Trying to decide where I should put my beehive wasn’t easy. It took months of discussion with my husband and then some heavy machinery was involved in clearing a spot. Hopefully you don’t need to go that far. Here are some more things to consider when trying to figure out where you’re gonna put those bees!
Where do I put my beehives: access
An ideal bee yard allows access with a vehicle so you can drive in and feed bees with (heavy) syrup, harvest (heavy) honey and move (heavy) hives. It’s best if you can turn your vehicle around, have year round access even in the snow, and park the vehicle at or below the level of the supers to help save your back.
If bears are seen in the area of your proposed bee yard, you will need to install a bear fence first. This really is the topic of a whole blog post of its own, but know that bears are attracted to tasty brood/protein – Winnie the Pooh taught us all a little wrong! They easily destroy hives and will eat some honey while they’re there. Strapping hives probably won’t prevent much bear damage. You really need a electric fence if you are in bear country. And you need to install it BEFORE you get bees. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog that some beekeepers I met got a visit from a bear 3 DAYS after they installed their packages! And once bears get a taste of our sweet bees, they can be relentless. Install a bear fence before you get those bees. Here is a lecture I used to plan my bear fence, a brochure I used to determine the fence spacing, and I bought this charger. Hope that helps get you started.
This is something you may or may not have much control over if you’re putting a few hives in your backyard. But if you are out and about looking for an outyard, you have more options. Ideally your bees are surrounded by a variety of wildflowers, trees and shrubs that provide nectar and pollen for honey bees, all blooming in sequence through the entire growing season (imagine you hear sweet little birds chirping as you read this!). Ideally, there are no lawns, gardens or crops being treated with insecticides or fungicides in the area. Since bees commonly fly 3 miles to forage, we are talking about a 28 square mile area. And they can fly up to 8 miles if needed, so up to 220 square miles. So you can’t control your bees’ entire foraging area. But, you can plant large “clumps” or areas of bee forage. These could be ornamental flowers (purchase untreated or pesticide free plants or seeds), bee seed mixes, low growing ground covers like creeping thyme, berry plants, vegetables and/or just let your untreated weeds grow. Neighbors can be encouraged to join in and delay mowing areas of lawn they don’t use frequently until the dandelions and/or other weeds are finished blooming. Other good forages to consider include sweet clover or alfalfa grown for seed (cut after the bloom so bees can feed), buckwheat, sweet clover, organic fruit trees, tulip poplars, black locust trees (intermittently produce a good nectar yield), maple trees, honeysuckles, basswoods and many others. The limiting factor to any bee yard is how much forage is available when things are low. So start with a few hives and slowly grow in a location. If you have large hives losing a lot of weight fast during a dearth or the weakest hives are having trouble surviving, you will need to reduce the number of hives in that location.
Hive spacing & individualizing hives
As previously mentioned, make sure you leave room BEHIND your hive to work it. You don’t want to be standing in front, meanwhile all the returning foragers are backing up in mid-air waiting for you to get out of the way so they can get back in the entrance. You also don’t want to be working on one hive and the others feel every vibration and jolt. If you want multiple hives on a stand, consider limiting them to 2 hives per stand with at least 6-8 inches between hives. It can be convenient to leave enough space for a third hive to fit between the two and then when you remove a hive body, you can just sit it between the hives on the stand and save your back from bending all the way to the ground, although we are back to the other hive feeling jolts. Pairs would be best separated by 5-8 feet. It’s recommended to avoid keeping hives all in a straight row. Foraging bees tend to return to the outer hives, leaving fewer bees in the center hives. This drifting leads to increased spread of disease and mites. Weaker hives are also more likely to get robbed by the stronger hives. You can arrange your hives in a horseshoe shape with the entrances either pointing towards the center or to the outside. You can have short, staggered rows. You can keep the hives in rows, but alternate the entrances front and back. You can also help bees recognize which hive is theirs by painting the landing boards different colors and patterns. You can put landmarks near the hives – a shrub or a large rock, which is especially helpful in really flat landscapes. Anything you can do to reduce drifting will help reduce the spread of disease in your apiary. Also place your hives 4 feet from your electric fence because if they’re closer, bears can reach through, knock over hives and pull the hive parts towards themselves.
What I did:
We used a backhoe to clean up the remains of an old barn & that’s where my beehives now live. I can drive a vehicle right into the bee yard, which was very convenient when we had a couple of truckloads of heavy, wet mulch delivered (I was worried the operator wasn’t going to drive in and I was going to have to wheelbarrow it all into the bee yard, but he was a sport and didn’t hesitate backing in). I didn’t get my bear fence installed until I had my bees for a few weeks because I had trouble finding a solar charger strong enough to bear-proof the fence. The recommendation came from another beekeeper (have I mentioned you should belong to a beekeeping club, take classes, attend seminars and talk to lots of other beekeepers, yet? yes? well, let me mention it again because other beekeepers can be incredibly helpful) and the whole time I was trying to get the fence sorted out, I kept my hives strapped and expected destruction every morning. I got lucky (and I know it)! All the hives are at least 4 feet from the fence, which also gives me room to work behind them. We live on an old, non-working farm, I’m told these overgrown fields are great forage for bees. Time will tell. I am thinking of planting some bee forage in the next few years – maybe an acre or two of some crop(s), maybe some trees, maybe some bee seed mixes in the raised beds? We’ll just have to see.
Any other suggestions you might make to us noobs if you are an experienced beekeeper? What are your biggest concerns if you are about to become a beekeeper?