The right hive in the right place

Choosing a hive and location for your bees

On a macro-level, bees can live almost anywhere. You can keep hives whether you live on a huge farm, a small suburban garden, or a tiny urban property. In the wild, bee colonies nest in hollow trees, caves and rock crevices, even inside the walls of buildings. They’re a resourceful, adaptable species.

But on a micro-level, the type of hive and the location you pick can make a big difference for you and your bees. The hive you choose depends on your preferences and physical limitations, while the location depends on a range of factors. Bees need the right mix of sun, shade, and access to food and water to thrive. You need easy access to your hives so you can check on them regularly. And your neighbours need to know that they won’t be overwhelmed by stray bees on their property. It’s all about balance.

Here’s how to choose the right hive – and the right spot.

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In Australia, most commercial beekeepers use Langstroth hives, while hobbyists may use Top Bar or Warre hives as well. Each type of hive has its benefits and its downsides. To figure out which one suits you best, you’ll need to consider your physical strengths and limitations, your property, and your beekeeping goals.

Langstroth hivesare the oldest and best-known modern beehive. Designed in 1852, the square, stackable hive was the first to utilise the concept of ‘bee space’. Each hive box contains vertical frames which hang at regular intervals. The space between is around 6-8mm wide, giving bees enough room to move but not enough room to build honeycomb. This means comb is contained inside the frames, which can be lifted out for inspection or honey harvesting.

Because Langstroth hives are a standard size, compatible frames and boxes are easy to source. The boxes stack on top of each other, so it’s fairly simple to expand your hive if necessary.

However, Langstroth hives can be difficult for some people to manage, as each box is reasonably heavy to lift – particularly when it’s full of honeycomb. To inspect the lower boxes, you need to remove the top ones, which means lifting up to 45kgs. The design of the Langstroth also means that inspecting the bees can be invasive. You need to remove the roof to check the hive, which can disturb your bees. When you remove a frame, you’re also likely to disrupt your bees, and when you replace the frame some bees may be crushed.

Top Bar hiveslook quite different from the Langstroth, with a wide, flat design and flip-top lid. Instead of internal frames, they have simple bars for bees to hang comb from. This less structured approach makes the Top Bar hive popular with natural beekeepers.

Because Top Bar hives stand on legs, they can be set at any height, which makes it easy for keepers to check on their contents. There’s no heavy lifting involved after the hive is set up. Checking on the bees is usually less invasive because when one or two bars are removed, the remaining bars form a roof over the bees inside.

On the downside, Top Bar hives may be harder to set up and maintain, as there is no standard size for components. They can also be more fiddly and difficult for newbie keepers to use, as natural honeycomb can break off during inspections.

Warre hivessplit the difference between Langstroth and Top Bar. They look like a smaller Langstroth hive, with a stack of square wooden boxes, but use bars to encourage natural honeycomb like the Top Bar.

Some beekeepers believe that the Warre is better suited to Australian conditions than other hives. This is chiefly because of the gabled roof, which has space underneath to store straw or other material to absorb moisture from the hive. These design elements help keep the inside of the hive cool and dry during the hot summer months.

Warre boxes are smaller than Langstroth, which makes them easier to lift during hive inspections. But, because new boxes are added at the bottom of the stack rather than the top, there is some heavy lifting involved when it comes to expanding your hive.

Location, location, location

Once you’ve decided on the type of hive, picking a location is the next step. If you have a smaller property, you may have fewer options, but you still need to consider shade, wind, stability, and safety

Shade

If you can position your hive under a tree or next to a building, you’ll help keep your bees cool during the hotter months. Dappled shade is a great option. If there’s no natural water source nearby, place a large container of water with sand or stones close to the hive. Bees can go through around four litres of water per day in hot weather, so make sure to refill it regularly.

Wind

Avoid placing your hives at the top of a hill or in a particularly exposed area. Face the entrance away from prevailing winds to protect bees as they emerge.

Stability

Make sure your hive is set up on flat, stable ground, or place on a concrete or metal stand. Even though beehives are large and heavy, they can be blown over in windy weather.

Flight paths

When bees leave the hive, they tend to fly straight out of the entrance for a reasonable distance. If your hive is facing your neighbour’s property or a public road, this could mean bees running into people. Position your beehive entrance so that it’s facing away from people, and towards trees, hedges, or a high fence – this should force them to fly upwards when they leave the hive.

Restrict access

Whether you’re on a farm or in a garden, you don’t want passers-by or children getting too close to your hives. They could disturb the bees or end with someone being stung. Consider fencing around your hives or placing them in a secluded area.

Take your best pick

Although choosing a hive and a location might seem daunting at first, it’s pretty straightforward once you know what to look for.

And if you need more advice,call for a chat with the team at Ecrotek.


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Recent Varroa Outbreak

For technical information and hive movement restrictions due to the varroa mite outbreak, please refer to NSW DPI, 1800 084 881 (9am-5pm 7 days a week). For any further information on varroa mites please feel free to give us a call. Please note - some shipments may be currently delayed.
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