Location, Location, Location: Where To Place Honeybee Hives

For your bees to thrive, the first order of business is to find them a happy home.

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
PHOTO: Kristina Mercedes Urquhart

Beekeeping real estate is not all that different from human real estate: Location is everything. Weather is a large factor in a colony’s success, and the placement of an individual hive (and an apiary as a whole) can spell disaster or success, frustration or ease, for both bees and beekeeper alike.

1. Legality

First and foremost, make sure it’s legal to keep bees in your municipality. Check codes to see if bees must be placed a certain number of feet from certain structures or neighboring homes, and if there are any other restrictions, such as the placement of beehives on rooftops.

2. Easy Access & View

When I first started keeping bees, my beekeeping mentor told me to place my apiary where I could see the hives from my home. What incredible advice this was! In our first home keeping bees, I could see them from my kitchen window (arguably, the window I looked out from most often). From my vantage point, I could determine if the hive was awake for the day, if it was still upright (we have very active black bears in our region, so this is my worst beekeeping fear!); if the hive was still covered in snow in winter; and so much more. I could even see the activity on a given day. It also simply reminded me not to forget about the bees—that they were in my charge and I had responsibilities to them throughout the year.

3. South Facing With Early Morning Sun

Honeybees are sun lovers, and they rise with the morning sun. The sun is more than warmth and life for them—they orient themselves to their location, location of forage sources, time of day, weather, and time of year based on the position of the sun. In an ideal apiary, the hives are south facing with early morning light hitting the entrance.

4. Dry

Dampness, particularly in winter, can have disastrous consequences for a honeybee hive. Place the hive in an area where it does not stay damp and soggy. With good sun exposure and placed out of flood zones, your bees will have a better chance of staying dry, and thus, thriving.

5. Low Wind Factor

Summer breezes are usually not much for concern, but winter winds can whip their way through and around a hive, causing unnecessary chill, or, in extreme cases, may knock a hive over exposing the vulnerable winter cluster inside to freezing temperatures. If a high wind location is your only option, give your bees a buffer by creating a wind barrier; either a low fence, a hay bale wall or a hedge of sturdy bushes.

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Moving Existing Hives

Take a look at your existing apiary. Is currently residing in less than ideal conditions? Not to worry. Fortunately, a modest hive is much easier to move than, say, a four-bedroom, two-bath, two-story (human) home, so if you don’t get it right the first time, you’ll have other chances. When moving honeybee hives, make sure you have the proper equipment: straps, hardware cloth or entrance reducers (to keep the bees in the hive), dollies or hive movers, and at least one other set of hands if not more. The general rule of thumb is to either move a hive just a few feet from its original location or at least one mile away to ensure that the bees are able to reorient themselves to the new location.

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