I decided to get a couple of bee hives to help with pollination, support the dwindling bee population, and eventually harvest a little honey and honeycomb. My first concern was where is the best place to locate a hive? There are some general rules of thumb, which are beneficial, although none are an absolute necessity.
1. It is important that the hives sit level. This will lessen the chance of a hive falling over, or combs breaking, and being crooked.
2. Having the hives up and off the ground is important to keep mice out and to make it more difficult for skunks and possums. Apparently, possums and skunks will knock on the hives forcing bees to come out where they are promptly eaten. If the hive sits higher, with the entrance at least 1 foot off the ground, they will have to get on their hind legs to get to the bees, enabling the bees to sting them in their fleshy stomach. Then they don’t come back.
3. Electric fencing if you have bears is a must. A bear attack will absolutely devastate a hive. Contrary to mythology, bears are after the high in protein brood, not the honey.
4. It is nice if you can have a stone or gravel floor for the hives to sit on. This helps reduce fungal infections, keeps down some of the insect pests, and the hive rots less. This is also good, because you don’t have to maintain grass and weeds around the hive.
5. If you have a spot that can keep the rain and snow off your hive, then the bees won’t have to work as hard to maintain the perfect temperature and humidity, and you don’t have to worry about rot, and snow building up around entrances.
6. Facing the hive southeast is a good idea. This gives the bees the morning sun to get going, but also shelters the entrance from the hot afternoon sun, as well as cold northerly winds.
7. Make sure you have enough space to work comfortably around your hives. Don’t put them too close together.
8. Natural beekeeping does not involve opening your hives very often, maybe only a couple of times a year. Therefore I would recommend placing your hives in zone 3 or zone 4.
9. A windbreak is important, especially on windy sites. The more wind on a hive, the more the bees have to work to maintain the proper temperature and humidity. Also, you run the risk of a hive blowing over.
10. Positioning your hives near a water source is extremely important otherwise they may find your neighbor’s pool. This can be as simple as a small birdbath with stones in the water, so the bees can get to the water’s edge without drowning.
11. Keep their flight path out of people areas. You don’t want people to walk in front of your hives, they will get stung.
This is a pretty tall order, and I wanted to fulfill all eleven to give my bees the best chance of thriving without treatments. Unfortunately, there was not a single place on my property that met the criteria. Since the habitat I was looking for was not available, I decided to build it.
Bee Shelter with Warre Hives
I built a shelter that was faced SE, would keep the rain and snow off the hives, with a level gravel and stone floor, with cinderblocks to get the hives up, a windbreak on the north and west side, situated in zone 3 away from people, but easily accessible and close to a small pond.
Bee Shelter Wind Break
I must thank Jacqueline Freeman and Paul Wheaton for the idea of having a shelter for the bees. I would also highly recommend anyone interested in beekeeping to listen to The Homestead Podcast episode# 284-287, the four part series entitled Reverence for Bees. It is an informative and entertaining foray into natural beekeeping.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.