If you want to start beekeeping, you need to put your hives somewhere. There are a number of things to keep in mind when chosing that spot, and several ways to go about it. In this article, which is part of an ongoing series, I want to go into the options you have when it comes to bee hive placement. There are several factors that play into each other, so let me try to break it down for you.
Minimum System Requirements
While storage space and room to harvest honey are things to consider (and we will, later), there are some bare minimums that you cannot avoid when trying to keep bees. If you cannot meet these requirements, you need to find another spot for your bee hive placement to pursue this hobby.
The first one if the size of the hive boxes themselves. This may vary depending on the system you use, but they are all pretty close to each other in size. The one I am using, called “Zander” or “Standard Beehive”, has an outside footprint of roughly 52 cm by 42 cm (or 20 1/2″ by 16 1/2″). A single box with bottom and lid stands 38 cm or 15″ tall. The bees need a board to land on and lift off of, which adds another 10 cm or 4″ to the length of the construction.
In addition to that, the bees want the space in front of their hives clear and open for an enjoyable landing experience. They will perceive people standing too close to the flight hole as threats as well. A couple of meters should do, and if need be, you can use a hedge or wall in that distance to guide the bees upward.
Last but not least, you want to be able to access the colony. While it may sound easy a single boxes and plain foundation frames in mind, it will get a lot harder when the colony grows. requiring additional boxes and harvesting honey to make each comb weigh a couple of kilos. You want to place the hive low so that you can look down into the hive while standing next to it. You do not want to have to lift the heavy honey box up too high, either.
Minimalistic example: the Balcony
To give you an idea about what is possible, here is one hive that I have put on our balcony this year (due to lack of room in the beehouse). The banister has forced me to place this hive higher than I would like so that checking on it gets tricky with the second box already.
With or without Roof
In general, there are two ways to keep a hive. One is out in the open, the other is in a dedicated bee house. Both methods work, and there is no reason why one should be superior to the other in terms of the end result. Personally, I prefer working in a bee house, and I think if you can manage that, you should. I started learning about beekeeping in a beehouse, but I also had a freestanding hive as part of a training course for one season.
Free Standing Hives
This placement method requires almost no investment beyond the hive boxes and tools. You take your colony and place it on a pallet somewhere on a meadow. The pallet might need to be placed on a couple of rocks or cinderblocks to elevate it off the groundslightly, and you should add a metal roof to put over the hive lid so it will last longer despite the rain.
Free standing hives are easy to set up. There are literally no regulations (that I am aware of) regarding them, as long as you do not block public ways or put them next to them so passer-bys need to go through the danger zone. With this method you are also very flexible in terms of exact bee hive placement and the number of hives you can put down. Essentially, this is the way to go when you are not sure yet whether beekeeping is your thing.
On the other hand, free standing placement exposes hives to the elements, thus potentially limiting your access to them. Granted, there might not be many instances where you need to check on your hives while it is raining, but it can be helpful to be able to do some work arround them, or harvest honey if you are set up for it.
In short, with freestanding hives you do not get the advantages of a beehouse listed below, but this variant comes you much cheaper. And speaking of exposure to the elements, keep in mind that vandalism and theft can be among those elements, too. There is little you can do to protect free standing hives against those, but in my experience they are rare.
The alternative to free standing hives is setting up a beehouse, which is a (semi) permanent structure housing your hive boxes. Construction trailers are a common way to build a beehouse, but small sheds will work just as well. You need openings on one side to put the hives against, which will limit the number of hives you can place.
Most likely, you are going to need a permit to build or set up such a structure, as well as a piece of land to put it on. Make sure to check your local laws and regulations to be on the safe side. There might be special permissions granted to beekeepers in order to “set up shop” since bees need all the help they can get as integral part of agricultur and the environment.
A beehouse offers storage space for all your equipment as well as the empty hive boxes you might need during the summer months. You can also keep spare foundations and combs on hand. And depending on how much room you have and whether you can set up a proper room for it, you can even do honey harvest right on site.
Building your own structure can be expensive. But there might be abandoned beehouses near you that you can use. And there are some cheap(er) solutions like off-the-shelf sheds or construction trailers. My current set-up consists of an old beehouse that a friend helped move from the next village over, and a wooden garage structure that, while not the most sturdy thing, is a good base to expand upon if you are handy.
And to cover all the bases, you do not need utilities for a beehouse. While you could certainly make use of electricity and running water, you do not need them and the cost attached to getting them into the beehouse. If you can get them, great. If not, do not worry about it. Beekeeping works very well “off the grid”.
Orientation & Access
Bees have few demands regarding bee hive placement, although there are some things you can do to stack things in their favor. For starters, there should be enough open space in front of the flight hole. A couple of meters is the bare minimum. A whole meadow would be preferable. And the more open sky there is, the better.
The hive’s opening should be facing south and get as much sun as possible. The bees are capable of regulating the temperature inside the boxes, but they cannot fly while it is too cold. So a south-facing hive will be advantageous to get things started in spring, and give them a little more time to get ready for winter in the fall.
Another consideration is your ability to get to the hives. Having the perfect location is not worth much if you need to hike two hours through difficult terrain to get there. Keep in mind that at some point, you will have to carry heavy boxes to and from your location. Either when getting new bee hives from elsewhere or when getting honey boxes or buckets full of harvested honey to your home or, by proxy, your car. Being able to drive up to your hives would be optimal. Getting close and carry things or using some kind of cart works as well.
To Harvest, or not to Harvest
The heading is misleading. Yes, you should harvest honey. It is a great benefit of keeping bees, in addition to pollination and inner peace. There are also some reasons why harvesting honey can be beneficial to the bees, but mor on that another time. What I want to talk about is whether you want to harvest on site or not.
The thing about honey harvesting is that bees love it. You need a separate room, so the whole thing is mute when you are going for free-standing hives – unless you can manage a small shed for storage and harvesting.
To give you an idea about the process – I will go into it in more detail in a later post – you need a room that you can close reasonably well that bees to not get into. You also need to be able to clean it properly. Also important are a work surface to open up the combs, and space for a honey extractor. And last but not least, you need room for the boxes with the full and empty combs.
Frankly, you can do it at home in your kitchen. Hygiene is an important concern, but it is possible to harvest good honey without industrial grade facilities. Personally, I take the full combs home and do the harvesting there. Just make sure you comply with local laws and regulations if you want to sell your honey.
More questions regarding Bee Hive Placement?
As with beekeeping in general, bee hive placement is a multi-layered issue. As a rule, if you talk to four beekeepers you will get five opinions. I hope I could give you an idea about what you need to consider. But if you have more questions on the subject, feel free to ask!
And as always, remember to Be(e) Inspired!