This time of year many people are excited about the prospects of starting a new adventure and getting some bees. It is fun to learn about bees and then order the bees and equipment. Anticipation increases as spring draws near. One of the most important decisions to be made regarding bees is hive placement. What is the best location for the bees to thrive and coexist with their surroundings?
Each prospective beekeeper has a unique situation. Bees can be kept in most any environment, from downtown in major cities to neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. They are kept on small farms and in the vast wilderness. They are kept in tropical areas as well as areas of extreme heat or cold. They certainly are adaptable little creatures!
So where is the best place for you to put your bees? This post will not be comprehensive and there is no way I can tell you exactly what to do in your situation, but maybe I can give you some insight that will help you make your decision.
There are many opinions on the ideal setup for a beehive. As with all things in life, opinions will vary. Here are a few things to consider about different types of hive locations.
Many people recommend that hives be placed in full sunlight and some even recommend that they face to the southeast. Why so specific? In theory the hives will catch first sunlight and the bees will start working earlier in the day, thus allowing them to be more productive. That makes sense I guess but if you live in a very hot climate, this may not be the best choice as the bees may become less productive when they have to spend a lot of energy trying to cool the hive. However if your climate is mild or even a little cool, then full sun might be the best choice.
Bees at my mother’s farm in Newton, Alabama. This is where I placed my original two hives.
Bees at Honey Hill Farm. I manage these bees for a friend.
Partial Shade or Mottled Sunlight
Most of my hives are placed in this type of setting and they seem to thrive. The bees in these hives do get some sunlight but it is not as intense as the bees in the full sunlight. Here in the south many believe that hive beetles are more of a problem in the shade. I am not completely convinced of this. I have had issues with hive beetles in all locations, shade or no shade. Some locations are definitely worse than others. I just try to make sure I do what I can to keep those beetle populations down and my bees do fine. Partial shade is probably my favorite place to keep bees, maybe for selfish reasons more than anything else. Here in Alabama it is HOT and HUMID in the summer time and beekeeping can be very physical and hot work. The shade can help provide just a little bit of relief on a summer day, though sweat is just something that must be dealt with if working bees in the south.
Bees near Lake Patti Sue close to Wicksburg, Alabama
Bees in a friend’s backyard in my same neighborhood in Dothan, Alabama
My backyard bees in partial sunlight
Full Shade or Wooded Areas
I do have some bees that are in a mostly shaded area and they do fine though they are not deep in the woods. In nature bees are often found in the woods in tree trunks or hollow limbs and so they can do fine there. I really don’t have any experience with having bees deep in the woods. Access of the beekeeper might be a problem if they are in a thickly wooded area and there could be a risk of more exposure to pests. It might be wise to at least place them near the edge of the woods so they will be accessible.
This hive is also in my backyard in Dothan, Alabama but is exposed to very little sunlight. It is thriving!
Populated Areas (Suburbs and Neighborhoods)
I have several colonies located in my neighborhood in Dothan, Alabama. Just behind the hives is a privacy fence and my house sits across the yard and up a small hill in front of the hives. I am surrounded by neighbors on all four sides of my house, but have had no really significant issues since 2013 when I placed the first bees in my backyard. Honey bees tend to gain altitude very quickly once they leave the hive so with my house in front of the hives and a privacy fence behind, most people don’t even realize there are bees nearby.
I recommend that if you put bees in your yard in a populated area that you avoid placing them near a high traffic area such as a trail, driveway or sidewalk where people and pets are frequently present. Bees are typically not looking for trouble and neither are people when they are outdoors, but things can get ugly in a hurry if you are not careful. Remember that most people are scared of bees, and some are even terrified. Just be careful.
Use common sense and remember to be courteous when placing bees on your property. Before I placed the first hive on my property I asked the neighbors if they would mind. They were supportive and for the most part I think they have enjoyed having the bees around. As a matter of fact my next door neighbor makes sure her fountain and bird bath have water in them because she loves to watch the bees as they fly back and forth and load up on water to take back to the hive.
I am lucky that my neighbors have been so accepting of my bees, but if they had been hesitant or said they would rather me not get bees, I would have not put them on my property. I am fortunate to have many locations where I can put bees, so if an issue ever arises I will move them somewhere else.
My backyard bees.
I am not really familiar with urban beekeeping, but I know it takes place. Bees are kept on rooftops and balconies in the downtown areas of major cities. They are kept at the White House and on the tops of skyscrapers. They are kept in the most wealthy neighborhoods and they are kept in poverty stricken areas. In reality bees can be kept almost anywhere. They are very adaptable and able to survive in a wide variety of situations.
Bees don’t need much, but there are some things that must be available for them to survive. They must have a water source within a mile or two, and there must be flowering plants within 2 to 3 miles. Bees from a single hive have access to thousands of acres in which to forage, so chances are there will be something within their habitat that they can find. If they have good sources of pollen, nectar and water nearby, they stand a good chance of survival.
A Few More Thoughts
Each part of the world has different environmental challenges for honeybees. In the north windbreaks and insulation might be in order to keep hives strong during the winter. In the south there may be more issues with hive beetles and other pests. In other areas heat or lack of water might be a challenge. Bears, skunks and other critters can wreak havoc on a colony of bees.The key is to learn from those who have already experienced success in your area. Find a mentor or a bee club close to where you live. They will help guide you as you begin your adventure.
Don’t forget that you will need to have access to the bees. Bees will survive in steep areas or a ways off the path, but beekeepers need to have reasonably easy access to the hives. It is not easy to lug bee equipment or supers full of honey up and down a steep hill or through rough terrain. Beekeeping is not for sissies. It is hard work if done properly, so don’t make your life any harder than it has to be. Remember the beekeeper as well as the bees when set up your apiary.
You will also need to avoid areas where flooding occurs. No one wants to see their bees drown or float downstream. Of course all disasters cannot be avoided but many problems can be prevented with a little thought and preparation.
In reality, I think the bees are pretty tough. They are wild creatures that have survived for thousands of years. Though certain conditions are ideal, the bees can adapt. Some just have one hive on their property that may be set up in perfect conditions, while others may have hundreds or even thousands of hives that are placed in tough conditions. Commercial beekeepers keep bees on pallets and haul them all over the country to pollinate crops or maximize honey production. Somehow bees survive and even thrive in many different types of situations.
The bottom line is that you need not stress too much over hive location. Whether you put them at the edge of the woods, near a fence line, by the pond, in full sunlight, or even down in the woods, the bees will probably do just fine. Just make sure you are a good neighbor and place your bees in a place where they can do their work unmolested. They will amaze you at what they can do!
I realize that this post did not cover every aspect of hive placement, for each situation is different, but I hope it gave you some things to think about that may help you along the way. Good luck!