Bee-ginner Beekeeper Series: Choose the Best Hive Location

Swarming bees send scouts to determine the best location for their new home. For the bees we keep in boxes, we must do this for them. Here are the basics.

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
PHOTO: chris/Flickr

Honeybees are sticklers for being clean and tidy. The inside of a hive is expertly planned and meticulously executed, and it always smells divine. If anything is ever out of place, house bees quickly work to remove it. If honeycomb is damaged, architect bees are on the job repairing it. Foreign objects are removed with haste, and the aroma within the hive should always be one of sweet, warm honey.

But are honeybees just as particular about the location of their home?

The short answer is: Yes!

In the swarming process, which is the natural propagation method for honeybees, scout bees from the swarm spend hours, sometimes days, searching for the perfect location for the new hive. The same goes for our domesticated bees and those we keep in a box. But these bees don’t get to choose, so they either adapt to the location we’ve chosen for them or, in extreme cases, they abscond.

As beekeepers, we must anticipate their needs by knowing as much about them and their habits as possible. This is important down to the very last detail (as honeybees are nothing if not detail oriented), including, and especially, the hive’s location.

Honeybees prefer south-facing homes, where the warmth of the rising sun can shine into the entrance of the hive and wake up the bees each morning. This is important because honeybees use the sun to navigate in the world; they fly out of the hive, orient to the placement of the sun, and remember that location as they fly back and forth from the hive on foraging trips. They account for the movement of the sun throughout the day, and they do this even in overcast weather.

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A dry hive is a happy hive, so the placement of a hive away from chronic soggy and wet conditions is imperative to the colony’s survival and success. Place your honeybees’ hive in a location that has a windbreak in the winter, and place it on a stand off the ground. This little bit of extra height keeps moisture to a minimum, saves your woodenware and prolongs its life—not to mention it will do just about the same thing for your back.

If you can meet all these requirements and still have flexibility in the placement of your hive, locate it in such a way that you can see it from your home. Keeping a daily visual on your hive or hives is a good reminder to tend to your bees, and of course, to see whether anything is amiss with your hive as soon as possible. If something goes wrong—such as a predator attack, or the hive is knocked over—time is of the essence in saving your bees. If you wait until your weekly or bi-weekly inspection, it might be too late.

Finally, use common sense when placing your hive and adhere to any and all requirements of your local regulations, or the rules of your HOA, if applicable. Some regulations require hives to be a minimum distance from human dwellings, for example. Be sure to read all of your city’s rules and regulations before getting bees as they relate to hive placement and other issues.

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