As a beginning beekeeper, the location of your bee hive is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Bee hive placement depends on many factors for a healthy, happy colony. When choosing the location of your hives, consider space, the proximity of neighbors, and available sun, shade, windbreak, and water. The following requirements will help you determine the best location for setting up an apiary.
A bee’s flight path is a straight line from the hive entrance out into the world. The ideal bee hive location can vary from house to house and yard to yard. When deciding where to set up your apiary, look for an area that provides a clearance of 10 to 15 feet directly in front of your bee hives. This gives your bees a clear flight path as they come and go.
Avoid pointing your hives in the direction of a neighbor’s yard, street traffic, the entrance to your home, or even a doghouse — unless you have a hedgerow or fence to steer the bees higher into the air as they take off and land. Such a barrier also helps ensure the bees’ flight path goes up and over the heads of anyone in or near the bee yard.
The best place to put a bee hive is in an area that’s easy for you to access. Place hives too far away from the house and you’ll have a long walk to check on them each day. A nearby apiary means you can observe your bees while you spend time in the backyard — and less distance to trek when you inevitably forget a hive tool and have to go back to get it!
No matter what you choose, always allow enough space to work without feeling crowded. If you place your bee hives close to a house or outbuilding, allow two to three feet of open area surrounding each hive (and between hives, if you have multiple). This provides space to move around them in all directions while working with your bees. For garden locations, ensure you have room to move, as well as space to easily place tools and hive pieces as you work — which means clear space without plants or outdoor garden décor.
Moving bee hives is possible, but can be tricky to do. Foraging worker bees will learn their hive location, and will try to return to it even if the hive is moved elsewhere. Therefore, it’s best to select an apiary location and then stick with it. If a hive absolutely must be moved, you should plan to either move it only a couple of feet per day to its new location, or else move it multiple miles away for a few weeks before it moves to its final location. To avoid the future hassle of moving your hives around, make sure you’ve chosen a good hive location from the get-go.
When hives in the Northern Hemisphere face south or southeast, the early morning sun helps warm the hive which lets bees start foraging earlier in the day. Afternoon shade can keep the hives from getting too hot in very warm climates. When choosing a hive location in your backyard, consider your local climate. Hives in a warm climate need fewer hours of sun exposure during the day, while hives in cooler climates can use more sun to stay warm.
However, try to avoid extremes in both sun and shade. Keep your apiary out of daylong direct sunlight — it can overheat hives and make bees aggressive. Likewise, don’t set up bee hives in the woods where the deep shade, dampness, and lack of warming sun can make bees lethargic and prevent the hive from thriving.
Urban beekeeping has become more popular in recent years. If you live in a city or residential area, ensure that it’s legal to keep bees at your home or apartment. Then pick a location for your bee hives that follows the same guidelines as a rural apiary. If you lack space on the ground around your home, rooftop beekeeping may be an option. If you can’t find the right placement at your home, see if local community gardens offer space for beekeepers to set up hives.
In the country or the city, resourceful honey bees will find a way to acquire what they need. When it comes to picking the ideal spot to place your bee hives, follow these basic guidelines — and if your property doesn’t include these conditions naturally, get creative!
The most important factors to consider for backyard bee hive placement are sun, shade, water, windbreak, flight paths, and easy access. Overall, the best location for your bee hives is the place where they have everything they need to thrive. Ready for more beekeeping knowledge? Attend a beekeeping class or workshop to learn more about bee hive management.