Pick the Perfect Location for Your Beehive
You can keep beehives just about anywhere: in the countryside, in the city, in a corner of the garden, by the back door, in a field, on the terrace, or even on an urban rooftop. You don’t need a great deal of space or flowers on your property; bees happily travel for miles to forage for what they need.
These girls are amazingly adaptable, but you’ll get optimum results and a more rewarding honey harvest if you follow some basic guidelines, as you discover here.
Location fundamentals for your beehives
The ideal hive location has easy access (so you can tend to your hives), good drainage (so the bees don’t get wet), a nearby water source for the bees, dappled sunlight, and minimal wind. Keep in mind that fulfilling all these criteria may not always be possible. No worries — the bees will forgive you. Do the best you can by following these basic guidelines:
Face your hive to the southeast. That way your bees get an early morning wake-up call and start foraging early.
Position your hive so that it’s easily accessible come honey harvest time. You don’t want to be hauling hundreds of pounds of honey up a hill or down a fire escape on a hot August day.
Provide a windbreak at the rear of the hive. I’ve planted a few hemlocks behind my hives. Or you can erect a fence made from posts and burlap or even use bales of hay to block harsh winter winds that can stress the colony (assuming you live in a climate with icy-cold winters).
Put the hive in dappled sunlight. Full, direct sun all day long causes the hives to get very hot in the summer. The bees will spend valuable time trying to regulate the hive’s temperature (rather than making honey). You also want to avoid deep, dark shade because it can make the hive damp and the colony listless.
Make sure the hive has good ventilation. Avoid placing it in a gully where the air is still and damp. Also, avoid putting it at the peak of a hill, should you live in a region where the bees will be subjected to winter’s fury.
Place the hive absolutely level from side to side, with the front of the hive just slightly lower than the rear (a difference of an inch or less is fine), so that any rainwater drains out of the hive (and not into it).
Locate your hive on firm, dry land. Don’t let it sink into the quagmire.
In a country setting, you can place mulch around the hive to prevent grass and weeds from blocking its entrances.Credit: Illustration courtesy of Howland BlackistonThe perfect suburban setting for your hives has easy access, good drainage, a nearby water source, dappled sunlight, and minimal wind.
Special urban considerations for beehives
Just about all the considerations listed in the preceding section apply to urban situations. Here are a few more details for all you city beekeepers out there, according to New York City beekeeper Andrew Coté.
Decide upfront where to put your hives. Placement of urban hives is often tricky and a stumbling block for many metropolitan beekeepers. Don’t be one of those beekeepers who takes a course, builds a hive, gets a package of bees, and then realizes there’s no suitable place to put the bees! Do your homework upfront.
Strike a deal with a community garden. These are usually run by small neighborhood groups who are sympathetic to honeybees, welcome their pollination, and are likely eager to offer a home for your hives. A search on the Internet will quickly find community gardens in your neighborhood.
Don’t be so grateful for a spot in the community garden that you impulsively offer half of your honey harvest! Your rent should be bartered in exchange for the considerable pollination services you bring to the garden. The honey should be all yours.
Stay safe on the roof. Though a roof is a great location for urban beehives, you need to be aware of some safety issues:
Avoid a roof if you have to go up a fire escape, climb a tall ladder, or use a rooftop hatch. In all these situations, attempting to remove full and heavy honey supers from the roof area would be difficult and dangerous.
Don’t place your hive too close to the edge of the roof. If you end up with a bee up your pant leg and you lose your balance, no amount of arm-flapping will help you fly safely to the ground.
Secure all the parts of the hive using crank straps. Strong gusts of wind can send hive parts flying wildly off the roof to pedestrians below. And there’s more wind up on those roofs than you may realize.
Never place a beehive on a fire escape. Never. It’s illegal and it’s dangerous.Credit: Photograph courtesy of Andrew Coté, New York City Beekeepers AssociationA rooftop is a great location for urban hives. Note the rocks to keep covers from blowing off, bales of hay as a windbreak, and a water source placed in front of the hives.