Preparing for Your First Hive
By: Chari Elam
I know first hand the excitement you have!
The feelings of giddy anticipation with overtones of trepidation! Taking the time to pre-plan a few key aspects can and WILL take a load off your worries.
- Where are you planning to put your bees? A few things to keep in mind:
- Neighbors – If you are on acreage this isn’t necessarily a problem, but a city lot needs a bit of ingenuity. Think “flight pattern.” Facing your colonies entrance “away” from your neighbor instead of toward them is a good idea. If this isn’t possible (neighbors on all sides), then consider putting an “obstruction” within 5-6 feet of the entrance, such as a fence or hedge. This will force the bees to fly “straight up” instead of more at a gradual altitude – promoting them to avoid your neighbors’ yards as an incoming/outgoing flight zone.
- Yard maintenance – Avoid putting your bees where you want to keep a manicured yard. Bees' “comfort zone” tends to be about 20 feet. We find our bees don’t mind the mower so much as we gradually get closer and closer, but weed trimmers are a completely different story. They DO NOT LIKE WEED-EATERS at their front door. Be prepared to wear protective gear or prevent weeds from growing around your hives altogether!
Ground prep is relatively easy. Preparing the ground prior to your bees arriving would be advantageous. After they arrive … not so much. Consider laying a weed fabric and/or gravel on a nicely prepared “plot” under your hive stands. It’s my experience that mulch is not a good choice. Mulch holds moisture and will encourage Small Hive Beetles if your area is prone to them.
- Shade vs Sunny – Given the choice, bees prefer a sunny location as to a shady one. Not to say, on a hot summer's day some shade wouldn't hurt – but overall, your bees will be more productive being located in a “more sun than shade” location. Also, facing your entrances to the Southeast will ensure they have the north wind to their backs and catch the morning sun to get them up and going early.
- Accessibility – High and Dry! This saying applies to your bee yard just as much as for our own homes. We’ve heard some very sad stories over the years of beekeepers losing hives due to “unexpected” high water. Think about the topography of your chosen bee yard. Make certain come high water, they are in a high enough location to withstand flood. Another thought: when you need to do a hive inspection or pull honey supers the ground surrounding your bees needs to be accessible. Too steep, too deep, too far away, too wet… you get the idea! You have to manage your bees bi-weekly so keep that in mind in choosing your hive location.
- Layout – We’ve been asked this question often. Do I put my bees in a straight line, side by side, back-to-back, spaced out…what? Consider this – Bees do NOT like for you to block their entrance so standing beside or behind your hive to work is optimal. As to configuration…studies have shown a straight line isn’t ideal because of drifting. However, this is common and without any noticeable issues. If space allows, placing your bees at an off-set and facing different directions of each other would help with drifting. Spacing between your hives is also a common question. Our best placement is when we have at least a “hive's width” between each hive. This allows us a work space between, giving us a place to set boxes off as well as place our tools and such.
- Hive Stands or platforms – A common misconception by new beekeepers is to build hive stands “counter height” for ease of working. Actually, this is “counter” intuitive! Ha, Ha…As colonies grow, so do the number of boxes that get added to the stack. Counter height is fine for the first…maybe even the second deep box…but what happens when you start to add honey supers? All of a sudden you’ll need a ladder to work your bees! Not wise when having to lift heavy boxes. Considering the eventual “tower” you’ll be building as your bees thrive and grow, a hive stand or platform is most efficient at 18” off the ground. This is an ideal height (unless you’re really tall) that won’t destroy your back when manipulating boxes. Stand or Platform? That’s more of a preference thing. We’ve always had platforms for the most part. It allows for less bottom support such as cinder blocks or legs. It also gives you “work space” if you place hives apart. On the other
hand, hive stands are great for keeping your bees oriented in different directions preventing drifting. A lot of commercially offered hive stands come with frame holders and are adjustable for 8 or 10 frame boxes… all good features.
Now you have your bee yard plan – what’s next?
- Have the bee yard DONE and READY before your bees arrive! Moving bees isn’t easy… trust me, we’ve moved a few…very heavy hard work.
- Have your boxes assembled and painted “well before” your bees arrive! Paint or stain needs time to dry and cure. Note: Boxes need to be primed and painted or stained to preserve the wood – raw wood won’t last.
- Have “extra” boxes and frames on hand. Before you know it, your bees will need additional space and you need to have it ready (painted or stained).
As with any adventure, a well thought-out plan can avert issues down the line. Spend time thinking through these points and make them “fit you” and your situation. Be adaptable and most of all, enjoy the process!And ~ Welcome to the WONDERFUL world of Beekeeping!