Getting Your Bee Yard Ready for Hives
Once you make the decision to become a beekeeper, it’s time to think about how you are going to set up your bee yard. Beekeepers use the term – “bee yard” to describe any location with beehives. As you work to create the best layout for your beehives, you must take the needs or the bees and the beekeeper into account. This is especially important to beekeepers wanting to increase the size of their beekeeping operation with more hives.
What is a Bee Yard?
Beekeepers often use the term – “bee yard” to describe a location with beehives. The word “apiary” is the official term for your bee yard. Whether you have 1 beehive or 100, a well designed bee yard makes life easier.
In addition to buying equipment and ordering bees, we must consider how to set up our bee yards. This includes not only where the yard should be as a whole but the lineup of individual hives.
While this may seem like a small issue, it is actually important. It is hard to be a good beekeeper unless you can get to the hives for management purposes.
How Much Space Does Your Apiary Require?
Proper beehive placement is a key factor in good beekeeping. And yes, whether you have 2 hives or 42, you will be creating a bee yard.
This is home base for your honey bee colonies and you will spend a lot of time here. The greater the number of hives you keep, the larger your bee yard will need to be.
Finding a spot for a couple of hives is easier than finding room for 20 hives. Those of you with many hives will face some challenges that small beekeepers don’t have to worry about.
You have considerations beyond just space – or room to set down a hive. Will your foraging bees cause problems for neighbors? Will you have enough room to work the hives?
Placing Multiple Beehives in 1 Location
As you decide where everything should go, use some of the same considerations when choosing beehive placement .
Every hive needs to sit in a place that is healthy. Low lying boggy locations near rivers or streams is not the best location for an apiary.
Another factor to consider for your apiary involves the number of hives you plan to manage and where you live.
Three or four beehives may be able to exist in the backyard of a small neighborhood home.
However, a hundred hives of honey bees might not be the most popular neighbors in a small community.
This is especially important for new beekeepers who may start with too many hives and become overwhelmed. This may lead to having sickly hives that are a danger to other bees in the area.
How Many Hives Can I Have in One Yard?
In addition to physical space and neighborhood concerns, you do not want to place too many hives in one bee yard. Though you can in fact keep many hives of bees in one spot – it may mean more work for the beekeeper.
Avoid having too many beehives in one location unless you are willing to feed when natural nectar is low. More bees means more competition for food sources.
Feeding bees in times of need is a good management practice. However, your bees will be happier and healthier if you do not over-stock your yard.
If you find yourself needing to feed hives during the time of year when lots of nectar producing plants are in bloom, you have too many bees in one foraging location.
Choosing a Hive Style
Most beekeepers will chose to use mainly 1 style of beehive. However, there are several different types of beehives.
Is your goal to produce a lot of honey? If so, you may find your beekeeping equipment easier to manage if you keep your box style and sizes similar.
If you want to have Langstroth Hives, you can choose between 8 frame and 10 frame boxes. Hive style will determine whether or not you need hive stands or will place the beehives on pallets.
Setting Up Your Bee Yard on Hive Stands
Commercial beekeepers place hives on square wooden pallets. This allows the use of machinery to lift several hives at one time. The whole bee yard can be moved to a new location in a short time.
Backyard beekeepers tend to use hive stands. Hive stands can be made from a variety of materials. Cinder block, metal frame, rails and wooden are common hive stand materials.
And of course you can purchase commercial stands for beehives that are ready to go. These plastic ones are sturdy though I wish they were taller – I would put it on a few cement blocks.
Hive stands raise the beehives up off the ground. This provides some protection for the bottom of the hive and is a “back saver” for the beekeeper.
Trust me you do not want to have to pic up heavy honey supers from ground level.
Perhaps you will want a bee feeding station or an external pollen feeder for your bees, do you have room? It is best to put your feeding stations well away from your hives.
Consider Wind Breaks or Privacy Screens for Beehives
For a small bee yard, screening the hives from the view of neighbors might be a good idea. A tall decorative fence placed several feet from the beehives is common.
Bees leave the hive and go up and out into the world. The fence conceals the hives and redirects their flight path. We cant control where the bees fly.
But, we have some control when they first leave the hive. A steady stream of bees buzzing across a walkway will cause concern.
You and I may be super proud that we are beekeeping but not everyone is “bee loving”.
Simply having your beehives out of site will ease some of your neighbors fear.
Will Your Bee Yard Share Territory with Bears?
So many times, I hear beekeepers say they have never seen bears in their area. Then, they awake to find their hives destroyed.
Black bears are attracted to hives and will destroy them. This is especially true if the bear has had access to hives in the past.
The best way to deal with a bear is to prevent destruction from happening in the first place. It is very hard to stop a determined bear!
In my area, the most common bear deterrent is an electric fence. Those of us who live in “bear territory” have to deal with this reality when deciding how to set up a bee yard.
The fenced area needs to be large enough to allow you to manage your hives and stop the bear before she gets too close.
Apiary Must Be Accessible-But Not Too Close to Humans
Almost everything associated with beekeeping is heavy. Place your bee yard in an accessible location. You need to be able to get to your hives with a truck or wheelbarrow.
Is the apiary far enough away from your house? I have talked before about the importance of placing a hive away from the back door.
The temperament of a honey bee hive changes from time to time. Those sweet bees in April might chase you around the yard in September.
You may need to access your bee yard during rainy times or snow. Design a bee yard that is easy to get to in all types of weather. Emergencies arise and you want to be able to get to your bees.
Long Term Goals for Your Apiary
When we consider setting up a bee yard we must think of our long term goals. Finding a good location for 20 hives is more difficult than 1 or 2.
Honey bees will find a water source. On warm days, there will be a continuous stream of bee traffic from the hive to the water source and back.
If you have only one hive, this is barely noticeable. However, if you have 25 hives in your backyard, bee traffic can be a problem in areas used by humans.
You may need to provide a water source for your bees. This can help keep them from visiting your neighbors swimming pool.
Lots of Beehives – More Bee Poop
Now, we must talk about bee poop. You haven’t ever seen honey bee poop? Well, you will.
The more colonies you have in your bee yard, the more yellow streaks you will find on your cars.
One of my beekeeping friends experienced an irate neighbor. She was angry due to bee poop on her clean laundry. Another reason to place large bee yards well away from humans.
Bee Yard Design and Layout Ideas
Long ago, many beekeepers placed hives in a single row. This design made access to the hive easier for the beekeeper.
However, we have learned over the years that this bee yard design is not best for the bees.
Honey bee foragers will drift to other hives. When your beehives are arranged in a long line, the hives on the ends tend to benefit from drifting bees.
Foragers returning with full loads of nectar often enter the first hive they approach. Inversely, hives in the middle may lose substantial numbers.
Rather than a straight line, placing hives in a curved formation helps reduce drifting bees.
I also paint my colonies different colors to help returning bees. Perhaps a few shrubs or decorations in the bee yard are beneficial to working foragers.
Expandable Bee Yards – Room to Grow
When setting up a bee yard, think big. Most beekeepers end up with more hives than they planned to have. (Yep, that’s me). I like to leave at least 2 feet between my beehives.
This spacing is not done for the bees. Having plentiful working space on all 4 sides of the hive is a must.
If you have one side of the hive that you think you will never need access to, trust me, you will.
Place your hives in a manner that allows you to access all 4 sides with ease. Not only can you reach all the sides, but could you lift a 50-pound box from there if you needed to do so?
The more beehives you have – the larger your bee yard or apiary will need to be.
Design Your Bee Yard for Growth
Beehives can be moved with care. But it is much better to chose a good placement and bee yard layout in the beginning.
Decide how many hives you plan to keep and add some additional space. A well designed bee yard makes working your colonies much easier.
Create a place for the bees to thrive and one that you and your neighbors can live with. Don’t worry if you want to change your apiary design later. We all do it.