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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.

A beekeeper inspecting a hive in his apiary image.

What is an Apiary?

How to Pronounce the Word Apiary

Sometimes confused with the word aviary (which refers to a place for birds) an apiary involves honey bees.

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In fact, 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.  No, that’s not true. To understand the use of this word in reference to bees, first we need to look at the origin. 

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 used to describe a word used to describe a plot of land that contains beehives managed by a beekeeper. 

Apiaries are not natural, they are man made. This is because in nature you do not find honey bee colonies living close together. By spreading out over more land, there is less competition for food.

In a natural settings, it is rare to find more than 2 honey bee colonies within a square mile of land.

picture of a group of beehives, what is an apiary

How Bee Yards Benefit Beekeepers

Another term commonly 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.

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.

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

The factors involved in finding the best location for your hives are very important for any apiary set up.

Also, the number of available foraging plants, water sources etc all must be considered when deciding how many hives to have in one place.

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 agriculture each year.. Commercial bee yards are placed near crops such as: strawberries, blueberries, oranges etc. 

In the US, it is common for large 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.

Apiaries on Wheels

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

Moving Bee Yards to Follow the Crop

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

Sourwood honey is produced in the Appalachian mountains-while Tupelo honey is being made in the swamps of Georgia. As the bloom slows in one location and starts in another the bees follow.

Advantages of Mobile Apiaries 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.

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.

Likewise, some beekeepers in my region take a few hives up into the mountains to make Sourwood Honey each Summer.

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. Learn, learn and learn some more before your bees arrive and your chances of success increase.

Final Thoughts on What is an Apiary

Beyond the origin of the word apiary which refers to the scientific classifcation system, the term can actually mean different things.

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.

What is an apiary? It is a place where a beekeeper cares for his/her bees-even though the exact beekeeping terminology may vary from one region to another. It’s that simple.

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