Placing a Beehive in Your Backyard
Beehive 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 Tips for Beehive Placement
- Check Local Beekeeping Regulations
- Safety Issues for Keeping Bees
- Don’t Overstock Your Beeyard
- Easy Access to Manage Your Beehives
- Protected from Predators
- Choose Hive Locations Safe from Theft
- Avoid low-lying Damp Areas for Beehives
- Raise Hives Up Off the Ground
- Position Hives Facing East if Possible
- Hives Should be Protected from High Winds
Research Local Beekeeping Regulations
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.
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. Don’t invest hundreds of dollars in the hobby only to find out that you can not have bees in your property.
Beekeeping Safety Considerations
No matter how much we appreciate our bees, not every spot is suitable for a box filled with stinging insects.
Your hives should be located in a spot away from everyday human activity. 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. Do you have a section of the yard that is not used very often?
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.
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.
How Many Beehives In My Backyard?
The number of colonies you can have in one spot involves factors other than just the safety of yourself or your neighbors. Beyond giving the bees enough space, they also need enough foraging area.
Foraging conditions vary greatly depending on the climate in your region and available plants. Check with local beekeepers in your area and have realistic goals.
Local Foraging Conditions Affect Number of Hives
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.
Easy Access of Bee Colonies is Important
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 Location Protected from Predators
Do you have natural predators in your area? If you live in a region with a population of bears, you must have an electric fence.
And remember, it’s not just the animal predators that are a concern. What about human predators? Honey bee colonies are worth a bit of money and many are stolen each year.
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.
Are your Hives Protected from Theft?
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 camouflage the location so well that no one knows where your beeyard is 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.
Avoid Areas with Excess Moisture
If your bees, live in a moist low lying area, too much humidity can cause an increase in disease.
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.
If your region tends to be humid overall, proper hive ventilation is your best friend. Ensure plenty of ventilation for the hive. Use screened bottom boards and extra ventilation holes in the bee boxes if needed.
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.
- prolongs the life of wooden parts of the beehive
- easier on your back due to not having to bend down and life
- helps protect hive entrance from skunks, raccoons etc.
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.
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.
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.
Do I Need a Beehive Location with Flowers?
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.
Small 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.
Beekeeping in the 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 !
A Final Word on Beehive Placement
When choosing the best place to put your hive, don’t panic if you can not meet all of the criteria. You don’t need a perfect hive location.
Take all the guidelines into consideration and choose the best spot that you have ! Bees thrive in many settings. As long as you take the needs of the bees into consideration, as well as, human safety – you should be able to find a great place to put your beehive.