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What Should You Put Under Beehives?

Starting new beehives involves making some important decisions.  Beyond deciding which hive style to use for your bees and where to put them, there is another thing you must take into consideration.  What should you put under beehives? This may seem to be an easy question with a simple answer.  But, like many things in beekeeping the answers can vary.

Beehive sitting on stand with grass under image.

Best Ground Cover to Use Under Beehives

In nature, honey bee colonies do not nest in the ground.  They find homes inside the cavities of trees or buildings. Admittedly, they sometimes choose to live in locations that we would rather they did not.

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Luckily, they are very amenable to living in man-made hives.  There are several styles or types of hive to use in beekeeping.  All have advantages and disadvantages but share one common need.  You have to find a good place to put them.

Once you have chosen a good location for your beehives, it is time to consider how to best set them up.  Designing the layout of your bee yard, includes thinking about the needs of the bees and the beekeeper.

Will you use hive stands to sit the beehives on?  This is generally a very good idea but the choice is yours.  Do you need to provide a water source for your bees?  Not always, if a good natural source is available, they will find it.

Beehive on grass and hive on sand what to put under beehives image.

Check Your Bee Yard Landscape

People can and do keep beehives in all kinds of locations.  Here in upstate South Carolina, I have no flat land unless we bring in a bulldozer to make it flat. But, the soil is firm red clay.

Used to living high up in the trees, bees don’t seem to care a lot about their location as long as it fits their needs. However, there are some basic considerations to attend to when setting up your hives.

The ground around your hives or the hive stand itself should be sturdy and level.  Beehives get very heavy.  As the season progresses, more boxes are stacked on top of Langstroth hives making them even heavier.

Beehives sitting on stand on soil with no vegetation image.

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.

Place your hives or hive stands on firm soil or use cement pavers under the legs of the stand.  Use a level when setting up your beekeeping equipment – don’t just eye-ball it.

Using a hive stand makes life easier for the beekeeper and prolongs the life of your wooden ware.  It also helps protect the colony from predators such as skunks.

Tall beehive with stacked boxes on cement foundation image.

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 ants and other pests to enter with the colony.

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 yet.  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?

Beehives on wooden stands with bare ground under them image.

Damp Vegetation Under Hives is Perfect for Hive Beetles

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.  

Beetle larvae crawl out of the hive to pupate into adults in the soil.  Having damp, moist soil under and around your hive makes this job so easy for them.

Now it is important to understand that these beetle larvae can crawl a long distance.  Still, there is no reason to make things easier for them.  Perhaps on their journey to find moist soil some predators will enjoy a juicy snack.

Our goal is to create a barrier between the hive and the soil.  Not a perfect solution to the problem but better than doing nothing – right?

Small Hive Beetles on frame inside hive image.

Soil Barriers to Use Beneath Hives in the Apiary

This list contains items commonly used under beehives by beekeepers.  Some of them are more attractive than others and some can be utilitarian and useful too.

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.

  • Paving stones – 12×12 cement stones under and around the hives
  • Dry wood chips – okay if the soil drains well
  • Mulch – thick mulch can retain moisture
  • Carpet remnants – placed upside down around hives
  • Green outdoor carpet on top of plastic sheeting
  • Rubber stall mats with pavers on top
  • Black plastic women sheet material with crushed rock on top
  • Kill grass and use a low growing ground cover like thyme (sun) creeping jenny (shade)
  • Left over roofing shingles
  • Old rubber roofing – EPDM

Final Thoughts on What to Put Under Your Beehives

As you decide what – if anything – to place under your hives, keep in mind the maintenance needs.  Will it last all season? Require mowing?  Where Hive Beetles are not an issue you have many options.  For those of us in Beetle Country, decisions made around the hives can affect the health of our colonies.

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