You’ve painted your hive and ordered your bees. You are eager to get started with your new hobby, but you still haven’t decided where to put your hive. Should it go near the house? Next to the fence? Behind the garage?
The best hive placement will be a compromise based on the needs of the bees, the beekeeper, and the public. Of the three entities, the bees are the most flexible. The public, including your immediate neighbors and passersby, are the hardest to please, and you—the beekeeper—fall somewhere in between.
First, let’s look at the bees. You can find many rules and suggestions for the best hive placement and most of them make good sense. Most sources will tell you that your hive should:
Face southeast or east
Have direct morning sun and light afternoon shade
Be protected from high winds
Should sit on level, firm, dry ground
Should have a nearby water source
When followed, most of these suggestions will increase the productivity of your hive. For example, east-facing bees start to work earlier in the day, which increases the number of hours they can forage. Afternoon shade keeps the colony cooler so it needs to do less fanning. But in most cases, breaking a placement rule won’t jeopardize your colony.
Honey bees are extremely adaptable and can handle many situations. Because I live in the forest, my bees have morning shade, an hour of mid-day sun, and then deep afternoon shade. In spite of that, my bees thrive year after year and produce loads of honey.
Often new beekeepers don’t consider themselves when deciding on hive placement, but it turns out that we humans are less adaptable than the bees. For examples of bad hive placement, I need only recall things I’ve done in the past.
More than once I have put hives against a building. In each case I decided the building would provide some rain and wind protection, but completely forgot how nice it is to approach the hive from the rear. Not only is it difficult to work from the side, but you can’t slide Varroa drawers or pollen trays in and out the back.
After carefully digging out a flat spot, I have often put hives on a hill. But if the bees face the uphill slope (putting me on the downhill side) the hive quickly becomes too tall for me to work comfortably. Working a hive that’s over your head is no fun.
It’s also nice to be able to drive fairly close to your hives. Carrying an empty hive across a field is nothing, but when it’s full of honey, it can be a backbreaking chore.
If you put a hive too near a door, you may not be able to use that door in summer without letting bees into your house.
If you put the bees too near a sandbox or swing set, your kids may not use it.
If the hive is too near the lawn furniture or picnic table, you may find them covered in droppings.
If you are close to public places, there are obvious rules to follow:
Hives should be kept away from sidewalks, crosswalks, playgrounds, trails, parking lots, schools, businesses, and parks. Not only is a poorly placed hive inconsiderate, but it could lead to the wrong end of a lawsuit.
Hives should not be kept in areas where it is prohibited by CCRs or city ordinances.
When it comes to immediate neighbors, beekeepers fall into two groups, those who tell and those who don’t. Each philosophy has its pros and cons, but the method you choose will have a lot to do with your individual property.
If there is no way to hide the hive, you may as well tell them in advance because neighbors are inherently curious and will soon figure it out. If you are thinking about putting your bees next to a property line, check the set-back requirements for your area.
The hives may have to be five feet from the line or ten. In a situation like that, ask your neighbor if it’s okay. Even though you may have the right to put your hive six feet from his veggie garden, it’s best not to be rude about it. By conferring beforehand, you are more likely to get lasting cooperation. And be sure to give honey as a thank-you gift.
If you can hide your hives easily, you may want to remain silent. Once bees are away from their hive, they disperse quickly and disappear into the environment. Several beekeepers have told me it wasn’t their bees that got noticed by neighbors, but their bee suit.
So if you paint your hives to match the foliage and wear a dark or camouflage bee suit, you may never get noticed by the neighbors. To me, that is the ideal situation.