I often get this question from bee-curious people. It is the first hurdle of becoming a beekeeper: Can it work in my backyard? There are many things to consider before getting started with bees, but preparing the physical space your bees are to inhabit is an important one! Let’s delve into what you need to know.
A typical Langstroth hive grows vertically, a 16 by 22 inch tower! Top Bar Hives usually measures 40 by 20 inches with no means of expanding beyond that. So, the physical space a hive would occupy is not much, but once you add bees it’s a different story. During daylight hours, a hive’s entrance will have constant bee traffic. At any given moment, hundreds of bees are entering and exiting their front door and flying off in all different directions. This flurry of bees should be expected to surround the hive for at least a 5ft radius with a higher concentration at the front of the hive. For this reason, extra care should be given to the direction you point your hive’s entrance. I recommend you allow for 10ft of breadth around your apiary. I often see new beekeepers ignore this advice for the sake of aesthetics, lining their hives up in a circle around their garden. While it does look beautiful, it’s often not practical. Imagine trying to pull weeds with honey bees accidentally crashing into your face or worse, guard bees chasing you about while you try to pluck tomatoes from the vine!
Check Local Laws
In my city (San Diego, California), there are different variations of the urban beekeeping ordinance depending on your location and the size of your yard. The city requires apiaries to be 15ft from the property lines, while the county uses a tiered system based on your lot size. I often help new beekeepers place their hives and while it is important to know your local restrictions, it’s probably more important to speak with your neighbors. After all, these rules are really in place to protect and reassure them. If you suspect your neighbors will be uncomfortable with a hive, make an effort to place it further from their property line. Sometimes neighbors are delighted with the prospect of bees next door and are even willing to let you place them closer to their property than the local ordinance allows.
Preparing the Site
It’s much easier to prep your apiary site before installing bees in your hive! So, take the time to level the ground and really clear a space for you and your bees. Remember, you will need a clear, flat space to stand while you work. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of room to move behind the hive(s), you do not want to have to stand in front of the hive while inspecting because this will block traffic. If you have a potential for ant problems, you should also make sure your hive is on a stand with legs and that the area around your hive is free of growth. Once you have fortified the legs from any invasions, any plants growing nearby are potential ant bridges should they grow enough to touch your hive(s).
Overcoming Small Space Challenges
If you have a small yard, finding the space to keep bees can be tough, but there are a few tricks that could make it possible. The first option is to screen your hives. This is done by building or growing a 6ft tall barrier around your hive(s) to direct bee traffic upwards. It can dramatically reduce the presence of bees in your yard because it elevates their flight pattern. Now the bees will be flying above your head! The second option is to place your hives on the roof or on a balcony. This strategy will really keep the bees out of your hair, literally. I have rooftop hives in several residential locations and have found that it dramatically reduces stinging incidents. The bees are so high up, you wouldn’t even know they were there. The only complication is that you now have to carry your equipment up and down a ladder. It is definitely not fun getting a super full of honey off a roof! To learn more tips and tricks check out my blog: Beekeeping Like A Girl or take my online beekeeping class to learn everything you need to know to get started with bees!
Photos by Cam Buker & Tiim O’Neil