Placing a Beehive in Your Backyard
Bee hive placement – (where to put a beehive) especially in a backyard – is one of the most important things a new beekeeper needs to consider. Beyond the aspects of choosing a good spot for the bees – will it be a good spot for the beekeeper and his or her family? Many folks who are just beginning in beekeeping, end up realizing that their hive is in a bad location. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Full of new beekeeper enthusiasm, you have decided it is time to fulfill your desire to have a hive of bees. Perhaps you want to produce honey or you just may want your own bees.
Most people realize they have a lot to learn about honey bee managment. But, not everyone gives beehive placement the thought that it deserves.
An apiary is the term used to describe a location with beehives. Yes, whether you have 2 hives or 200 – you have an apiary.
All bee colonies have similar needs. And, while bees can live in almost any location, they shouldn’t have to do so.
Bee colonies can be moved if absolutely necessary. But, we strive to avoid moving hives because it is a bit disruptive to the colony.
Best Location for Beehives
The best location for a beehive is the one that you have. That may sound confusing but it’s my way of saying that bees can be kept in many locations.
Of course, not every beehive location is equally desirable. You just need to find the best location for your bees within your situation.
Do you have a small yard? Having a hive may still be possible. But you probably shouldn’t have 20 hives in a small back yard.
In some areas, there are legal limits to have many hives you can have on a small lot. Research local laws and regulations before investing in bees.
Hives should be located in a spot away from everyday human activity. Do you have a section of the yard that is not used very often?
Bees need space beyond the physical requirements of the box. Your honey bees need a clear flight path so they can come and go without hindrance from humans.
Cities, suburbs and rural landscapes can provide good placement for beehives. Of course, the larger area you have the easier this task will be.
Think beyond just enough space to set up the hive boxes. The honey bee colony will feel a need to defend their home.
Backyard Beehive Placement
If you are a beekeeper with a small backyard, there are some special challenges to overcome. You may still be about to enjoy your bees, but you have a responsibility to the public.
Even gentle easy to manage honey bees can become testy and defensive at times.
A beehive with 60,000 bees (that can sting) is not a good item to have sitting right outside your back door.
Honey bee colony temperament changes over the season. Being bother by pest or predators, experiencing a lack of nectar, or queen problems-all can turn your sweet easy going bees into a defensive nightmare.
Of course, the bad temper doesn’t last forever. By fixing the issues that are upsetting the bees, your hive will eventually return to it’s former attitude.
However, until that happens – the hives should not be too close to any human dwelling or pathway.
Your neighbors and family members may not experience the “bee euphoria” that is enveloping you.
Moving Bees to A Better Location
Can beehives be moved to better locations? Sure, you can move hives but it is much better if you don’t have to.
A hive of honey bees gets very heavy. It is a 2 or more person job to lift a bee box into a truck and back out again.
Also, moving hives to a new spot close by confuses the bees. Some of them will continue to return to the old hive location. This can go on for weeks.
When choosing a beehive location, plan to leave the hive in place for at least a season. It is much better to have your hives a bit farther away from the house, rather than closer.
Best Practices for Beehive Locations
Before spending hundreds of dollars on equipment, find out if beehives in backyards are allowed in your area.
If not, perhaps you can place your hives on someone else’s property. Sharing a plot with another beekeeper, “borrowing” a section of a family member’s property or renting a space for a nominal yearly fee are all possibilities.
City/Urban Beehive Placements
Some urban beekeepers have hives on the rooftops of buildings. Of course, this will need approval of the building representatives and possibly the city.
But there are other options too. Hives can be located inside walled gardens. This helps separate the colony flight path from a human walking path.
The space in front of a hive is most important to the bees. Having a 6″ wall a few feet in front of the hive entrance helps direct bee flight upward.
Often, city dwellers are unaware that a functioning beehive is located in their neighborhood.
And, another option for city dwellers is to find a local beekeeping association.
Some beekeeping associations develop community bee yards for their members to have a couple of colonies! How cool is that!
If you live in a close community, consider developing a privacy screen for your busy bees. Plant a line of evergreen shrubs on 3 sides of the bee yard.
Or, install outdoor privacy screens which require less maintenance than a living shrub. Artificial shrubs are also an option for year round cover.
And, a shrub is more likely to catch a bee swarm if one leaves your hive. That’s great because it will be easy to catch !
Hive Placement in the Country
Those of us who live in rural settings have a few more options for beehive locations. Deciding where a hive can go is not as difficult with a lot of open space.
Talk to local beekeepers (or beekeeping organizations). What do other beekeepers have to cope with?
Does the area have high winds, heavy snows, flooding rains or frequent hurricanes?
Believe it or not, honey bees are not welcome in all areas. This is true within cities or even inside city limits of many small towns.
Bee Yard Theft Protection
You do want to choose a location that is reasonably safe from theft. Yes, believe it or not – some beekeepers are thieves.
Many beehives are stolen each year. This results in thousands of dollars of lost inventory for honest beekeepers.
To combat theft you have a few options. Try to camoflague the location so well that no one knows where your bee are located.
Or, locate hives within site of neighbors who will help you watch them. Game cameras or electric fences and gates are used by some beekeepers.
Safety for the bees, beekeepers and other people must be considered – this is true even within your own backyard.
You do not want to be inspecting an angry bee colony if the neighbor is having a kids party next door.
Do I Need a Beehive Location with Flowers?
No. Where you put your beehives does not have to be near a field of wildflowers. Though your bees would love it and I am a big supporter of planting for bees.
New beekeepers feel concerned about living in the city or a heavily wooded area with few blooms. What will the honey bees eat?
While some areas are able to support more beehives than others, most locations will support a few hives.
Your bees can easily fly up to a mile ( and more) to forage for water, pollen or nectar. Unless you have a large number of hives, you should not have to worry much about having flowers close by.
The closer the food resources are to the hive, the more productive your colony can be. And, your bees will find food from any sources available.
I love to plant flowers that honey bees like , to help them and other pollinators. Extra blooms are always a good thing and provides food diversity.
Place Your Beehives on a Stand
Be sure to put your beehives on some type of stand. It does not have to be fancy. Stacked cement blocks, sturdy stands built of wood or other materials will work.
You can also purchase commercially prepared hive stands that are designed to hold the heavy weight of a production hive.
Having your beehive on a stand is beneficial for several reasons. Hive stands keep the wooden parts of the hive off the ground and prolongs use.
Your back will thank you for the relief of not having to bend down so far during hive inspections.
Early on, my beehives were located on top of cement blocks. The total distance from the ground to the entrance was about 18-19 inches.
Now, a couple of colonies are sitting on sturdy wooden stands. Any method will work but be sure your stand is capable of holding several hundred pounds.
A hive stand that tips over is not a fun experience. If your hive stand has legs, you could add some type of barrier to help with ants if that is a problem.
Having hives raised off the ground also helps deter problems with skunks, raccoons and opossums. These animals have to reach up and expose their tender under belly to stinging!
How Many Bee Colonies – In My Backyard?
The number of colonies you can have in one spot depends on your climate and foraging conditions. Check with local beekeepers in your area and have realistic goals.
In my area, in April when everything is blooming, my site could feed 50 hives. But during July, when it is hot and dry that is not the case.
In a bad nectar year, the same location may have 20 colonies starving without intervention. This is another local aspect of honey bee management.
Colonies Must Be Accessible Year-Round
Place your colonies in a location that is easy to get to in all seasons. As you perform maintenance or checks throughout the year, will there be mud, snow etc.
Going to the bee yard is necessary year round. There are some bee tasks to complete even in Winter.
If you need to feed your honey bees, a couple of gallons of sugar water can be carried to the hives. If you have many hives, you will need to drive a vehicle or use a cart to move food and equipment.
What if you need to move a colony? If you have to move a bee colony weighing several hundred pounds you need to be able to get there – even in muddy or snowy weather.
Beehive Placement and Predators
Do you have natural predators in your area? We have black bears and I have an electric fence. And remember, it’s not just the animal predators that are a concern. What about human predators?
If keeping beehives in a pasture with livestock such as goats or cows, a small fence around the hives is not a bad idea. Cows often turn hives over trying to scratch on them.
Which Direction Should My Beehive Face?
Most beekeeping books will tell you to place your beehive so that the entrance is facing East or Southeast.
Having the early morning sun shine on the front of the hive, warms the bees earlier in the day. This encourages the bees to begin their day with enthusiasm and start to work.
In fact, I recommend facing colonies towards the morning sun in my Online Beekeeping Class.
Don’t get too hung up on this suggestion if it doesn’t fit your location. Yet, don’t face the entrance in the direction of cold winter winds either.
Protect Hives from Excess Moisture
Ventilation is an important consideration that is often overlooked. If your bees, live in a moist low lying area, too much humidity can cause an increase in disease. Insure plenty of ventilation for the hive – if this is the only spot you have.
There is also a danger of flooding if located too close to a water source. Please remember, bees can fly– they don’t have to be right next to the creek.
Quick access to water for bees is a good thing but place hives in a location with good air flow and out of the flood plain. Try to avoid placing hives on boggy damp ground.
Does Your Hive Need A Windbreak?
Live in a region with high winds? Those of you who live in windy, cold climates might consider providing some protection for your colonies.
A windbreak can be a structure such as a wall or a living wall of greenery. In some cold regions, beekeepers stack bales of straw near the hives.
Place Your Beehive in Sun or Shade?
Is the best location for a beehive in the full sun or shade? If you don’t live in an area with Small Hive Beetles, dappled sunlight is the best location for your beehive.
Placing beehives in hot sun makes the bees work harder to cool it during Summer days. But, if you live in a region with Hive Beetles, placing your beehive in full sun is a better option.
Hive Beetles seem to prefer hives that are in the shade. Moist soft soil and damp ground cover aids in hive beetle reproduction.
If shade is all you have, beekeepers with beetle activity will need to be more proactive. Keep the area underneath the hive stand clean and install hive beetle traps before beetles become a problem.
Best Tips for Beehive Placement
- Be Conscious of Local Regulations
- Raise Hives Up Off the Ground
- Match the Number of Colonies to Available Space
- Hives Should Be Accessible Year-Round
- Safe Location from Predators – Animal and Human
- Position Hives Facing East if Possible
- Avoid low-lying Damp Areas for Beehives
These are my very best thoughts on where to put your beehive ? You don’t need a perfect location.
Take all the guidelines into consideration and choose the best spot that you have ! Use all the sources of information about hive placement to find the best location for your hive.