You can keep bees just about everywhere, at the edge of a forest, in the countryside, your own garden or even on your balcony or rooftop (would be nice to check with your neighbours though). Bees are very adaptable, however this does not mean we should carelessly place them anywhere. The better the spot, the better the well-being and honey production of the colony. So, what should you take into account when choosing a location?
In the last article we have focused on the selection of a location, in this article we take a look at what you can do at your location to make the life of your bees more comfortable. We will discuss the amount of sunlight, wind, accessibility of the location and more!
The perfect site
Choosing a beehive location is a balancing act, there are numerous factors to consider and usually not all the boxes can be checked. In practice selecting a location is a compromise between nature and your own convenience. For example, in the wild, bees typically settle in hollow trees high off the ground, however it would be quite unpractical if you would need to use a ladder every time you want to do an inspection. So, don’t take the following factors listed below too literally, as they are meant as guidelines.
Sunlight vs. Shade
The amount of sunlight is important for multiple reasons. First, early morning sun gets the bees active. The earlier the bees become active, the more time they have to collect nectar and pollen. Ideally, the hive entrance faces the direction of the rising sun. Secondly, sunlight influences the temperature inside the hive. In general, if you are in a warm climate, having some shade in the afternoon will help the bees to keep the hive at a comfortable temperature. In cooler climates, having sunlight throughout the day can be beneficial. Bees keep the brood nest at 35°C and spend lots of time and energy at either heating or cooling the hive (read more about the thermoregulation of honeybees here), so consider your local climate. Finally, sunlight can make an important difference in temperature during the winter. Having sunlight on the hive entrance is a great help for the colony and increases its chances to survive the winter months.
Keep your hives above the ground
Placing your hives off the ground makes it more difficult for predators to enter the hive. Naturally bees tend to build their hives high of the ground and it is advised to try to mimic such conditions  (around 5 meters above the ground). However, placing your hives that high might not be practical, just be aware that even 50 cm above the ground is much better compared to putting the hive on the ground. Most bee houses have elevated their hives, for hives boxes you can use a hive stand. Also, a hive stand makes it easier to lift heavy elements (don’t underestimate the weight of a full super!).
Keep your hives level
This might sound obvious, but it is vital to keep your hives level from side to side. The front or just the hive entrance can be tilted slightly forward, to avoid any rainwater from flowing into the hive.
Stable, dry ground
The perfect spot has solid and dry ground, imagine if there is lots of rain, where do the puddles form? If the area around your hives becomes a muddy pool, the hives can get wet too. Damp around the hive might cause mould to grow. Also a dry environment will help the bees in getting the moisture content of the honey down. The lower, the better the honey quality (read more about how bees create honey)
Wind can have a large effects on such small insects like bees, as you can see in this video, landing on the hive entrance can become quite a challenge!
Bees crash landing on a windy day
Wind also has an effect on the temperature in the hive. Especially an icy winter wind can put extra stress on the colony. A bee house offers great protection against wind, however if you have hive boxes which are standing outside, putting some kind of hedge or fence around the hive is definitely a good idea. Another option is placing a panel at the side of the hive, which shelter the hive entrance from wind. Heavy winds during a storm might cause a hive box to tip over, so wind protection in form of a stabilizer or strap is quite important.
Be aware of the bees flight path
The bees space goes beyond the boundaries of the actual hive. The first three meters in front of the hive entrance will be buzzing with bees flying in and out, before they disperse. When your location is close to a road or someone’s garden, be sure not to point the hive entrance towards it. Also, it is advisable to point the entrance away from your own line of approach. Bees can perceive someone who approaches them from the front as threatening, so by changing their flight path, many unpleasant encounters can be avoided. In Switzerland, you are required to place the hive at a 10 meter distance of a walking path or road.
Honeybees can enter the wrong hive by accident, this is called drifting. Drifting can cause diseases to spread quickly from one hive to another Therefore try to reduce the amount of drifting at your apiary. As a general advice, more than 10 hives, which are placed closely together is not ideal. Adding some space (even a few centimeters) between your hives will helps the bees find their way home more easily. The flight entrances of different hives can also be separated by placing wooden panels between the hives.
Last but not least, make sure that you have an easy access to your hives. Imagine that you have to move equipment to and from this location. Hives, supers, and filled honeycombs can be pretty heavy! Some beekeepers, especially the ones with lots of hives, use a small crane to do the lifting for a reason.
Special considerations for urban areas
Many hives in urban areas are either kept in the backyard or on rooftops. When placing a hive in the yard, be aware of the bees flight path. Try to avoid that children or pets can come close to the hive entrance, otherwise they might get stung. A possible solution is putting a fence in front of the hive entrance (at a 3 meter distance), this forces the bees to fly upwards away and let them disperse above the heads of your neighbours. For rooftops hives, accessibility can be quite an issue. Do not try to move up heavy equipment up to the roof with a shaky ladder. Also, make sure to place some wind barriers as wind on rooftops can be quite heavy.
As a rule of thumb, look for a good location during the winter. Bees have to be able to overwinter at this location and places where snow does not persists long can be a good starting point.
Invite an experienced beekeeper to check out your location, he or she could give you some valuable tips or insights.
Give your colonies a helping hand
With these factors in mind, you can get the most out of your colonies. Bees are very versatile creatures and can live without problems in areas that might lack one of these factors. However, it could never hurt to lend your bees a helping hand. A simple thing of putting a wind-barrier can make their lives more comfortable and lead to an increase in your honey yields.
Seeley, T. (2017). Darwinian Beekeeping: An Evolutionary Approach to Apiculture. American Bee Journal pp. 277-285.