Apiaries are farms too, though most people don’t picture them when asked to envision a traditional farm. What is an apiary? A honey farm! Apiaries are bee yards where farmers who produce honey keep hives.
In some areas, the apiaries are set up year-round, but in others, the hives are temporary and only set up during the time period when the plants in the area are in bloom. Apiaries usually have one hive for every acre of land.
Working at an apiary is very different from working at any other farm. It is most comparable with a poultry farm that focuses on eggs or a dairy farm – you’re working with animals, but the goal is to collect the product that animal creates, in this case, honey. Along with honey, some apiaries are set up for collection of beeswax or to provide pollination for crops in the area.
Bee colonies work on an annual cycle, and like with most farms, there is more work during certain times of the year. If the hives are set up every year, that process typically begins in the middle of winter, as the bees will begin to nest as soon as pollen is available. In the United States, breeding peaks in May.
Most of the work is done during the harvesting season. Beekeeper jobs require light-colored clothing and the use of a smoker to keep the bees calm. Beekeepers remove the frames from each hive and use a blower to get the bees off of the honey. An uncapping form of knife is then used to open up the cells of the honeycomb, and honey is extracted. At some apiaries, the honey is aged, processed, and packaged for retail. Other apiaries sell the raw product to larger companies who handle this process.
You can also work at an apiary in hive management. Every hive has one queen, who lays eggs, and without these queens, the hive can’t survive. Queen bees die every few years and are replaced in the hive. Sometimes, this process happens naturally, while in other cases, “swarming” occurs. With swarming, part of the hive’s bees leave to form a new colony, while the other parts stays behind with the old queen. Beekeepers can control swarming on order to increase the number of bees in their apiary. So, you may work in this field, not just collecting honey.
Many apiaries also ask their workers to deal with the plants in the surrounding area. Every bee species differs when it comes to how far they’ll fly to pollinate plants. Sometimes, you don’t need to control the plants on your property at all, since the bees will naturally visit neighboring crop farms. However, different plants create subtle differences in the honey, so some apiaries are not only concerned with the bees, but also with planting specific species on the acres surrounding their hives.
Like with all farms that have crops, apiaries also need workers to transport the honey, and some sell it at farmer’s markets and in small retail shops. So, many hire workers to help in these fields as well.
If you work as a beekeeper, be prepared to get stung. No matter how careful you are, every beekeeper is stung at least once or twice a year, and some actually see this as a good thing. Some research suggests that you build up immunity to the venom over time, which means that it hurts and swells less every time you’re stung. The job is rarely dangerous, though, since smokers keep the bees calm and the white clothing differentiates you from natural predators, as well as providing a later of protection. However, before you begin working at an apiary, make sure that you aren’t allergic to the stings, which could make this job dangerous for you.
The National Honey Board
Honey Bee Research at the University of Illinois
Honey Bee Swarms
Honey Bees and Pollination