Choosing where to place a beehive apiary is one of the hardest decisions a new beekeeper has to make.
Like leading livestock to green pastures, it can easily make the difference between having strong or struggling hives.
Your bee hives' location depends on how your backyard is set up. Do you have a lot of trees? Are you on a hill? Does your yard stay wet after the rain? There are plenty of elements you should consider.
In this article we've compiled the top 10 factors when considering where to place a beehive. We'll consider these 10 elements from two different schools of thought: the honey bees point of view and the beekeepers point of view. Before we dive into the list, it's important to note where the bees would naturally choose to live if they had a choice.
The Bees Natural Habitat
Left to their own devices, honey bees would choose to live loftily on a tree line that strategically sits between a field of flowers and the woods. Safely tucked away in the hollow of a tree, they'd have the protection and shade they'd prefer, while still having easy access to pollen and nectar.
Beekeepers who try to bait a wild swarm think crucially about all of these factors. By looking at the honey bee's ideal home, they can see what would make the bees happiest. This thought process is not much different than the kind of factors that you should consider when choosing where to place a beehive apiary.
A new beekeeper wants their bees to be happy and should consider where and how the bees prefer to live. In addition to the factors used in baiting swarms, there are plenty more factors for choosing a long term permanent home for them. We should always keep in mind that we are taking the bees out of their natural habitat and putting them into a artificial one. This produces man-made problems that need man-made solutions.
While trying to take into account what the bees want, it is ultimately still up to you as the beekeeper and property owner to decide which location is best for your hives.
As beekeepers, we assume that the honey bees love sunlight because the beehives we place in the sun seem busier and more productive. This makes us think that the bees are happier in the sunlight. Keep in mind though, that just because we think they're happier, doesn't necessarily mean they are and it doesn't mean they'd choose it for themselves.
Bees prefer the calm and cool of the shade. Although, they are less productive, they aren't considering their productivity as a top factor when choosing where to live. They'd rather be safe and comfortable.
Unfortunately, if we place beehives in the shade, they more frequently become riddled with small hive beetles (SHB), mold, diseases, and other pests that can be managed or prevented by sunlight.
Most of these diseases and pests were introduced to honey bees in the last 75 years. The honey bees haven't quite adjusted to all of this, so we as beekeepers should step in and prevent these problems where we can.
Most expert beekeepers would tell you that they've had healthier and more productive beehives in the sunlight. This has been our experience as well here at Galena Farms. For these reasons we recommend finding a beehive location in the sun.
The amount of sun your bees need depends on where you are in the United States.
Take a look at this map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you're within USDA zones 1 through 6, your bee hives' location would do great in full sun.
If you’re in USDA zones 7-11, your bees need a little bit of shade, especially in the hottest part of the day. You wouldn’t want your bees to overheat.
If your honey bees get too hot, they decide to fan out some of the heat. When they fan out the heat from their hives, they send out a large segment of their colony to beard on the outside of the hive so that they inside of the hive is not so populated.
Here's a Pro Tip!
When your hive is fanning or bearding, it takes time away from being able to work on the hive.
To prevent your honey bees from overheating, try to find or build a structure that dapples your beehive with shade from noon to 3pm.
For a more in depth look at your bees need for sunlight, check out our article: How Much Sunlight Do Your Honey Bees Need?
Face Entrance Toward the Southeast
As you'd probably guess, the honey bees don't much care which angle the entrance to their hive faces. They are more concerned about safety, food sources and capacity limits.
As beekeepers though, we know that the home we give our bees is going to be safe from many of the fears they'd have in the wild. We also know that we can add bee boxes on to the beehive to increase the capacity limit or feed the hive if necessary. For this reason, beekeepers are able to look at the more frivolous factors like productivity rather than focusing on safety, capacity and food sources.
To get the most productive beehive, beekeeping experts, among many things, say you should face your hives to the southeast.
This is for two reasons:
The Morning Sun
The first reason is the sun rises from the east and for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, it specifically rises from the southeast.
When the entrance of a beehive faces the morning sun, the heat helps the bees start their day earlier.
Bees won’t start working until the hive heats up. Facing the southeast allows the beehive to capture some of the warmth coming from the early morning sun.
Once the hive has heated up, the older worker bees are released from their morning heating duties. Only then can they start foraging for pollen and nectar. This gives your bees a longer work day and can result in more productivity.
The second reason to face your hives' entrance to the southeast is because the prevailing winds in the states are coming from the northwest.
By facing your hive southeast, you'll be protecting your colony from the winter's wind chill. The wind that would otherwise force it's way through the entrance of the hive is deflected to go around the hive instead. This will prevent your hive from having too much ventilation and help them conserve heat during winter.
Another benefit of this is that your honey bees won't be fighting against the prevailing winds when they are trying to exit the hive.
Facing your hive to the southeast is not always the right thing to do. You should consider your micro-climate around your house when facing your beehive. In your neck of the woods the winds may predominantly come from the south or maybe even the east, but in general, southeast is the preferred direction to face. We'd suggest contacting your local bee associations to ask about what the common practices in your area are.
When honey bees choose a home in the wild they send out scout bees that look for structures that are, among many things, sturdy. Their typical homes in the wild are tree hollows or under edges of objects where the wind can pass by them without issue.
Honey bees know that wind can be a factor and they don't want a house that will blow down easily.
Beekeepers using man-made beehives have to be keen to recognize that it is possible for a backyard hive to be blown over.
Wind can wipe out even the strongest of colonies! Especially if you have one that's stacked high with plenty of bee boxes.
This is why you need to think about making wind barriers to shield your honey bees. Wind barriers will redirect the wind to go around or over your hive so that it is unaffected by strong gusts.
When choosing a beehive location, consider how much wind the microclimate around your property gets. Also consider are there natural wind breakers such as a house, a privacy fence, or a tree line that you can utilize.
If not, you may need to create an artificial wind barrier for your bees. Building a wind barrier is a crucial step to having a successful winter. You can read more about winterizing your bees in our article: The Ultimate Guide to Winterizing Your Bees.
Wind barriers come in all shapes in sizes. Bales of hay can be an affordable way to make wind barriers, but they can attract mice - so be sure to use the mouse guard on your hive if you're going to use hay. Some beekeepers create an elaborate fence to keep the landscape of their yard looking beautiful. I've even seen wooden pallets repurposed and angled against each other like the letter 'A' to direct the wind right over the hives.
Here's a Pro Tip!
If you are using a screened bottom board for the summer time. Try switching to a Solid Bottom Board during the winter.
Solid bottom boards will help your honey bees survive the wind chills that may be a large threat in your area. You can check with your local bee association to see what they recommend using to block the wind during winter.
Honey bees will fly up to 6 miles to get to the nearest food source. If they ever have to travel that far though, they must be extremely desperate. They are likely using more energy than they're gaining from the food they find.
Nevertheless, beekeepers can learn many lessons from listening to their bees. In this case, the lesson learned is that it'd be a good idea to have a food source near your bee hives' location. This will conserve their energy and allow them to be more efficient.
A couple special notes to consider:
- If you own a garden and you desire your bees to pollinate it, you do not have to put your honey bees right next to it. As we'll mention later in this article, you'll want to avoid high foot traffic areas (Click Here) like your garden because your bees can feel threatened by constant human presence
- If you live next to a field that you'd like the bees to pollinate from, be sure to check to see if the farmer uses pesticides. Pesticides can torment a hive or lead to a total hive collapse. If the farm next to you does use pesticides, it might be best to place your bee hives' location farther away. Although the bees will feed from the fields anyways, the pesticide fumes may not get directly on the hive or the broad majority of the honey bees
Yes, your bees drink water! On a hot summer day, they can drink up to a whole gallon per beehive.
As a new beekeeper, you may have thought that your bees just consume honey all year long. But really, honey is just a source of energy to get them through the winter. They don't prefer consuming honey when they don't have to. A reason they use honey in the winter is because honey doesn’t solidify nearly as easily as water does.
In nature, bees choose to live in homes that have relatively quick access to a watering hole, stream, lakeside or any other gathering of water.
They are super efficient when finding water. So keep in mind that they will use the closest water source available.
Even if that's your neighbor's kiddie pool.
This is why it's a good idea to maintain a water source near your bee hives' location.
Not only can it save your neighbors from a lot of visiting bees, but it can also lead to a more productive hive. With a water source nearby your colonies can spend less time flying to the water source and more time collecting pollen and nectar.
Please note that bees can't swim! They will need a shallow area to access the water. That's why we suggest placing marbles, rocks, or other items from your garden in the water container so that the bees can stand on them while drinking.
Dry Ground Underneath
In the wild, honey bees don't mind if the comb in their hives are neat, organized, symmetrical, or level. When it comes to building comb, they only care about access around the hive, the air flow of the hive, and temperature control.
It is the beekeepers that want bees to maintain organization and stay on the frames that we provide.
One way to keep bee frames more organized, more predictable and not filled with burr comb (random beeswax placements) is by keeping a hive level.
Having a level hive is important because honey bees grow their honeycomb straight down using gravity. They may develop comb in places and ways that you don’t want them to if the hive is not level.
If you're seeking a level hive, you'll want to aim for dry ground that isn't going to sink after a rainy day.
Beehives can easily weigh upwards of 100 pounds. Putting your hive in a marshy area can lead to it sinking into the ground. This could quickly make your hive unlevel.
Here's a Pro Tip!
If your yard doesn't have a section that dries quickly after it rains, then you might want to create your own dry ground.
You can use the following steps to help you create more drainage in your yard to help prevent your hives from sinking and becoming unlevel.
In the area your considering for your hives:
- Dig into the ground about 4" to 6" deep to clear some of the top soil and grass out
- Spread gravel out till you've filled the clearing you just made
- Spread paver base on top of that to help fill the crevasses in the gravel
- Level the gravel and paver base out
- Place large 2 or 3 square foot decorative pavers on top of the paver base
- Level the decorative pavers
A secondary benefit of these pavers is that it helps disrupt the life cycle of a small hive beetle. SHB need to burrow into the ground below a hive to complete their larval development.
Avoid Hills and Valleys
Bees frequently choose to live in tree hollows that are 20 feet off the ground. While this helps them avoid predators, it also keeps them away from the cool air that may be travelling near the ground.
The major issue that beekeepers have with putting hives in a valley is that the cold air usually settles in valleys. By placing your beehives in a valley, it may lead to your bees getting too cold to survive.
On the other hand, putting your bee hives' location on a hill may cause an upward wind draft into the hives.
A cold upward wind draft can lead to a frosty hive in the winter. Especially if you’re using screened bottom boards.
Another issue with placing your hives on a hill or in a valley is that you'll have extra work to do when you're carrying bee boxes to and from the apiary. A typical medium bee box weighs 50 to 60 lbs when it's full of honey!
That's a lot of weight to have to carry up and down a hill.
Use a Hive Stand
Among many reasons, honey bees naturally choose to make their homes in the trees away from the ground where predators like skunks, raccoons, and opossums roam freely.
While beekeepers can't keep their bees in the trees, they can keep them out of harms way by placing them on hive stands.
Hive stands are easy to make and can save your bees from being eaten by the paw-ful.
By raising the hives off the ground, the predator will have to stand on its hind legs to reach into your hive. This exposes the animal’s belly.
Once the belly is exposed, the honey bees can defend themselves against an attack by stinging the soft skin.
You can make your own hive stands by leveling some stacked cinder blocks or you can buy one like this one in the picture.
Avoid High Foot Traffic Areas
Beekeepers should listen to the bees suggestion of avoiding high traffic areas. They normally choose to live far away from all the action. New beekeepers should not go against their wishes and put them in the middle of harms way.
Your bees will feel less threatened in an area that doesn't constantly have people treading through.
If you know that the neighborhood kids play ball near an area in your backyard, it may not be the best idea to put your bees in that area.
In addition, Galena Farms does not recommend you put a hive directly near your house, your garden, a shared property line or near any high foot traffic areas.
If you have no other options though, make sure to try to give your bees at least 20 feet of space. A distance of 20 feet will allow them to reach their preferred flying altitude without interfering with you or your house.
Do not face your hive towards a nearby solid object like a tree/fence. You wouldn't want them to zoom out of the hive only to run directly into something.
On top of that, you probably don't want to face your hive towards an area that receives a lot of public foot traffic, like a sidewalk or the park next door.
One last piece of advice on this factor would be to avoid placing your beehive too close to your garden. The bees will inevitably find your garden without you coaxing them to. The problem with placing it too close is that you'll constantly be pelted by bees while tending your vegetables. Your bees fly around 15 mph on their way to and from their hive. It feels similar to somebody shooting you with Nerf darts if you're lingering near their front entrance for too long.
Leave at Least 6" Between Beehives
The final factor we'll mention when considering where to place a beehive apiary is to leave some space for you to work on your bees.
Bees don't often naturally choose to build a colony next to another existing colony, but beekeepers have learned that they don't seem to mind.
For hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, beekeepers have kept beehives near each other with little to no problems.
That being said, although the bees wouldn't mind putting your brand new hive as close as you’d like, you might find it difficult to work the hives that are placed so closely.
One fear new beekeepers have when placing their hives so close is that their bees might rob each other.
The fact is, bees are going to try robbing each other no matter how far away you put them from one another.
The way to fix this is to set your entrance reducer to the smallest opening. Do this at least till they are a strong hive.
Another big fear that's easy to fix is that by placing beehives so close, the new bees may abscond (abandon the hive).
Here's a Pro Tip!
To prevent your bees form absconding, you can put a queen excluder between the brood chamber and the bottom board.
This will encourage your new bees to get used to their new home quickly by removing the option for them to leave. If the queen can't leave, the rest of the hive will stay with her.
Once the queen has started laying eggs, the bees are much less likely to abscond and you can remove the queen excluder.
For more on queen excluders, you can see our article called: What Good Are Queen Excluders?
The reason we suggest placing your hives 6" apart is so you as the beekeeper have room for your hive tool. You might need to crack open your hive at multiple angles. Especially if your bees make stray burr comb and you need some leverage to have the strength needed to break the comb.
A 6" gap between hives will also help you get your beefy gloves underneath your telescoping top cover, inner cover, and bee boxes.
We recommend at least 6", but it might be helpful for you to put them 2 or 3 feet apart if you have the space to do so.
If you're tight on space and worried you don't have enough for a hive, 8 frame hives would save you space and are much easier to handle. To learn more about this you can read our article on all the benefits of an 8 frame hive: Why Choose an 8 Frame Beehive?
Choosing where to place a beehive may be one of the hardest decisions a new beekeeper has to make.
To recap, there are 10 factors we think you should consider when choosing the best location for a beehive on your property.
- Give Your Honey Bees Lots of Sunlight
- Angle Your Beehive to the Southeast
- Create a Wind Barrier to Shield Your Honey Bees
- Place Your Beehive Near a Food Source
- Place A Water Source Near Your Beehive
- Aim for Dry Ground
- Avoid Hills and Valleys
- Use a Hive Stand
- Avoid High Foot Traffic Areas
- Leave at Least 6" Between Beehives
This article was by no means an exhaustive list of everything you should consider.
One hope I have for you is that this article has shown you how important it is to listen to the bees and to try to understand what they want from us.
To achieve the greatest success as a beekeeper, you'll need to approach your solutions from both a bee's perspective and your own.
Good luck to you all!
Keep On Beekeeping On!