How to Set Up a Bee Yard
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 examine how to set up a bee yard properly.
Good beehive placement is a key factor in good beekeeping. The greater the number of hives you keeper, the larger your bee yard will need to be.
What is a Bee Yard?
Bee yard is another 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 their hives are located. 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.
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Setting Up a Bee Yard in a Neighborhood
Beyond the basic considerations associated individual beehive placement (click here to read more about hive placement) bee yard setup involves numbers. A part of learning how to set up a bee yard is concerned with the number of hives you plan to manage.
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. Size matters.
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.
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. (check out this plan from North Carolina). 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.
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.
Setting Up a Bee Yard Deals with Numbers
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.
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 stand raise the beehive up off the ground. This provides some protection for the bottom of the hive and is a “back saver” for the beekeeper.
Bee Yard Design
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 Yard Space
When deciding how to set 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 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 and set up 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.