How to Set Up a Bee Yard – The Decisions
New beekeepers have so many important decisions to make. The whole process can feel overwhelming. In addition to buying equipment and ordering bees, we must consider how to set up a bee yard properly.While this may seem like a small issue, it is actually important.
Good 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. We also have some considerations beyond just space – or room to set down a hive.
Is it a Bee Yard or Apiary?
Bee yard is a common word for the term “apiary”. An apiary is a location where hives of honey bees are located. Most beekeepers use the term “bee yard” to describe the place where they keep their hives.Your bee yard may be small and consist of 1 or 2 hives. Or, it may be a large bee yard with hundreds of bee hives.
You may decide to set up a bee yard with several different types of beehives. That’s okay. But, you may find your beekeeping equipment easier to manage if you keep your box sizes similar.
If you want to have Langstroth Hives, you can choose between 8 frame and 10 frame boxes. The height of your individual boxes is even more important.
Will you use, deeps, mediums or shallows? Any combination can work well.
Important Decisions for Bee Yard Design in a Neighborhood
A good bee yard design goes beyond deciding what to set your beehive on. The basic considerations associated individual beehive placement (click here to read more about hive placement) is important to your bees.
A part of learning how to set up a bee yard is concerned with 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. Give this some thought before installing your new bees.
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. Many plans are available online detailing how to build a bear 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.
Read more about bear fences in my post – How to Build the Best Electric Fence for Bears.
Your Bee Yard Must Be Accessible- Yet Out of the Way
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 bee yard 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.
A Large Bee Yard Requires Extra Space
When we consider setting up a bee yard we must think on a larger scale. Finding a good location for several hives is more difficult than a single.
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.
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.
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. 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 things are in bloom, you have too many bees in one foraging location.
Hive Stand Design and Placement in a Bee Yard
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.
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?
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.
Bee Yards – Large is Good
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 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. If you have several hives of the same color – you may want to consider some aids to reduce drifting.
Taking some time to consider all the aspects of setting up your bee yard will pay off. 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.
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