Welcome future (or current) beekeeper! If you are really considering keeping bees, you have to figure out where the best beehive location is in your situation. The rule of thumb in beekeeping is that you can “move a hive 3 inches or 3 miles” but anything in between is more challenging. While those numbers are not an exact science, it is true that bees are oriented by the sun and landmarks to where their home is.
So if you move a hive 50 feet in a day without some special manipulations, your foraging bees are going to return to empty space, where their hive once was. And now your hive just lost hundreds or thousands of foraging bees. Also, moving a hive full of thousands of bees is not for the faint of heart. It’s almost impossible to have every ideal criterion met when locating your hives, but consider all the factors and pick the best place for your hives within the constraints you have before you get those bees in the spring.
Interference with your beehive location:
- It’s best to put hives where they won’t interfere with your life or your neighbors’ lives too much. Next to the patio, right up against a property line, on your porch – all of these might sound good at first, you’ll get to watch your hives closely. But imagine them being there for years, even when the bees are cranky in the dearth, even when you have friends and family over, even when your neighbors have guests, even when bored teenagers roam your neighborhood, even when you get new neighbors who may not like bees. Consider if that’s really where you want to put them.
- Ideally, hives face south or southeast. The morning sun will shine in the entrance and wake the bees up early to go to work.
- In temperate or northern climates, your beehive location should be in full sun all day. This is to decrease the risk of disease and pests and help improve honey production.
- In warm climates, morning and evening sun are desirable with (maybe) a short period of shade in the afternoon. The shade will help keep the wax comb from overheating, (especially in top bar hives that don’t have frames to support the comb) & keep the comb from collapsing. The shade will also make working the hive more comfortable for the beekeeper in hot months. But make sure that the shade is short midday. If that’s not an option, go for full sun.
High ground… to a point
- Fog and cold tend to settle in the bottom of valleys and there’s little air circulation, so valleys are poor places to keep beehives. They need air circulation to pull the moisture out of the nectar and remove all the moisture the bees exhale.
- Valleys are also prone to floods. Wherever you choose your beehive location, make sure it’s high enough ground that you won’t need to perform an emergency evacuation to avoid flooding, or worse, lose your bees and equipment in a flood.
- Also, avoid areas that have regular fires so you don’t have to evacuate your bees.
- The ground should be dry year-round. The moist ground tends to harbor small hive beetles, a pest of the beehive.
- Level ground is ideal, although hive stands can keep hives level on a hill if the site is the best option in other ways.
- Okay, so maybe the high ground is good, but the top of a hill is usually too windy.
- Too much wind can cause hives to blow over or lose their covers.
- Winter is the toughest time of the year for most hives with regard to wind. Know where your prevailing winds are and provide windbreaks. In our area, the north and west are the sources of most winter winds. If you don’t have a natural landscape windbreak including buildings, you can install burlap sacks, stacks of straw (known to harbor mice!), or plant shrubs or trees.
- Remember that you will work your hive from BEHIND the hive, so make sure when you point your hive south towards the sun, you leave yourself several feet on the north side, behind the hive, to give yourself room to do hive manipulations.
- If you can keep your beehives 3 miles or more from any others in the area, you may be able to slow the spread of honeybee diseases and pests.
- If you can keep your hives away from the road or property line, you can minimize the risk of theft or vandalism of your hives.
- Bees aren’t always fond of weed whackers or lawnmowers in close proximity to their hives. Taking care of these chores early in the morning before the bees are foraging can help minimize incidents. But even better is to take this into account before you have a hive and put in place some type of weed block around them.
- You could use landscaping fabric, pavers, mulch, plastic and stones, old carpeting, rubber roofing material, plywood sheets – think creatively!
What I did:
We live in upstate New York, in a temperate climate, on an old farm that’s located on one big hill in a rural area. I wanted the bee yard to be somewhat close to the house so I wouldn’t “forget” about the bees, but I also wanted it where the bees wouldn’t be prone to harassing visitors and anyone mowing the lawn. Originally I planned a spot but realized it was right next to the road and the soil was quite wet there. We also talked about keeping them up behind the house on the hill but they were in the middle of a lawn that would need to be mowed and sometimes guests congregate there.
So we ended up using a backhoe to take down the remains of an old barn that had been previously removed from the property, cleaned out (more) junk from the fields, and leveled an area off to the side and away from the main living area of the property. It’s somewhat level, it drains, it’s south-facing, it’s halfway up the hill, it gets sun most of the day, but some big black locust trees (which can be a delicious source of honey and so I’m not cutting them down) cast a little patchy afternoon shade.
I installed a very large, blue tarp on the ground to be a weed block and had a couple of truckloads of mulch dumped on it to hide and weigh the tarp down. The bee yard is not right up against the property line, but if the property next to us sells, it may go from being overgrown fields to being houses, and I’ll need to install some shrubs or other visual barriers (and I’ll probably cry if they take down the black locust trees along their rock walls).
The hives would benefit from shrubs along that property line anyway because the wind whips across the old fields from the west there. To the north of my hives, there are the remains of an old wall, but it’s not much of a windbreak for the bees. So, this year I pounded metal garden U stakes (easier said than done in our rocky soil!) into the ground a few feet behind the hives (to give myself room to get behind the hives and open them and check on their food status), and I bought landscape fabric (because the hardware store was out of burlap) and strapped it onto the stakes.
There’s snow drifting up against the fabric and it seems to be working. There are several beekeepers with a few beehives in their yards within a three-mile radius of us, but I’m not up to traveling and keeping out yards to distance myself from them. Also, in this rural area, I think getting three miles from ALL bee yards is difficult, if not impossible.
If you are planning on keeping bees, good luck finding a hive location!
And fellow beekeepers, how did you prioritize these concerns when you decided on your beehives’ location? Your comments will help me and other new beekeepers!