Perhaps one of the most important things to consider when you begin beekeeping is where you are going to put your beehives. As a beginner it’s generally recommended to start out with at least two hives. An empty hive is easy to set up. But a full hive is heavy and full of bees… And it’s not a simple matter to relocate them once you’ve placed them somewhere..
So where should a beehive be located? Bees like to stay warm and dry. Depending on your climate, a standard set-up should have morning sun and some afternoon shade. You need an area with a level surface, easy access, and space to work, preferably out of sight of passersby. Bees also need a location with a source of fresh water.
Some other important factors to keep in mind are wind exposure, dampness and of course, your neighbors.
It’s probably a good idea to take your time to evaluate your hive location properly. Making good choices now will help avoid problems later. If possible try to observe a few different places during the cycle of a season to be sure which one fits the bill.
Where to Place a Beehive
Locating your beehive correctly means taking into account a number of different factors at once. These include:
- General safety
- Available forage for the bees
- Your neighbors
- Water supply
- Ease of access
- Space to work
- Level ground & drainage
- Sun & shade
- Wind exposure
- Local authority permissions
Let’s have a look in more detail at the things you need to keep in mind when choosing the best location for your hives.
Can I put a beehive in my backyard?
If you’re located in a residential area, find out if you can keep bees in your neighborhood, and check with your local authorities to find out about restrictions in your locality. Also discuss with neighbors about any potential objections. Most people misunderstand bees so be prepared with a list of the benefits of honey bees. Any perceived objections are usually simple to diminish once people have a better understanding. A genuine objection may be allergies to bee stings (note that bees don’t have the same venom as yellow jackets or wasps). You don’t want to stress your neighbors, so listen to any worries they have and try to appease them. Some species of bees are more docile than others. I don’t know about you, but I prefer the gentle kind! Make sure your neighbors know that the bees are not aggressive. If necessary, bribe them with honey!
Keep colonies as far away from your property line as possible to be further away from neighbors. If you choose a good site and manage your beehives correctly there is a good possibility your neighbors may not even notice or be aware of the bees!
But the sight of someone wandering around the garden looking like an astronaut might be a bit of a giveaway !
In summary, the place where you live obviously influences any potential problems with neighbors and in general it depends on proximity (an isolated rural location or a dense urban environment). Use your best judgement and always consider pets and people in proximity.
If for some reason you can’t get permission to keep bees on your land, you can always try to use someone else’s property, with their permission of course. Just be sure that it’s within easy reach so that trips to your “bee yard” don’t become a chore.
Proximity to Bee Forage
Depending on where you live there may be more or less blooming plants for your bees to forage (bees collect pollen, nectar and propolis from leaf buds. They also need a source of water). Take a look for available forage in you local area. Bees will forage up to 3 miles in radius around the colony (in some cases up to 5 miles). The less distance they have to travel the lower the stress for your bees. Blooms should be available throughout the season to avoid starving. You might also want to consider any pesticides used in your area to judge whether your location is good for producing honey.
Tip: Becoming a member of a local beekeeping association is also useful. Members tend to have some great local knowledge.
Locate Beehives near Water
You need to locate your hive close to a source of water. Water is very important for your honey bees. They need water to help control the temperature and humidity level in the hive and dilute honey which has crystalized to help dissolve it (bees put water inside the hive and honeycomb cells, and then fan their wings to evaporate the water and cool the hive). In the summer water is essential to keep the hive cool and bees can use upto 4 litres of water on a very hot day! Ideally, the source of water also needs to be fresh to avoid mosquitos (those pesky mosquitoes can carry disease which is a risk for the bees).
Placing your hives near a source of water is also a fundamental principle for avoiding problems with neighbors. If the bees don’t find water near the hive they will definitely find it somewhere – your neighbors pool for example ! Providing the bees with nearby water avoids your bees wandering elsewhere to search for it.
Providing water may also be part of local authority agreements and you could be fined if you don’t provide water for your hives.
If you don’t already have a good water source on your property, you can build an automatic water feeder which does the job well. It will keep the water fresh, and avoid the worry of topping up your bee’s water every day or two.
(Tip: You can float bits of cork in the water for the bees to rest on while drinking. Also don’t place a water source in the bee’s flight path at the entrance of the hive. Bees defecate when leaving the hive which risks contaminating the water source).
Set up your water source early in the season before bees begin foraging, like this they will get into the habit of using this rather than your neighbor’s fish pond!
Should beehives be in sun or shade?
Climate has a big influence on how you decide to locate beehives. In general, placement should have protection from afternoon sun but not be entirely in the shade. Morning sun will help to warm up your colony after a chilly night and encourage them to leave the hive earlier. Afternoon shade is good to help cool beehives in hotter climates, and also useful for the beekeeper when visiting. Lifting beehive parts can be hot work!
Personally I wouldn’t get too worried about the amount of sunlight for your hives. I’ve heard of bees setting up new colonies in very shady places and doing fine. But the early morning sun is especially useful for beekeepers who want to keep their bees busy throughout the day and producing lots of honey. The general advice is to point the entrance towards the morning sun.
Consider your own local climate. In a cool climate then full sun exposure may be good, but in a hot climate then a shaded area may be best.
Dampness & Drainage around Beehives
Once you’ve located a good site for you beehives, be sure to check that the ground is pretty much level and also dry all year round. You don’t want a site which is prone to flooding. Honey bees hate damp! Dampness can encourage mould growth around the hive and increase the possibility of disease. Plus it makes the honey difficult to cure. Besides, if the site becomes flooded, your visits to inspect the hives will be tricky!
Beehive Accessibility & Work Space
Consider the accessibility of your site. You should be able to move equipment easily to, from, and around the hives. When you inspect your hives you want to disturb the bees as little as possible. If you’re constantly bumping into the hive the bees won’t be very happy! (bees don’t like vibrations). On rare occasions you may need to move a hive to a new location. Hives are heavy when full ! A deep super can weigh upto 90 lb (40 kg) (a deep super is the largest type of hive box full of honey comb frames).
So plan room around the hives to move freely and work efficiently. Use a hive stand for better working conditions. It seems that beekeepers suffer from bad backs! All that bending to pick up and set down parts while inspecting hives.
How high off the ground should a beehive be?
Setting your beehives off the ground by about two feet is not only good for your back, but it also avoids damp. A height of at least 2 feet will also help discourage looting by animals who like stealing bees (such as skunks). The best height is the one that makes allowance for your stature: anywhere between 6 and 24 inches should be fine.
You can use cinder blocks and timber to create a simple stand. Stand the cinder blocks on paving stones to avoid them sinking into the ground. Think about making it big enough for 3 hives with 2 feet between and leave the middle gap free. This provides the space you need for placing hive parts during inspections. Keep in mind that it must be able to support the weight (a full hive can weigh upto 600 lb).
The ground around the beehives should be level and well drained. Ideally the floor should be designed to avoid grass and weeds from growing. For example you can put down plastic sheeting and then cover with gravel, paving, or mulch.
Out of Sight Out of Mind!
It seems that placing a barrier around two or three sides of your hives has multiple benefits, particularly if you live in a residential area. The barrier can be a fence or an evergreen shrub or bush. The latter provides better camouflage!
First of all it keeps the beehives out of site from passersby. The idea is to let in some light and sunlight but keep them out of view. You want to avoid people interfering with your hives or any risk of vandalism, so don’t show off!
Also setting up a screen close to your hives will force bees to fly higher. This way the flight path of the bees will be above the heads of your neighbors. Place the barrier so that bees fly off at about 8 feet off the ground to avoid your flying furry friends from buzzing into your neighbors garden.
Finally, if your site is exposed to the wind then the barrier will help protect the beehives and prevent unwanted cooling, especially in winter.
What direction should a beehive face?
You can face a beehive in any direction you like but as a rule you should keep the entrance pointing away from where people are gathering or passing by. Bees entering and leaving the hive will create a mass of activity about 10 feet in front of the hive before they disperse. You don’t want this to be happening where you or your neighbors spend time.
Also, as a general rule of safety, point the entrance away from your line of approach. You will spend most of your time working behind and to the sides of your beehives when inspecting and managing the colonies. You want to avoid bees viewing approaching traffic as a threat.
Keep in mind the flow of bees to and from the entrance so that your family, neighbors, and pets can continue to use you backyard or garden safely.
Locating Beehives on Rooftops
If you don’t have a backyard or land to site your beehives then the flat roof of a garage or building can work really well. A roof is also a good location for keeping hives out of sight.
Be sure to check wind conditions on your roof because a windy environment can prevent the bees flying as much as they could. Too much wind and they’ll simply stay inside. A wind break is even more useful in this situation.
Also try to avoid overpopulation in your area. You can probably keep two or three colonies in residential or urban locations but more would make the bee density too high and you run the risk that the bees won’t prosper. Bees need enough forage to survive and too many bees in a particular area reduces the amount of food. (A rule of thumb density would be no more than 2 colonies on land less than 1 acre).
How far should beehives be from a house?
There is no fixed rule about how far from your house to locate your hives. This really depends whether you are at ease being in proximity to your bees. If you stick to a non aggressive race of bees then you can stand next to their hive most of the time without them paying attention to you!
But if you intend to setup a hive close to your house then you should definitely pay attention to the direction of the entrance to be sure that it isn’t in the path of foot traffic or passersby. On top of that, you can put a screen around the hive to force the bees to fly high when leaving and returning to the hive.
Distance Between Beehives ? Again, there is no specific rule about the distance between your hives. It seems that the distance between beehives is more down to practical reasons than anything else. It’s probably more practical to keep your hives close enough together so you can inspect them at the same time with minimal effort. If you have two hives set on the same hive stand, think about leaving some space for placing top covers and frames while you work.
How to locate a beehive
The best location for your beehives will probably be a compromise after taking into consideration everybody’s point of view, including of course your bees, and making a good analysis of site conditions.
You can keep beehives just about anywhere, but if you take into consideration some of the tips above, your honey bees will be happy !