Apiary site selection

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Note: Most of the content was retrieved from the books "Beekeeping Manual for beginners" by Holeta Bee Research Center and the APIRE project [1]. and from "Advanced Beekeeping Manual by Ethiopian Beekeepers Association and Netherlands Development Organization (SNV-Ethiopia).[2]

An apiary is defined as the place where bees are kept in the hive to forage nectar and pollen grains in order to produce honey and other hive products. The size of apiary could be mainly limited by: types and abundance of bee forage, location, capital investment and skilled manpower.

Natural vegetation: The presence of natural plant habitat and cultivated crops near and around the apiary is the basic requirement for the establishment of apiary. The natural vegetation composed of forest trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers provide adequate nectar and pollen for the foraging bees. Besides the natural vegetation, the availability of cultivated crops such as oil crops (rape seed, linseed, sunflower, sesame), cereals (maize, sorghum), vegetables (pea, chick pea, grass pea), horticultural plants (citrus, mango, avocado, banana, coffee), and forage crops (vetch, alfalfa, clover species) has also paramount importance. Be aware that most of the agricultural plants are treated with pesticides and herbicides and therefore may harm the bees foraging on them. Generally, melliferous plants should be available for bees within a 2 to 3 km distance from the apiary.

Fresh water: Honeybees need water not only for individual consumption but also for brood rearing and hive ventilation. Water is searched by the bees all the seasons but more during the prolonged dry months. A water source (e.g. river, or lake) near the apiary is obligate. It is also possible to bring fresh water to the apiary site using an earth canal or a water bucket. Presence of native honeybees: Use bees that are native to the area you are living in. Prior to site selection it is better to observe foraging bees or ask the local people for the presence of bees in the area. Suitable altitude: The altitude has an effect on of plant availability and population distribution of honeybees. According to survey result of MoA altitude range from 1000 - 2400 m.a.s.l is the most suitable for commercial beekeeping.

Avoid chemical substances and pollution: Chemicals such as pesticides sprayed on crops poison honeybees while foraging on flowers. This may lead to mass death or weakening of bee colonies. Therefore, the apiary site should not be exposed to chemical substances. If nearby agricultural lands need to use such substances, the beekeepers should take some measures or should negotiate with crop growers. If a negotiation does not work, think of transferring your apiary to a new place with lower exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Presence of diseases and pests: There are many enemies of honeybees such as ants, wax moth, beetles, bee-eater birds, honey badgers but also almost or completely invisible pests such as mites, bacteria or fungi can become a serious problem causing great losses to both honeybees and their products. Therefore in site selection, the area should be free from various pests, predators and diseases incidence. Consideration for neighbors or the general: Establishing good relations with neighbours, local farmers, land owners and the general public is a major factor in finding and maintaining a successful apiary site. Talk to them about the value of bees as pollinators; educate them about swarms, flight paths etc. The general public is often ignorant and frightened of bees. If they become alarmed about the presence of bee hives, their complaints can result in loss of apiary site of a beekeeper. In general, it is not advisable to establish apiary near schools, hospitals, dairy and poultry farm sites, and market places.

Accessibility: Accessibility to the apiary is very essential; perhaps the most important factor in apiary location because the beekeeper must visit it throughout the year in all kinds of weather. Avoid locations where carrying equipment and heavy supers of honey any distance will be necessary. Easy movement of equipment in and out of the apiary ensures that a beekeeper’s routine activities will be productive.

Hive placement and orientation: It is important to keep hives away from fertile spots or farmland: they should be placed on rocks or on the poorest portions of the land, for which the beekeeper has little or no other use. Shade from trees retards the flight of workers. Direct sun exposure of hives all day also forces bees to gather a lot of water in order to cool the hive. So, the apiary is best situated near natural wind protection such as hills, buildings, or evergreen. Providing shade may be important, depending on the climate. Other requirements are dry ground and good air drainage. Hives should be arranged in such a way that the distance between two colonies is at least 1.5m if they have to be oriented in a straight rows, as this leads to drifting of bees between colonies and also the possibilities of robbing. If not, colonized beehives must be arranged in zigzag or in “S” shape fashion.


  1. Holeta (unknown date). Beekeeping Manual for beginners.
  2. Ethiopian Beekeepers Association & SNV (2011). Advanced Beekeeping Manual. Express Printers PLC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.