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What is an Apiary: How Beekeepers Use Them

An apiary is a place where beehives are kept and managed by a beekeeper.  Keeping honey bees is one of the oldest hobbies on the planet.  Some beekeepers keep bees for fun and for others it is a serious occupation.  Each beekeeper is responsible for the bees in his/her apiary.   Let’s explore this strange word and understand why it is used in beekeeping.

What is an Apiary?

Bee yard or apiary with beehives managed by beekeepers image.

The first time you hear this word, you will likely not associate it with honeybees – I don’t blame you. It is sometimes confused with the word aviary (which refers to a place for birds).

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But, an apiary involves honey bees. In the United States, the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is managed in manmade hives. Do you have a couple of beehives in your backyard? If so, you are the proud owner of an apiary.


The bees do not care how you pronounce beekeeper terms. However, it is always good to know the correct pronunciation.

The base of the word “apiary” comes from the Latin word for bee – which is “api”. The proper pronunciation of apiary is :  ei·pee·eh·ree.

Why is it called an Apiary?

The word apiary is often erroneously associated with apes or monkeys.  But no, that does not apply in this case. To understand the use of this word in reference to bees, first we need to look at the word’s origin. 

All animals and insects have scientific names. “Apis mellifera” is the Latin word for honey bee. This first word is the genus “Apis” meaning bee and the second word “mellifera” means honey bearing.

The term apiary is a “bee place”. It describes a plot of land that contains beehives managed by a beekeeper. 

Apiaries are not natural, they are man made. In nature, you do not find honey bee colonies living close together. By spreading out over more land, there is less competition for food and resources the bees must collect.

In a natural setting, it is rare to find more than 2 honey bee colonies within a square mile of land. Beekeepers often keep many more hives in one location. Thus apiary is an industry term – similar to a beekeeper being a apiarist.

An apiary can be any size from 2 hives for a hobby beekeeper to a thousand hives for a commercial beekeeper. Most large beekeepers haves more than 1 bee yard or apiary.

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A beekeeper inspecting a hive in his apiary image.

Bee Yards Benefit Beekeepers

Another more common term used among beekeepers to describe their apiary is bee yard”.  This makes perfect sense because an area where hives are placed is often a nice flat location that is easy to access.

Apiary and Bee Yard Advantages

  • easier hive management
  • protection from predators
  • water and forage availability
  • variety in honey flavor and color

From earliest times, beekeepers learned that having hives located close together made hive management easier.  Feeding bees, inspecting hives, gathering honey all tasks are easier when the bees are in one location.

Management of modern apiaries (regardless of size) involves timely hive inspections. Varroa Mites and pests such as Small Hive Beetles must be kept under control.

Also, if the hives need protection from predators, it is easier to protect them in a smaller space. A beekeeper who lives in bear country needs an electric fence.

Finding the best location for your hives is very important for any apiary set up. This is true regardless of how many hives you have in place.

However, as the number of hives you have in one location grows more consideration must be given to available foraging plants and water sources.

The honey produced from one apiary may taste different than that of another.  Why?  Perhaps, different types of nectar producing plants are nearby.

Honey can vary in taste and color from one bee yard to another.  Also, the same apiary can have honey that looks different from season to season.  Weather conditions affect that amount of nectar produced by local flowers.

How Apiaries Benefit Crops

Honey bees contribute billions of dollars in benefits to the agriculture industry each year. Commercial bee yards are placed near crops such as: strawberries, blueberries, oranges, melons etc. 

As worker bees fly from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen, they pollinate the flowers. This results in larger crops for farmers.

Mobile Apiaries Follow the Crop

In the US, it is common for large migratory beekeepers to move beehives from one location to another to provide bee pollination for farmers. Hives are loaded onto big trucks at night and moved to the new field.

For these beekeepers, apiary inspections are required in most states. Inspectors check the hives to screen them for disease and pests that might threaten the local bee population.

In parts of Europe, it is more common to see true apiaries on wheels where the beehives are part of the mobile vehicle. Sounds like a honey bee RV to me.

picture of colorful hives on a truck for moving to new location

Production of Honey Specialties

Some commercial beekeepers have another reason for using temporary apiaries. Special types of honey is harvested by moving hives from one location to another for a few weeks during the honey flow.

Sourwood honey is produced in the Appalachian mountains and beekeepers in the Carolinas often take bees to the mountains for a few weeks.

The swamp lands of Georgia are the location for making Tupelo honey. Hives placed in these rich nectar areas for the brief seasons of bloom product special variety honey types. As the bloom slows in one location and starts in another the bees follow.

Pollination Opportunites for Small Scale Beekeepers

For the crops that need insect pollination, having an apiary situated nearby is a valuable benefit to the farmer.  This is also a way for beekeepers to earn money for pollination services.

Even a small-scale beekeeper may earn some dollars from placing hives near a local strawberry field etc.  However, it is always important to discuss pesticide use with the farmer before placing bees.  Pesticides kill many bee colonies each year.

How to Start an Apiary

If you have an interest in having your own apiary, these are some tips to consider as you begin.

Like many projects, success in beekeeping depends a lot on the prep work. To reap the true benefits of keeping bees, you have to know basic management tips. Learn, learn and learn some more before your bees arrive and your chances of success increase.

One apiary may be 2 beehives sitting in the backyard of a suburban home. While another apiary can be thousands of beehives sitting in an almond grove.