You bought your starting beekeeping kit. You painted the hives a nice color…maybe you stenciled on some flowers or bee images because you are going to have the best looking bee yard around. Or maybe not. Now, before your bees arrive, you need to know where to put your beehive.
In general, beehives should be:
- Placed on a stand to keep them off the ground
- Facing east or southeast
- Level from side to side
- Near sources of fresh water, nectar and pollen for the bees
- In an easily accessible location with adequate room for you to inspect and work on the hives
- Partially shaded from the afternoon sun in summer
- Protected by a northern windbreak in winter
- Shielded from neighbors
- In a location with good air flow and water drainage
We know beekeepers that keep bees in outyards (on someone else’s property). We strongly advise against this for a beginning beekeeper unless it’s the only option. It’s important to watch your hives on a regular basis to learn about bee behavior and monitor how your hives are doing.
Having your bees in an outyard makes regular inspections more onerous and time consuming for you. It also makes it impossible for you to spot sudden changes in behavior (like swarming) or threats to the hive that require immediate attention (like robbing).
Let’s get into more details about placing your beehive.
Your hive should be placed on something to keep it off the ground primarily to keep it dry. Some beekeepers put their hives on something as simple as a wooden pallet (which can usually be gotten for free). Lumber and cinder blocks work just fine if you don’t want to buy a specialty stand.
Our first hive stand is an old bed we picked up at a flea market because I thought it would look pretty (pictured nearby). Add pressure treated lumber, red stain and screws…voila! Hive stand!
We keep our stands up at a height of around 18 inches. We don’t have to bend over too far to maneuver the hive. Also, in our area where winter snows up to 2 feet are not uncommon this keeps the hive getting completely buried.
Facing East Or Southeast
With an easterly orientation the sun will hit the entrance of the hive early in the morning. It will warm them up and get them out and foraging. You want your bees making the most of the day to build up their nectar and pollen collection.
A stand will keep the hive from getting too damp close to the ground. It will make life easier for you by reducing how far you need to bend over to inspect or lift the hive.
If you start to add multiple hives, don’t line up too many close to each other facing the same direction. Bees may “drift” and end up in the wrong hive. Change the angle or alter facing directions so that the bees orient themselves to the proper location.
Level From Side To Side
Keeping a hive level from side to side helps keep the bees building comb along a straight line. Otherwise they may build crosscomb connecting the frames which is a mess to fix. However, the hive can be tilted slightly forward to help drain any moisture in the hive. A forward tilt is especially important in winter.
Fresh Water, Nectar and Pollen
If you’re not in a location close to a natural fresh water source you will need to provide it yourself. The simplest way is to set up some type of container that includes a place for the bees to land to avoid drowning. For example, a small bucket with water and cork or wood floating on top will do the trick.
Providing water for your bees makes it less likely that they will do things like visit a neighbor’s pool and create friction on that front.
As for nectar and pollen, bees can travel up to several miles to forage so it doesn’t need to be as close as water. Of course, if you have a garden or field that provides nearby trees and flowers for the bees, that’s great. We’ve seen our bees take advantage of our wildflower and vegetable gardens in addition to flying off in the distance above the trees.
Easily Accessible Location
You need to inspect your hives on a fairly regular basis. Make sure you have enough room to maneuver around the hive, move hive boxes, etc. Even give yourself room to just step back or a few steps away if you need to take a break.
If you have multiple hives, leave adequate space between them for you to work on each hive independently.
Shade For Summer/Windbreak For Winter
Your hives should not be in full shade. However, it’s good for the bees to get some relief in the heat of summer with some partial shade or dappled sunlight. How much shade you should provide really depends on how hot it gets in your area.
Cold winter winds force the bees to expend more energy to maintain the temperature of their hive. Some shrubs, trees or fencing can provide a nice windbreak to lessen the impact on your colony. You can also wrap the hive with tar paper or some other insulation to stop cold air from penetrating any openings.
Just because you’ve taken up beekeeping doesn’t mean your neighbors want to be treated to the sight of your bee yard or have bees flying directly at them. (More on neighbor’s below). Screening your hives has the added benefit of forcing the bees into a higher flight pattern over the heads of your neighbors and beyond.
Air Flow and Water Drainage
You don’t want your hives in a damp, boggy environment. Good air flow will help ventilate the hive and water drainage will keep the hive from becoming too damp. Good positioning of the hive will keep the bees healthier and help with the creation of honey (which I assume is why you got bees in the first place).
Location Specific Considerations
In addition to the general considerations of where to place a beehive you should think about other issues particular to your area. In urban and suburban areas it is very likely you’ll have some regulations and restrictions to deal with in light of the proximity of your neighbors.
For example, New York City requires that all beekeepers register with the City and meet certain requirements. You may have to deal with setback requirements or even limitations on how many hives you can keep based on the size of your property.
Be sure to check your state and local regulations.Your local beekeeping association can be helpful with this. You can also check the Apiary Inspectors of America links to individual state information.
If you rent your property, you may need your landlord’s permission to keep bees. Eviction or a sudden need to dispose of your new hives would be a high price to pay to begin beekeeping.
Think about your neighbors. Monitor your bees to minimize the chance they become a nuisance by swarming or visiting your neighbor’s koi pond or pool for water.
Can I keep bees on a rooftop?
Rooftop beekeeping may be your best option in dense urban locations. Consider the same issues you would for any other location.
A rooftop is almost certainly going to require that you provide a source of water. And if we’re talking an apartment building make sure you have permission and maybe even some security to keep others out of your apiary. It’s not just a question of safeguarding your property but avoiding danger to others.