When you drive into the countryside, you often see hives placed in fields, or beside the road. By themselves, or in a cluster, these hives seem perfectly suited to their location.
In urban settings, there are no wide open fields. Hives can’t be placed in forest clearings to catch the honey flow. There is no space to use mechanical aids to lift or move hives.
In many ways, however, urban areas are ideal for bees. There is a constant supply of flowering plants — even during dry times — thanks to the constant watering of household gardens.
Urban hives often prosper, and many inner-city residents are delighted to see more bees in their area.
The challenge remains to put the hives in a practical location, working within constraints and limitations. This post starts with a few guiding principles, and then outlines a checklist of factors to consider.
Use these to assess potential locations for your hive(s), to make your life — and your neighbours! — easier.
- it must be safe to work on the hive
- there must be sufficient space to work efficiently
- the hive will prosper in its environment
- problems with neighbours or other locals will be avoided
❏ It’s possible to get a full, heavy hive in and out of the location (on a trolley for example)
❏ Ideally the hive can be accessed without going through the house (beekeeping is a sticky hobby!)
❏ Ideally, the hive is placed on a flat surface (level ground, or a flat roof)
❏ There’s a solid foundation or platform for the hive to sit on (hives can get heavy!)
❏ The hive won’t flood during heavy rain, or have its foundation eroded away
❏ No tenancy rules are broken (for example, a hive may not be allowed on a balcony of a block of flats)
❏ House lights don’t shine on the hive at night (otherwise bees will fly in through open windows and doors)
❏ Windows and doors overlooking the hive entrance should be protected by flyscreen, wherever possible
❏ The hives isn’t adjacent to any sensitive locations (such as a childcare centre next door, busy dog park, etc)
❏ The neighbours have been told about the hive and are happy for it to be there (promises of free honey often help!)
Access and working area
❏ There is at least 9 square m of working space around the hive (3m x 3m)
❏ The space around the hive is solid and easy to work on (ie no bushes, loose rocks, slippery surfaces)
❏ There is space to stand and work behind the hive (the safest location)
❏ It’s possible to get a hive lifter (or other necessary equipment) behind the hive
❏ There should be sufficient space for 3 people to work on the hive (one owner, and two helpers or novices)
❏ There are clear escape routes if — heaven forbid! — something goes wrong, and you are faced with a hive of very angry bees
❏ There’s no height restriction (a particular consideration for Warre hives, which can get very tall)
❏ Ideally, the entrance to the hive should face East (although the bees seem to cope fine if this isn’t the case)
❏ There must be a clear flight line in front of the hive, of at least 3m
❏ Any fences in the flight line must be far enough away, or low enough, not to impede the movement of the bees
❏ In cold areas, the hive should receive winter sun
❏ In hot areas, the hive should be protected from the full summer sun
❏ Ideally, it should be easy to monitor the hive entrance throughout the year (eg a sight line from the balcony, deck, window, etc)
❏ Hives should ideally have a relatively placid temperament, to avoid the situation of angry bees attacking the neighbours
❏ There should be a reasonable number of hives in the location, so as not to cause nuisance or safety issues
Bending the rules
In urban areas, hive owners face many practical constraints. The balcony might be quite small, or the back yard heavily sloping. The courtyard may be flat and sunny, but surrounded by high walls. Plantings may impede the working area around the hive.
Rules can be bent or even broken, but with care and due consideration. Every compromise must be understood, and always go back to the guiding principles.
Safety must always be a prime consideration, not just for the apiarist but for neighbours and visitors.
Three of my hives are on the roof of our house, for example. This has restricted access (ladder required!), but there is 100sq m of flat roof to work on. This would not have been my first choice, but our backyard was too small for hives. Having implemented a few safety improvements, this location is entirely workable.
If you really don’t have a good location for bees, don’t despair! Many people would love to have bees in their gardens, and be a host for your hive. The general rule is that the honey harvests are split 50/50, but that still leaves plenty for everyone. More importantly, it allows you to be a true beekeeper, and to benefit from an amazing experience.