I recently confirmed the location where I’ll be situating my first bee hive. The location is at an outdoor centre just North-West of Waterloo, ON and about 20 mins from my house. I am friends with the general manager of Outdoor Services there and he is thrilled to have bees on site. My bees will be sandwiched in between a small lake and a huge field of wild flowers. Why did I pick this location? Read on…

How to choose a good location for your bee hive

There are several key factors that must be considered when choosing a good location for your hive. These are based both on the bees’ basic needs and on our own comfort as humans living in harmony with bees.

Water — One of the most important things to consider when situating your hives is a source of water. It’s important to plan for this because your bees will always find a convenient source of water and this source might not always be where you want them to go. If the source of water is your neighbour’s pool or bird bath, it will be very difficult (if not impossible) to get them to go anywhere else after they’ve started using it. Consider setting up a small pond or even a bucket filled with water that you replenish often. Remember to provide a small landing area for your bees at the water level though, because bees can’t swim and they will drown trying to get a drink.

Food — This means flowers, and lots of them! Bees gather pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrates) from flowers in order to survive and feed their young. Flowers conveniently supply all of a bee’s food from the first ones that bloom in the spring, until the last ones available in the fall. The good thing is, you don’t have to worry about providing all the flowers your bees will visit. Planting a large flower garden near your hives is certainly helpful but typically, bees will forage within 3km of their hive. Some may even travel 8 or 9km to find food! The only place that might not provide adequate food for your bees is in the middle of a huge corn field or similar location. Bees need food from early spring to late fall, so variety is the key.

South-East exposure — When you situate your hive, it is recommended that you face the entrance towards the South-East. East because you want your bees to receive morning sunshine to wake them up and tell them it’s time to get to work, and South so that the hive receives the maximum amount of daylight in the winter so they don’t get too cold.

Room to expand — When you’re starting your bee yard, you don’t need too much space at all. One or two hives can fit in the smallest of yards. However it is a good idea to plan ahead and perhaps leave room for one or two more. You never know when you might need to split a colony or capture a swarm.

Away from wind and moisture — Windy areas are not great for beekeeping; especially those that bring a lot of cold winter wind into the hive. Plan your hives so that they are protected from wind. A row of shrubs, trees, a fence or wall will provide a sufficient wind break. Similarly, bees cannot survive in really wet areas. Make sure that you don’t put your hives under downspouts or in areas that may be prone to flooding.

Accessible — Your hives should be easy for you to access. Since you’ll likely be doing regular inspections on your hives, you’ll want them to be in a location that doesn’t require a long hike to get to. You’ll be even more grateful of a short travel distance when you have to deal with full boxes of honey weighing about 90lbs each!

Protection from animals — There are many different animals that may be interested in your hives and could cause damage to them. Some animals are just looking for a warm and dry spot to nest, but others are on the search for food. The scope of damage these animals can do also varies quite a bit. The biggest concern for some people will be bears who have a hunger for honey. If you live in an area with bears, you will need to protect your hives from bears as they can demolish an entire bee yard without much hesitation or effort. Some people use small electric fences for this. Another animal that can cause some damage and aggravate your hives are skunks. Skunks will eat your bees rather than the honey. Raising your hives off the ground by about a foot will force hungry skunks to stand on their hind legs in order to snack on bees, exposing their belly. Skunks can take stings to the face, but don’t like being stung in the belly.

There is one animal I should mention that can destroy your apiary and is not deterred by electric fences or raised hives: humans. Theft and vandalism are bigger problems in some areas than others, but many bee yards have been destroyed by vandals with nothing better to do than smash up some bee hives. Place your bee hives in a location that’s not publicly accessible or visible from the road. That way, you won’t be advertising to “curious minds”.

Spending time to choose your hive location will provide you and your bees with the ideal conditions needed to thrive for years to come. As they say in the real estate business: Location is everything! Let me know how you chose your hive locations. Do you have any other tips for new beekeepers? Leave a comment below.