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A Beehive: How Far from House?

For many of us, being allowed to share the world of the honey bee is a great gift.  The desire to know all the secrets of the hive is intense – especially if you are a beekeeper.  However, sometimes we fail to understand that bee life has rules.  The bees may not be desiring to have quite as close a relationship as you wish.  This becomes more evident when considering how far from the house should beehives be placed?

Beehives not placed far enough away from house image.

Keeping Beehives a Safe Distance from Your House

Honey bees are not a domesticated pet.  They are wild creatures. It is amazing to me that we can manage bees and get them to help us in so many ways.

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We are most successful when we work with the natural tendencies of the bees.  Understanding that “bees will be bees”, the beekeeper can then reap the benefits of having their own hives.

One of the first challenges for any beekeeper is finding the best place for a beehive. Some of the requirements for proper hive placement help the colonies maintain good health. Others, make life a bit easier for the beekeeper.

A group of hives (or apiary) should always be a safe distance from your home. Yes, you certainly can move a beehive but it is a rather involved process and beehives are heavy.

It is to the advantage of both the bee colony and the beekeeper to choose a great location for your bee yard at the start.

Two beehives placed in field a far distance from a house image.

Keeping a Beehive in Your Backyard

Is it safe to have a beehive in your backyard?  Yes, it can be.  Many beekeepers successfully keep a couple of hives in a backyard area. 

The main considerations are how large is your backyard and how much of the area is in use by humans. Play areas and high foot traffic areas are not the best locations for a beehive. 

Whether or not your backyard is suitable for bees is more about the kind of space you have available than its size.  Do you have an area where the beehive will be undisturbed?  They will defend their colony if they perceive a threat.

Busy walkways or children’s play areas should not be to close to the hives. This is especially true for the front of the hive. The flight path of the bees will be very busy during the warm season.

Honey bees at hive entrance with beehive clearance for flight path image.

How Far Away from a Beehive Should You Stay?

What is a safe distance from a beehive? This is a common question in matters regarding safe hive placement.  The answer again is that old standby in beekeeping – it depends.

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Most colonies are not threatened when you stand quietly behind a hive.  Even viewing from the sides is acceptable in most situations as long as you are still. 

However, being in front of the hive and standing in the flight path of worker bees coming and going is asking for trouble.  The guard bees at the hive entrance may consider you the equivalent of a big bear and decide to send you on your way.

Even though each case is different, we can use some general estimates of a safe distance to be from the hive. 

For a honey bee colony with a calm temperature, give yourself at least 4 feet of clearance behind the hive and on each side if possible.  At the hive entrance, an area of 25 feet is the best minimum.

When building a bear fence or other safety barrier, it is not necessary to reserve so much room.  As long as you have ample room to work your colonies and move around them, you will be fine.

However, in the interest of human safety – walkways, play areas etc – the more space between the hive entrance and humans..the better.

Colony Temperament Changes

A situation that happens all too often is the beekeeper who places a hive right near the back door.  This is done to enable the beekeeper to enjoy seeing the bees.  No harm in that.

However, bee colony temperament changes through the season.  Some colonies are more defensive than others on a daily basis.

For other hives, even the calmest bees can become aggressive under certain conditions. Colonies with large populations tend to be more defensive and require more space. 

Hot weather or a nectar dearth can result in testy hives.  And of course, if the colony is sick or suffering from pest infestations that can give them a surly attitude as well.

Guard bees warning predators to stay far away from hive image.

Keeping Bees in Residential Areas

Being a beekeeper in a neighborhood or residential area can be a bit challenging.  Your first step is to check with local ordinances to make sure it is legal for you to have bees. 

Even in locations where beekeeping is allowed, there may be a restriction on the number of hives you can have.  Sometimes it is based on the amount of land you have, or there may just be a maximum number allowed.

Again, the flyway or flight path at the hive entrance is often the biggest obstacle.  This problem can be solved in many cases by constructing a flight barrier within a few feet of the front of the hive. 

A tall wall (6’) of either wood or thick vegetation is a great aid for beekeepers with limited space. You can even buy artificial hedges if you have the need.  

Foraging bees will leave the hive and fly up and over the wall.  This encourages the flight path to be above the height of most humans.

Beehive in neighborhood with solid privacy fence in place image.

Bees and Your Neighbors

In areas where backyard beehives are allowed, the best approach is usually honesty.  Let your closest neighbors know what you are doing.  Perhaps you can get them involved in helping bees.

Assure them that you are learning how to properly manage your beehives and that they probably won’t even know they are there. 

It is very important for beekeepers in a neighborhood to provide a water source for their bees.  This water source should be in place before your colonies arrive.  It should be large enough to last several days without refilling. Never let it run dry. 

Swimming pools can be a challenge-though many beekeepers have bees and pools.  Make sure your bee water source is between the hives and the pool. 

When all else fails, share some tips for keeping bees out of swimming pools with your neighbor. Who knows, that may even be willing to share a little pool space with the bees using a critter saver.

Not everyone will feel positive about your beekeeping endeavor.  But, if you manage the bees in a responsible manner, hopefully everyone can share the neighborhood in relative peace.  As a last ditch effort, a free jar of honey can go a long way as well.

Choosing a safe distance from your house for your backyard hive is very important. It will make your beekeeping experience much more enjoyable. And, some good planning in advance make prevent you from having problems farther down the road.

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