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Lesson 3: Choosing Your Hive’s Location
The location in which you place your bees will have a huge impact in how successful they are and how much honey they produce. However for most beekeepers it is more about making your location the best it can be as most of us don’t have our pick of land to place our bees on. This lesson will detail the recommendations for hive placement and conditions, however it is important to note that beekeepers successfully keep bees in a wide range of conditions.
1.) First Things First
First you should check with your city, county, and state to see if they have any restrictions on the number or locations of bee hives. A good resource for this information may be fellow beekeepers at your local beekeepers association. You should also assess your proximity to neighbors when deciding on a location for your hives. Bees love to get in neighbors pools, birdbaths, summer BBQs and it is important to be a kind neighbor and keep them in mind when placing your hives.
2.) Where to Keep Bees
Many beekeepers successfully keep bees right in their backyards, even when living in the city. It is important to be considerate of neighbors when keeping bees in small yards and one way to do so is to direct bees in the safest flight path. Bees will come and go from the front of the hive , therefore keeping the hive facing the direction you want most of the bees to fly will keep the congested coming and going in that direction. Bees can also be guided to fly upward by placing fencing, trees, or bushings in front of the hive. They will elevate as the fly out of the hive sending them up and out of the way rather than staying closer to the ground where you and your neighbors may be more nuisance by them.
Bees In the Country
If you live in town and can’t keep your bees in your backyard finding a place in the country may not be as hard as you might think. If you ask around you may find a friend or family member with some land in the country willing to let you keep bees on their land for a little “honey rent.” If you live in the country neighbors and space are not likely going to be your main issues when choosing a location, however you may have to consider how agricultural practices in your area will affect your bees.
3.) Ideal Conditions
Sun or Shade
Like many things in beekeeping there is much debate about how much sun hives should receive. In the wild bees will search for a home in a tree on the edge of a wooded area which would be partial to mostly shaded. Many agree that dappled or partial shade is best for bees. If this is not possible placing bees where they get full morning sun but afternoon shade is also good as the sun wakes the bees up and gets them active and the evening shade helps keep the hive cooler so that the bees do not have to expend as much energy cooling the hive. Full shade is believed by many to lead to hives being more damp and certain pests (Small Hive Beetle) seem to thrive more in the shade.
Bees need water and will find it one way or another. If you have a natural water source near by this is great, otherwise it is important to provide one. One of the best steps to keeping neighbors happy if keeping bees in town is to provide your bees with a consistent water source. This will keep your bees from constantly drinking from your neighbors birdbaths, pools, and dog dishes.
As mentioned earlier the direction the hive is facing will be the direction of the most bee traffic and this should be considered when keeping hives around neighbors. If possible facing hives to the southeast will allow then to get the best morning sun and help get the hive active in the morning.
When choosing a location for your hives keep in mind that someday you will have a heavy honey crop to harvest. Your hives should be accessible by vehicle or at least a wheel barrow or cart of some sort to haul your full honey supers home.
Sheltering your hives from the prevailing winds is important especially in areas with cold winter winds.
Moisture is bad for bees so it is important to have an area with good drainage to avoid to much moister building up in your hives. It is also important to make sure your hives are not in an area that can flood. It is a devastating day for a beekeeper when they discover their hives have been washed away.
While it might not be possible to avoid areas with acres and acres of row crops these agricultural areas do not offer the best environment for honey bees to flourish. One reason is that these crops often do not offer the bees the nectar and pollen that grassy tree filled country side offers. Additionally being too close to these crop lands can put you at risk of losses due to pesticide use. While many studies have shown varying results it is feared that pesticide use in agriculture is one of the factors leading to high bee losses.
Hives should be up off the ground. This will reduce the amount of bugs that get into the hives, make it easier to keep weeds out from underneath, and make it easier to work your hive. If you intend to have multiple hives it is easier to make a single hive stand with enough space for several hives. As long as the hives have enough space for you to grab the handles and remove hive bodies as needed they are spaced far enough apart. It is very important to get your hives level from right to left to ensure comb is drawn straight down your frames not from one frame into the other as could happen if they are not level. Many people choose to have there hives slightly tipped forward so no water builds up inside the hive. Hive stands must be strong as your hives can weigh several hundred pounds each when full of honey!
Various animals can threaten bees but none pose as big of a threat as bear. If you live in an area with bear you must protect your hives from these curious and destructive creatures. Electric fences are often used, but this again is a good question to pose at your local beekeepers association meeting.
The reality is few of us have the perfect location that will meet all of these recommendations. The important thing is to control what you can and then go with what you have. It is better to keep bees in a less than perfect location than to not keep bees at all.