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
I look forward to your publication, and interacting with you
We have a relatively large yard (60’x120′) and I am interested in setting up a hive. We live close to you, Oceanside, CA. I really don’t know much about it but I would like to learn more. Honey would be a nice bonus, but I really just want bees to pollinate my garden, and also not go extinct. Could you recommend a specific box and how to get bees? Thanks in advance for any information that you can provide. 🙂
At 1st I was disappointed that you were not tackling the concept of hive count per sq mile in different environs… but you said hive space; not colony space. ;>)
A bit more on the Warré, it stacks lime a Lang’ but is smaller and often has a smaller colony. Internally a box is 300mm sq but I went to 12″… then expanded.more.and.infilled.corners, shrinking it back down to “standard size.” This left width for a 9th topbar/semi-frame. (I prefer an odd count as tree cavity colonists often make a.central longer comb first, as it is the most efficient to make.)
I wanted a small hive. Well, they’re small. Make two! ;>)
[…] How Much Space Does a Beehive Need […]
I live in western Ct. My property (1.6 acres) backs up to a 200 acre land trust. My biggest concern is the land trust contains old iron mines that black bear now inhabit. In the fall and spring the bird feeders in the neighborhood get pushed down and the bears (big and beautiful) sit/lay down for a meal. I grow pollinator friendly perennials with focus on bees and hummingbirds. I am interested in beekeeping, but think the beneficiary would be the bears. What are your thoughts.
There are a few methods used in bear country. I can only list them, or help you to a bee list.
1) Not all bears climb. Hives are often put UP ~12-15 feet.
2) Solar powered electric fences are used successfully.
3) Some use an 8ft chain link fence.
4) Some merely use strong 1″ wide strapping around hives and chain them down as well.
The lumber for a Warré can be scrap. 2×8’s are about perfect. Trim a 2×10 and you have handles and topbar material…~$20-30 for a hive. Bait it or get on a local bee list and buy/beg a swarm, but local bees seem best suited. I cluged my bee-wear, sweatshirts, on-hand hat, adding a veil. This way investment is cheap and you learn/ask how persistant bears are, there.
If you can purchase a small horse or stock trailer, that would be excellent in keeping all small and large honey/larvae eaters out. The bees can get in and out of the rails, and will be completely safe from predators.. Should you want to move them/expand your area, the trailer can be hooked up quickly and moved without disturbing the bees. Great in bear country!
If I get the property I want – there is an apiary there, and I will have to learn about it.
Both the text AND field background are white on your newsletter signup popup, making it seem as though it is not working. I had to type blind and highlight to see if I typed correctly. Most people won’t go to that much trouble to sign up for a newsletter. Good luck!
we may be interested in having your bees kept on our site in Chesterfield, VA my phone number is 804-617-6136. Thanks, Bobby Adams
My grandmother has 10 acres some of which is wooded would I want them in the wood or out of the wood and how big should I make the fenced for housing 2 hives?
I would put them out of the wood. For the fence it depends on how much space you want in-between your hives. It’s nice to have at least a foot between them. I would plan for the inevitability that you will end up with more than 2 hives and make your fence 12′ X 6′.
We are having a problem with one of our hives there are a lot of dead and dying bees in the front of the hive we don;t have a lot of verroa, very little and we can’t find a reason for it, any ideas? we are also looking for a lab that would analyze them and can’t find one, we are in southern california. Please send any ideas you might have, don’t want to loose the hive. thank you sofia
Hi Sofia, This sounds like pesticide poisoning. 🙁 Check out this article I wrote on what you can do when this happens and if you read the comments some people gave info about reporting the incident http://beekeepinglikeagirl.com/how-to-save-a-poisoned-beehive/
I’m keen to start a beehive or more;we live in the country in New Zealand and have so many flowering trees.our neibour has 4 stacks of hives and lives 100meters away and is 50 meters lower than ours,will this be a problem
[…] HOW MUCH SPACE DOES A BEEHIVE NEED? Keeping Backyard Bees […]
I`m a young man who has the interest in bee keeping. i really appreciate your effort, I I`m really interested in the beekeeping, I have started with about 10 hives in Ghana Volta. I have just began with the beekeeping but I have the experience, and the passion to do beekeeping.
I`M PROUD TO BE A BEEKEEPER!!!
I live in Brookston IN do you new the law here in white county on the honey bee law I have tried to look it up and I’m looking in starting a flow hive in the spring of 20/20 I’m buy all the stuff I’ll need this winter. Thank you
I’m starting a new project on one acre and really want to keep bees, your posts are guiding me to my start! thanks so much for sharing your experiences!!
Am new in beekeeping and I hang my hives on trees in my farm. Is it okay to do that I made timber hives of 21 by 18inches and am observing them
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