Effective hive management goes far beyond the actions taken inside the hive – what should you put under beehives? The decision you make can result in easier hive management or inadvertently cause more problems for your colonies. Luckily, there are several options to consider that will work well in your apiary.
Beyond choosing a good location for beehives, I realize the need to consider the surroundings of my colonies. Having a good setup involves meeting the needs of the bees and the beekeeper.
Ground Cover to Use Under Beehives
In nature, honey bee colonies do not nest in the ground. Luckily, they are very amenable to living in several types of hives used in beekeeping.
The beekeeper chooses a good spot for the hive and hopefully uses hive stands to raise them up off the ground. Now we have to think about what goes underneath your beehives.
The ground cover under the hive is important because it affects several aspects of beekeeping.
- your access to the hive
- weed control
- pest management
Easy Beekeeper Access
The ground around your hives should be firm and level. Beehives get very heavy. Having a large colony of bees topple over because of soggy ground, unlevel conditions, a weak hive stand – or any other reason – is a mess. This doesn’t have to happen.
By the same token, a hive that is surround by vegetation is not fun either. Sometimes a beekeeper may need to run (just kidding – but not totally kidding.) To make your job easier, keeping things neat in the bee yard is a good idea.
It is common for beekeeper to use some materials around the beehives to keep weeds under control.
While spray can be used – avoiding dangerous chemicals when possible is best. Using a bee safe weed killer is a slightly better option.
For beekeepers in some regions, what you put under your beehives can have an affect on honey bee pests – such as Small Hive Beetles. Yes, you can help or even make the situation worse.
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Materials for Healthy Hive Surroundings
There are many materials to choose from when creating a soil barrier between the ground and your beehive. Some of them are more attractive – while others are utilitarian but inexpensive.
- paving stones – 12×12 cement stones under and around the hives
- old rubber roofing pieces – EPDM
- roofing shingles
- cement blocks
- dry wood chips – okay if the soil drains well – not soggy
- carpet remnants – placed upside down around hives
- green outdoor carpet on top of plastic sheeting
- rubber stall mats with pavers on top
- black plastic woven sheet material with crushed rock on top
The material best for your situation depends in part on the type of soil you already have in place. Keep in mind that you will have to stand in the area when managing your honey bee colonies.
Should You Have Vegetation Under Beehives?
There are a few compelling reasons that ground under beehives in your apiary should be weed or grass free. If grass grows under the hives, it has to be cut or maintained at some point.
Not all bees are fans of weed whackers and lawn mowers. During the Summer when vegetation needs the most care is the same time of year when colony populations are the largest.
Got tall weeds or flowers growing around the base of the hives? They can be beautiful but they also allow an easy path for pest. Beekeepers sometimes struggle to keep ants out of beehives.
Personally, I have always longed for a beautifully landscaped bee yard with nice green plants under and around my hives. I have not achieved this ideal. In part it is due to a lot of red clay, the need for a bear fence and time.
The other reason I do not have vegetation under my beehives is a tiny black beetle. Shall I introduce you to her?
Damp Vegetation Under Hives – Pest Risk
Small Hive Beetles (SHB) are a major pest of honey bee colonies in the Southern US. If you do not have these pests in your region, you may proceed with your ideas for a beautifully designed apiary.
If you do have beetles in your area, you can still create a beautiful apiary layout. However, you must be sure to avoid giving the beetles a hand up.
Beekeepers have various traps and protocols for dealing with SHB. Sometimes they work – sometimes they don’t. But, having damp, moist soil under and around your hive makes things easier for this pest.
Natural Pest Management
Of course, this does not mean that your apiary has to be barren (or as ugly as mine ;). You can still use plants like bee friendly herbs (that might repel some pests) or other decorative flowers near the hives.
Another option, remove grass and weeds and use a low growing ground cover like thyme (sun) or creeping jenny (shade). A nice compromise in dry areas.
Always try to keep a perimeter around the hives that is clean or covered with material or rock – a drier space or buffer area.
It is important to understand that Small Hive Beetle larvae can crawl a long distance. But, there is no reason to make things easy for them. Some beekeepers spread, salt, DE or other beetle control substances under their hives.
Organic mulches like straw or wood chips, synthetic mulches such as landscape fabric, and even sheets of cardboard can help control weeds under beehives. However, avoid excess moisture in areas with Small Hive Beetles.
Yes, they make a beautiful addition to the apiary. However, if you live in extremely hot regions – consider the effect of stone on daily temperatures inside the hive – be sure to raise the hive up off the stone to ensure good hive ventilation.
During the warm season, a monthly inspection of the ground around and underneath the hive is sufficient. Do it during routine hive inspections.
By careful selection and thoughtful placement, you can use materials under your beehives to benefit the colonies and make life easier for you. It doesn’t always have to look pretty but it does not to promote good health of your bees.