, which slowly evolved into “apiary”. 

    This led to the term apiary being used to describe a piece of land where beekeepers keep many bees.

    What Is an Apiary Used For?

    Beekeepers use an apiary to house large numbers of bees and beehives. Alongside using their apiaries to produce honey and other bee products, beekeepers may use an apiary to raise bees to sell them to other beekeepers [1].

    It’s common for colonies to die out, so many beekeepers also breed bees to be sold to other apiaries that require them.

    The majority of the time, apiaries are used to produce honey, which is harvested by beekeepers and sold mainly for human consumption.

    However, bees also produce many other products and goods that can be harvested at an apiary. An apiary can be used to collect pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and beeswax, all of which are valuable commodities.

    Some apiaries are also used for scientific purposes. A large number of bees living in one location provides scientists with the ideal opportunity to study and monitor hives of bees throughout the year fairly easily.

    bees going into the entrance of new hives at an apiary
    As reported by the USDA, 2.71 million honeybee colonies produced 1.48 million pounds of raw honey in 2020.

    Apiaries provide scientists with the opportunity to study bee genetics, the inner workings of beehives and pests, as well as the overall functions and behaviours of bees and their colonies.

    It’s also common for new beekeepers to be trained in an apiary because they’re able to monitor and observe the work of more experienced beekeepers. Observing a variety of different beekeeping situations helps to prepare newcomers for their personal beekeeping journies.

    Furthermore, apiaries may be used as a safe place for bees to live and build their hives without having to worry about external dangers. When bees live in a protected environment, such as an apiary, they’ll usually have a good supply of plants in the area, allowing their colony to develop without the risk of harm. 

    How Large Is an Apiary?

    The size of an apiary largely depends on who is running it and what the bees are for. 

    Since “apiary” means more than one hive, an apiary can be as small as a hobbyist beekeeper attending to two beehives or as large as a commercial-scale apiary with over a thousand hives monitored by a large team of beekeepers. 

    The size of an apiary is limited by the amount of land a beekeeper has to work with and the resources available to the bees in the surrounding area.

    How Much Space Does an Apiary Need?

    Apiaries require a specific amount of land depending on how many hives a beekeeper intends to keep.

    Commercial beekeepers require larger amounts of land to construct their apiaries, while some individuals may be able to build a small apiary in their backyard.

    How Much Space for One or Two Beehives?

    Backyard beekeeping has seen a huge boom in the last ten years, with many beekeepers keeping one or two hives on a rooftop or in their backyard.

    When setting up new beehives on a small scale, you’ll want to keep the beehives as far away from places of human activity as possible, providing at least 5 ft of space around the hives so that the bees aren’t stressed by human activity.

    Hives can be placed close to one another, but it’s advised to leave between two to five feet between hives. By providing more space between hives, you reduce the risk of drift, where bees accidentally enter the wrong hive (and are often killed for doing so).

    It’s important to consider your neighbours when setting up new beehives. It’s worth talking with your neighbours and informing them of your plans to make sure the hives don’t become an issue. 

    It’s also vital to pay attention to laws and regulations in your area, which are covered briefly here

    How Much Space for Large Apiaries?

    If you’re setting up a larger-scale apiary, maybe on a commercial scale, you’ll want to follow the same rules as a backyard beekeeper would. 

    Hives should be given a five-foot perimeter free of human activity and should be placed no closer than two feet apart from one another.

    Whilst bees will usually locate their hive using its scent and surroundings, having adequate space between your hives reduces the chances of drift (where bees enter the wrong hive and are usually killed for doing so). 

    When setting up a large-scale apiary, you should definitely speak to anyone living nearby to inform them of your plans, allowing any issues to be addressed before the apiary is active. 

    You’ll also want to pay careful attention to laws and regulations on beekeeping in your area (covered briefly below). 

    Apiary Laws & Regulations

    In some locations, apiaries and the land on which they are located are subject to specific laws and guidelines. As an example, the state of Texas requires an apiary to be located on a minimum of five acres and a maximum of 20 acres in order to qualify for agricultural use. [2] 

    There may be other guidelines governing how large or small an apiary can be in other states or countries. Many states even require beekeepers to have their apiaries inspected annually in order to ensure that they are operating them in a safe manner. 

    In addition, some cities may have special regulations for those wishing to set up a smaller apiary in an urban environment. It is important for urban beekeepers to check the regulations of their local government before setting up an apiary within the city limits.

    If you’re looking to learn more about apiary laws and regulations in the USA, this website shares information for the laws in each state. 

    Where Are Apiaries Located?

    It is best to locate an apiary in an area without any other apiaries nearby[3]. If there are too many apiaries in one area, the bees within the apiaries may run out of resources, resulting in a poor crop of honey and encouraging bees to rob from weaker hives. 

    Choosing the right location for an apiary is very important, and beekeepers must take into consideration a wide range of factors. The proximity of resources that are necessary for the development of bees should be one of the primary considerations for beekeepers.

    The location of an apiary in an area with a great deal of natural sunlight can be very beneficial for bees. Plentiful exposure to sunshine can actually make bees easier to handle and less irritable. 

    Natural wind protection can also be beneficial for keeping an apiary protected from the elements. It is also beneficial to use land that will remain relatively dry even during heavy rains, as this will prevent flooding of the apiary. 

    In an apiary, you will find one of or a combination of three types of beehives. These are the Langstroth, the Warre and the Top Bar

    In order for a beekeeper to obtain a good crop of honey, an apiary should be located near pollen and nectar sources. Ideally, an apiary should be located in an area with a large supply of nectar and pollen within one mile.

    The apiary must also be located near a water source, preferably within about a quarter of a mile. A man-made source of water should be equally effective if beekeepers are unable to set up their apiaries near a natural water source.

    Apiary managers should be aware that bees are attracted to swimming pools since they typically use chlorine or sat water, which bees enjoy drinking, so if there are swimming pools nearby some thought should go into the apiary setup beforehand. 

    How to Start an Apiary

    The first step in setting up an apiary is to learn the basics of beekeeping.[4] You can do this either by reading books or by gaining experience from another beekeeper.

    An apiary should be located in an area that is easily accessible by the beekeeper. Making the apiary easy to access is a practical choice since they will need to visit the apiary once a week or more depending on how many hives they’re caring for. 

    An individual interested in starting their own apiary can purchase man-made hives online or in stores, along with the necessary safety and protective equipment.

    After purchasing all of the necessary equipment, one must purchase bees for their apiary or collect them from native swarms.

    A lot of established apiaries will send their own bees to beekeepers who are looking to start out, thus enabling them to take advantage of a starter colony immediately. 

    After the bees have been introduced to their new hive, the apiary should begin to function and will begin to produce honey and other products if managed properly. 

    Honey Bee Decline and Diseases

    There has been a significant decline in honey bee populations across the globe, which has had a significant impact on apiaries and the beekeepers who operate them.

    In the winter of 2018 to 2019, the honey bee population decreased by 40%, and it decreased by 40% again in the winter of 2019 to 2020. [5]

    In addition to urbanization, pesticides are a huge factor contributing to the decline in honey bee populations. The use of pesticides often causes the death of bees if they come into contact with them, with many farmers now seeking ways to reduce their reliance on them.

    Honey bee declines are also caused by disease. A few diseases are capable of destroying an entire beehive, even if they begin by infecting only one bee.

    Management of apiaries requires beekeepers to remain vigilant at all times for signs of disease. In the event that their apiary becomes infected with a disease, it could not only destroy the bees but also the beekeeper’s livelihood.

    It is estimated that almost 90% of wild plants and 75% of the world's most important crops rely on animal pollination. Our food depends on pollinators such as bees for one out of every three mouthfuls. [6]

    In addition to their role in honey production, honey bees also play a vital role in fertilizing crops around the world. 

    Since honey bee populations are in decline, beekeepers who manage apiaries are important to their protection and survival. Apiaries provide a safe place for bees to build their hives, making sure they have time to expand their hive before producing a new queen. 

    Additionally, urban apiaries can provide a safe haven for bees in our busy cities.

    It has been observed that urban areas are a major contributor to the decline of bees, as our towns and cities normally don’t offer bees many places to live and develop.

    Urban apiaries are also often very successful since bees are able to forage from a wider variety of flowers than they’d normally come across outside of urban environments. 

    Urban apiaries provide bees with a place to live in an environment that seems to be pushing them out. Some people choose to set up a small apiary in their backyard, while others choose to plant bee-friendly plants in their gardens.


    [1] Lee Honey Bee [2] mcad-tx.org [3] canr.udel [4] ebeehq [5] abcnews [6] WWF

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