Before spending a lot of money on honey bees and beekeeping equipment, make sure you have a suitable location to put your beehives.
- Facing east or southeast (northeast if in the southern hemisphere)
- Partially shaded for the afternoon sun in summer
- Easily accessible with adequate room to inspect and work on the hive
- Near sources of fresh water, nectar, and pollen
- On a stand to keep it off the ground and dry
- In a location with good airflow and water drainage
- Level from side to side
- Protected by a windbreak from prevailing winter winds
- In compliance with local regulations, if any
- Shielded from neighbors’ view
- Protected from predators
However, “ideal” locations can be hard to come by, particularly in urban areas. The importance of any of these criteria will depend on your circumstances.
For example, if you have a homeowner’s association where you live, rules and regulations may be the overriding factors in where to place a beehive.
This article discusses general considerations about where to keep bees and beehive locations in detail.
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How Much Space Do You Need For Beekeeping?
Space For Beehives
You do not need much acreage for a beehive, despite some claims that we have seen recommending anywhere from 1 to 5 acres minimum per beehive. The required space for a beehive is relatively small, but the area bees forage is rather large.
Allowing for room to work around the hive, an area of approximately 8’ x 8’ (2.4m x 2.4m) is more than adequate for one or two beehives.
While access to food sources is essential, those sources do not need to be on your property.
Honey bees may travel 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) or more, foraging over as much as 50 square miles. (far beyond the immediate vicinity of the apiary). However, providing additional water nearby is beneficial at times of drought or high heat.
Local Regulation Considerations
The amount of space you need and where you place a beehive may depend on beekeeping rules and regulations in your locality, especially in urban and suburban areas where neighbors are nearby.
Be sure to check your state and local regulations. A local beekeeping association can be helpful or check the Apiary Inspectors of America links to individual state information.
Local ordinances may:
- Limit the number of beehives;
- Specify a minimum lot size for beekeeping activity;
- Require barriers that force bees to elevate their flight pattern to avoid people;
- Require that apiaries are secured against intrusion; or,
- Include setbacks from the property lines or rights-of-way.
Note: See Beekeeping in the City of San Diego for an example of these restrictions.
In addition to location restrictions on where to place a beehive, you need to register your beehives in some jurisdictions, such as New York City.
Pedestrian Traffic Patterns
When keeping bees in relatively small spaces, pay attention to the traffic patterns around your property.
Situate hives such that the bees are not a nuisance to your family or guests (and vice versa). Do not face entrances where people may be passing close by.
Storage Space For Equipment
Your use of hive components and equipment will vary over a year.
For example, on a Langstroth hive, you will add honey supers during the peak honey season. Once you harvest honey, remove supers (along with the frames) for the winter and store them until needed again.
It is best to keep unused equipment out of the elements. Some localities, such as Denver, prohibit outdoor storage of beekeeping equipment not in use.
If you rent your home, 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.
Placing Beehives In An Outyard
Hopefully, you have a suitable beehive location on your property where it is easy to monitor and manage your colonies.
If you cannot keep bees on your property, consider finding an “outyard” (i.e., someone else’s property). Beekeepers with a lot of hives or limited space often utilize outyards.
In urban areas, outyards such as rooftops and community gardens may be your only option for beekeeping.
Keep in mind that having your bees off your property makes regular inspections more arduous and time-consuming. 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).
What Direction Should Beehives Face?
The best direction to face a beehive is east or southeast (northeast in the southern hemisphere). With an easterly orientation, the sun will hit the hive entrance early in the morning, warm the colony and get the bees out foraging. While this orientation is generally considered preferable, it is not essential.
The slope of the land, pedestrian traffic patterns, neighbor’s yards, or other issues may dictate a different orientation to the sun.
As mentioned above, do not face beehives toward regular pedestrian traffic routes, even if that means not facing east/southeast.
Honey bees will adapt.
Place Beehives Near Fresh Water, Nectar, and Pollen Sources
Water, nectar, and pollen are the building blocks of the honey bee diet. From those ingredients, bees make their primary foods: honey, beebread, and royal jelly.
When it comes to the proximity of food sources for honey bees, “near” is a relative term.
Your bees may frequent pollen and nectar sources near the hive. However, they will travel 2.5 miles (4.0km) or more to forage.
See our article What Do Honey Bees Eat? for more information.
If you have a garden or field that provides nearby trees and flowers for the bees, that is great. Our bees take advantage of wildflower and vegetable gardens in addition to flying off in the distance above the trees.
If natural water sources are limited (as in urban areas or during drought), you can establish watering stations to help your bees out.
Bees cannot swim, so watering setups should be shallow or provide a safe landing area for the bees to avoid drowning. You can find more information about setting up watering locations in our article about nectar dearth.
Providing water for your bees also makes it less likely that they will visit a neighbor’s pool and create friction on that front.
Use A Hive Stand
Place beehives on a stand to keep them off the damp ground, make them less accessible to small predators (like raccoons and skunks), provide a stable base, and reduce how far you need to bend over to inspect and lift hives. In colder climates, hives on stands are less likely to be buried in winter snow.
Some beekeepers put their hives on something as simple as a wooden pallet (usually gotten for free). However, a pallet is low to the ground, will not protect hives from small critters, and will not help your back.
Note: Raccoons and skunks may harass and eat your bees at night. If uninterrupted, they may eventually cause the bees to abscond. Raising the hive makes access more difficult.
We keep our stands at about 18 inches high. We do not have to bend over too far to maneuver the boxes. In our area, winter snows up to 2 feet are not uncommon. A stand height of 18 inches keeps hives from getting buried.
Do not set beehives much higher than 18 inches. Even at 18 inches, honey supers may get stacked to an uncomfortable height for you to manage when a colony is particularly productive.
In this video, you can see how I had to step on cinder blocks to maneuver upper honey supers on year:
A simple hive stand can consist simply of concrete blocks.
Pressure-treated posts spanning between concrete blocks can support several hives.
You can also build stands using wood or even metal poles. For DIY stand ideas, check out Google images and find something that works for you.
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, some red stain, and screws…voila! Hive stand!
You can, of course, buy specialty hive stands that work fine and may be more attractive to your eye. However, purchasing hive stands can be is more expensive than DIY options, especially as you grow your apiary.
Note: If you add multiple hives, try not to 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.
Set Beehives Level Side-To-Side
Setting a beehive level from side to side helps keep the bees building comb along a straight line. Otherwise, bees may build “cross comb” connecting frames which is a mess to fix. However, tilt a hive slightly forward to keep out rain and drain moisture.
A forward tilt can be especially helpful in winter if condensation forms in the hive as the bees work to keep warm.
Put Hives In An Easily Accessible Location
Place beehives in an easily accessible location to facilitate regular inspections, changing equipment, and honey harvesting. Leave enough room to maneuver around the hive and move boxes. Give yourself space to step back or retreat if you need a break, or the bees are overly defensive.
When assessing where to put your beehive, remember that you will be transporting heavy equipment and honey to and from your apiary.
Provide Hives Shade For Summer/Windbreak For Winter
Beehives should not be in full shade. However, it is good for the bees to get some relief in the heat of summer with some partial shade or dappled sunlight. The hotter your summer, the more critical it is to provide some afternoon shade.
Cold winter winds force the bees to expend more energy to maintain the temperature of their hive. Some shrubs, trees, or fencing can provide an excellent windbreak for your colony. In winter, wrapping the hive with tar paper or insulation will stop cold air from penetrating any openings.
Shield Hives From Neighbors’ View
Just because you have taken up beekeeping does not mean your neighbors want to be treated to the sight of your bee yard or have bees flying directly at them.
Screening your hives from view has the added benefit of forcing the bees into a higher flight pattern over the heads of neighbors and passersby.
Monitor your bees to minimize the chance they become a nuisance by swarming or visiting a neighbor’s koi pond or a pool for water.
Have Good Airflow and Water Drainage
Good airflow helps ventilate the hive, and water drainage will keep it from becoming too damp. Proper ventilation without excessive moisture keeps the bees healthier and helps them process honey easier.
It is also easier for you to work the hives in well-drained land than a muddy bog. Dryer ground provides a more stable base for the hive.
Protect Hives From Predators
Earlier, I discussed using a hive stand to deter small mammals (skunks and raccoons) from disturbing your hives. If you live in an area with bears, you need more than a hive stand.
Bears will eat honey, brood, and bees. In the process of getting a meal, bears can wreck your apiary.
The best way to protect beehives from bears is with an electric fence. The shock from an electric fence creates a psychological barrier (not a physical barrier) to deter bears.
An electric fence is relatively easy to install. It will cost about $300 or more depending on the size of your apiary, access to electrical outlets, and some fencing choices you make.
Weigh the cost of the electric fence against the cost of losing of potentially losing your bees, your equipment, and your honey.
Learn more! See our article How To Protect Beehives From Bears for details on how an electric fence works and how to set one up.
Other Hive Placement Considerations
What To Place Under Your Beehive
Reducing vegetation under your hives (without herbicides) makes for easier maintenance and can help control pests like small hive beetles and ants.
Beekeepers use a variety of materials as a soil barrier under beehives, such as:
- Landscape fabric
- Mulch or wood chips
- Crushed stone
- Old shingles or rubber roofing
Instead of blocking vegetation completely, you can use a low ground cover such as creeping thyme.
Mowing Around Beehives
You will want to keep vegetation from blocking hive entrances or hindering your access to the bees. Think about mowing space.
Bees do not have ears, but they hear sounds by picking up vibrations with hairs and antennae.
Cutting grass with a mower or weed trimmer creates a noise vibration that may agitate your bees. Their response to noise can vary depending on the colony’s general disposition, weather conditions, and other factors.
You can minimize disturbance to the bees and protect yourself by:
- Mowing early in the day when temperatures are cooler, and bees are less active
- Move quickly, especially in front of the hives and in flight paths
- Blowing cut grass away from hives
- Wearing protective gear in case the bees get agitated
- Consider extending soil barriers several feet beyond the hive’s footprint, so you do not need to get close when trimming.
In my experience, it is hard to predict how the bees will respond. I have had days with a weed trimmer where they completely ignored me. Other days, I got multiple stings through thin work gloves.
How Far Away Should A Beehive Be From Your House?
Place your beehives as far away from a house as practicable for your lot size, zoning rules, and traffic patterns while keeping them accessible for hive management. On a small lot, hives may be as close as 10′ (3m) if not interfering with human activity. On a larger property, up to 200′ (61m) is a reasonable distance.
Generally, placing hives further away from the house is better than closer.
Options are limited in a small backyard. When space is a constraint, your primary considerations should be to work around all sides of the hive and minimize the mutual disturbances between bees and humans.
If space is not an issue, consider how far you want to carry equipment and deal with hives. You will forget to bring something or discover circumstances that require additional equipment. It is nice to be close enough to retrieve what you need.
Ideal locations to place a beehive are not always available.
Take stock of your circumstances and place your beehives in the best location you can to accommodate the bees, yourself, your family, and your neighbors. Comply with local zoning regulations, if any.
This article is part of a series on how to start beekeeping.
Check out the next article about estimating the cost for you to start beekeeping.