Don’t over-think this one, y’all.
You’ll find a lot of daunting information online and drawings of epic beehive properties. The best location for beehives is relative to your property. Our goal is to help you understand what an ideal setup would be, but also to help you figure out how to overcome some of your property’s limitations. When you make a few adjustments, you will optimize your apiary’s honey production, and likely improve the experience you have as a beekeeper.
You want a water source nearby. “Bees travel 1 to 1.5 miles for water, but I would highly recommend having water closer,” said Jessica Szwast, a former honey farm employee and Murdoch’s beekeeping supplies buyer. “It makes it easier on the bees not to have to travel so far to get water.” The more time they spend flying, the less time they spend making honey.
So, if you don’t have a stream, pond, or other natural water source on or near your property, what do you do? Put one there. Bees don’t need a lot of water; they just need constant, safe access to water. By safe, we mean making it so that they aren’t likely to drown by clinging to a vertical edge to drink it. (Although, they’re certainly capable of doing this; it’s a matter of how hard you make them work.) Here are some options:
Flexible Tubs or Buckets: Fill one on a regular basis and keep it next to the hives. Lean a 2×4 in it, sticking out of the water vertically. It’s easier for bees to drink off the 2×4 instead of a vertical tub wall. Buckets are fairly easy to carry.
Kiddie Pool: If your kids have outgrown theirs and you don’t have to worry about restrictive HOA policies, dig the kiddie pool out of storage and dump a bucket of water in it. Toss in a few rocks for access and weight.
Chicken Waterer: Put pebbles in the tray so that bees don’t drown. There are a lot of options on the market varying in size, materials, and whether they hang or sit on the ground.
Dog Water Dish: Put pebbles or a stick in the tray to avoid drowning. Again, a lot of options are available, from an automatically refilling dispenser to the basic dog bowl.
Urban and Backyard Beekeeping Note: This is important for all beekeepers, but especially for urban/backyard beekeepers.
If you don’t have water readily accessible, your bees will find the closest source. Be polite, and make sure that the closest water source is on your property. If your neighbor who isn’t thrilled about your hives has a water source outside (like a kiddie pool, dog dish, or bird bath) then you can expect your bees to pay them frequent unwanted visits.
There will be a happy medium for your particular setup. How close is too close? How far is too far? We can’t answer that for you, but we can tell you what will affect your decision:
Consider where you will extract the honey. You must be able to move your frames, if not the entire supers, to wherever you’ll want to extract come late summer. A full deep super can weigh appx 100 pounds or more. Avoid long routes and hills.
Consider transportation. Can you drive out to the location you’re thinking about in a vehicle, ATV or UTV? If so, transporting water and supplies is no big deal. If not, what other methods might you use, like wheelbarrows or even a wagon? And if you’re using a wheelbarrow or wagon, is the ground level enough for your tolerance level?
Do you have kids? We have a separate post about kids and bees. Give them space to play without disturbing the hives, or being temped to swat at the honey bees. How much space depends on what they do outside. One beekeeper we talked to said his kids stay 20 feet from his hives. This will help avoid bee stings.
Ideally, a wind block would reduce drafts from entering the hive in the wintertime. Bees are already doing their best to stay warm; you can help them survive by reducing the drafts.
You’ll likely want the hive entrance to face east, queuing your bees to get moving with sunrise. That means the back of the hive is facing west. If winds come from the west where you live, you’d position the windbreak on the back side of the hives. Use an existing structure, like a shed, out buildings or privacy fence. Use a row of hedges, or plant hedges. You can also stack straw bales to block the wind, but if you do, be sure you’re using an entrance reducer because you’ll attract mice. Straw is a warm home for them in the winter.
Just like water, bees will fly miles to find flowering plants to collect pollen. But, if you put it at their wing-tips, you’ll be doing your colony a great service by allowing them to spend less time flying and more time producing. If you already plant flowers in the spring, consider planting a few that will help your bees out: Sunflowers, Black-Eyed Susans, Coneflowers, Golden Rod, Asters and Yarrow are six flowers that will bloom at different times of the growing season, feeding your bees throughout their honey production season.
Lastly, it’s up to you to determine if beekeeping is allowed on your property. Before you invest in the supplies, check with your state, county and city ordinances. Often, there will be stipulations on the number of hives allowed for hobbyist beekeepers, and placement requirements for commercial beekeepers. If you have an HOA, read your guidelines for beekeeping provisions. Your state’s beekeeping association may be able to help you understand your local regulations, too.