Where Should I Put My Hives?

A lot of our customers ask for advice on where to put their bees. You can have a home apiary, if you have the space, or an out apiary. There are many considerations when deciding where to site your bees. Once you have your colony up and let them fly you cannot just easily move them to another location because once let out to fly your bees will immediately start their orientation flights. On these flights they map out the area of where their home is so when they are on their way back from foraging they pick up their return flight path and head right back to their front door. If, for example, you move the hive across the other side of your garden or field, because you realise you have put them in the wrong place, your flying bees will head out on their foraging flights and on their return they will pick up their old flight path and fly right back to where the hive was and not to where the hive now is!

There are many other important considerations to take into account so I have set out below good advice to follow when deciding where you will set up your apiary.

  1. The first and most important thing to decide is “Home Apiary” or “Out Apiary”. Having your bees close to home seems ideal but you must be sure your home garden is big enough. Don’t locate your hives where people have to walk close to them. Consider your neighbours if you are going to have a home apiary. Some neighbours will be excited about having bees next door, not to mention receiving the odd jar of honey from you and perhaps a chance to look in your hives, but some will be scared about the prospect of being stung and they may be concerned about the safety of their children/grandchildren. You also need to consider that no matter how friendly your bees are now there will be a time, despite best efforts with breed, when they are not so keen for you to open up their home and they may attack anyone close by during and after an inspection. In this situation you may need to move the bees to a location over 3 miles away until you can re-queen them.
  2. The above advice applies to public spaces too. Bees should not be located near footpaths, a good rule of thumb is 15 meters or more away and ideally separated by a fence or wall. Its worth noting that hives do get stolen or vandalised so I always suggest they are out of public view.
  3. If you decide on an “Out Apiary” then it should go without saying that you need permission to use the land if you don’t own it. You also need easy access with your vehicle. Supers full of honey are heavy so ideally you don’t want to have to carry them over long distances.
  4. Forage is something that often gets overlooked. Honeybees need to be able to forage on nectar flowing plants, not all plants yield nectar. They will not survive in the middle of desert for example! Do check out what forage is around for your bees and also check out who else has bees in that area. If there are already a lot of hives in the area that you are considering putting your hives, make sure there is enough forage to support more bees being put there.
  5. Consider livestock when deciding where you locate your colonies. Sheep don’t tend to interfere with bees too much but cattle can topple hives over so some sort of fencing or barrier would be needed. Bees and horses is a definate no no. The general rule of thumb with horses is one full field away for the bees.
  6. Arrangement of hives. Drifting can be an issue if you are siting a lot of colonies on one site. There is no rule for how you arrange your colonies but by staggering them or arranging them with entrances in different directions it will help with drifting . If you arrange them in one long line with just a foot between them, you may find that the colonies at one end seem bigger and are doing better. This will be down to drifting, and if you were unlucky enough that the drifting bees are carrying a disease, there is a high chance that they will spread it!
  7. Water is something to take into consideration. Your bees will find water but ensuring there is some sort of water source near by will help.
  8. Ideally our bees need the early morning sun and then shade in the heat of the day. This is not always possible and your bees most likely will survive no matter where you locate them but they may struggle a little and not do as well as they could. Avoid areas that are damp or in shade all day. Next to streams or rivers is not a good idea especially if they are prone to flooding. Protection from the wind should be taken into consideration, if this cannot be avoided make sure you site the entrance away from the direction of the wind. If your location is very exposed you may want to consider strapping your hives down or using a weight on them so ensure the roof is not blown off.

Below are some examples of apiary sites. All of these are good examples however I would mention that you do need to keep the weeds down from the entrances; last picture on top row. The last picture shows how they have used fencing to protect from livestock.

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