Apiary location

You are embarking on your new journey of becoming a beekeeper. But as you begin you have decisions to make, such as where to purchase beekeeping equipment and bees, and another is where to establish your apiary location? Deciding on a site to establish your bees is a very important decision. You need a place that is not only good for the bees, but good for the beekeeper as well. You need a site that is convenient for you to have access to your hives for checking on them to ascertain that they are healthy, to perform varroa screenings to check for mite infestation levels, keep watch on the condition of hive components, watch for swarms and to add honey supers and remove them at harvest time.

Find the most practical location

If practicable and feasible, I always suggest that having your hive(s) in yourbackyard, or on your property at your home is the best location. You will keep better care of them if you can check on them often. My hives are located about 100 feet from my front door, which makes it very easy for me to keep an eye on them, check for swarms in the spring, have access to them for hive inspections and other maintenance on a regular basis. All I need do is walk out of my door, travel a short distance to the beeyard, light my smoker, and I am ready to work my hives. If my hives were at another location, more planning would be needed, including a drive to a more distant location. I would also need to be careful that everything I would need that day for working my hives went with me, to prevent a return to my home for retrieving needed items.

However, sometimes having your hives and bees at home may not be practicable. You may have a very small yard, close neighbors, or live in an apartment without a yard. I have a beekeeper friend who lives in a home that he has owned for decades, in the heart of an urban area, and who maintains a large number of hives. Keeping even one or two hives in his yard is not practical for him. So, he has what we call outyards. Which are apiary location away from his home, and often on the property of others. Outyards may be home for just a few hives, or twenty or more. If you search for a hive location away from your home, you will find that there are people owning rural property near you who are open to allowing you to locate your hives on their land and will welcome your hives and bees. Some may have gardens or fruit trees which will benefit from your bees for their pollination value, others just think bees are useful to the ecosystem and welcome them for that reason. But the same practical rules of access and distance still hold true.

-How far away from your home is this location? A short drive?

-Is access available to you all the time, will you have keys to gates if it is behind locked gates?

-Will you disturb the property owner if you enter on weekends?

These are all considerations to keep in mind when establishing your hives at a location away from your home.

Be sure your apiary location is not an issue for others

Another important consideration in choosing a bee yard site is that it does not cause problems for others if they must walk near your hives. My colonies are located about 25 feet off my driveway, so when I or others in my household walk to our mailbox, located at the end of the drive, we are not in the flightpath of my bees, and wearing a veil is never a consideration for a trip to the mailbox. I once heard about a beekeeper who put a hive near his neighbor’s driveway, a very poor apiary location decision. Every time the neighbors – who were not beekeepers – went to their cars, they encountered honey bees flying in and out of the beekeeper’s hive. Needless to say, this apiary location created problems with the beekeeper’s relations with his neighbors, and he was forced to relocate his hives.

You should always think about your neighbors as well as the non-beekeeper members of your own family when establishing your apiary.

-How far from your neighbor’s property will your hives be located?

-Will people have to walk near your hives?

Non-beekeepers are not always as comfortable as beekeepers being near honey bee colonies. Keep in mind that as honey bees fly in and out of hives, their flightpaths keep them near the ground for 10 or 15 feet. What seems like a reasonable distance from the hives to you may not be distant enough for non-beekeepers walking nearby.

Be sure your apiary location is not an issue for animals

If you plan on keeping your bees in your yard, especially a small yard.

-Do you have dogs?

-Would your dogs be left alone in your fenced yard where your hives are located?

Dogs confined inside a fenced yard along with honey bee colonies are a dangerous combination for the dogs safety. Dogs out of curiosity can be attracted to bee hives or to bees flying in and out hives. I have a five-acre yard and my old dog loves to accompany me to my beeyard. She normally would lie outside the area of the hives, but sometimes the smells emitting from the hives would attract her, and she would sometimes be seen with her nose in a hive’s entrance – what wonderful smells! When this occurred, she would soon quickly retreat to my front porch after being challenged by the hive’s guard bees. She was safe since she had plenty of space in which to get away from the bees. Dogs confined alone in fenced yards with bees are a potential serious problem. Hives and bees do not play together well. The same can be said for horses – I live in Kentucky, and we have lots of horses and often beekeepers’ own horses. These animals can be as curious as dogs and can be drawn to bee activity at hives. I once had an outyard of several hives of bees near a fence, initially unknown to me the neighbor had horses on the other side of the fence. My presence while working the hives would attract the horses to the dividing fence. This made me nervous for the safety of the neighbor’s horses. Bees may perceive dogs or horses as threats, and behave defensively told them. Mass stinging events may result. I soon relocated these hives out of concern for the neighboring horses. In Florida after the arrival of Africanized bees, among the first victims were dogs and horses, fatal victims. Dogs, horses, and bees can be a deadly combination.

Choose the good shiny spot

Another consideration is should I locate my hives in the shade or open sunshine? While having nearby trees that provide shade in your bee yard is pleasant for the beekeeper, it will also result in moister soil conditions which will provide positive conditions for small hive beetled pupating in the soil, and result in more adult small hive beetles. This pest will then enter your hives and lay eggs which result in hive beetle larvae (adults are benign within the hive, their larvae are the problem) which eat pollen and other honey bee products within the hive, and generally create a mess. Drier soils, the result of more sunshine, will inhibit pupation of small hive beetle larvae – it dries them out, and helps reduce the survival of beetle larvae. So sunny apiary sites are preferable to shady sites.  

Transport decisions

Since I am certain that as a new beekeeper you plan to make honey. Ask yourself, how will I remove full supers of honey from the beeyard? Will I carry each super away? Or like me, will you use a cart or pickup truck to transport the pulled honey supers? I can back my truck or a cart to within a few feet of my hives, making transporting the full supers easy on my back. Will you be able to do this? I once made a visit to a beekeeper’s hives which were located on a beautiful site at the top of a hill. The problem that I saw was that all the full honey supers to be harvested would have to be carried by hand off this hill. Due to the steepness of the slope, it was impossible to back either a truck pickup truck or even a cart up the hill. I would never have chosen this site for my hives.

Protect your hives

If your hive location is near people, you may wish to construct a fence around your hives to prevent people from getting to close to them. If you are in an area with bears, you should always enclose your hives within an electric “bear fence”, to keep the bears away from your hives.  Bears can destroy a beeyard. You can find plans for bear proof fences on the internet, though fellow beekeepers in your area can also advise you with this construction, since they face the same problems with bears. Solar chargers are commercially available to provide current for these fences.

As in real estate, the ideal place for your hives is best described as “location, location, location”. Keep these tips in mind while finding the best location for your hives.

If you have questions, you may direct them to me at phil.craft@vetopharma.com,