Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
So you have decided to invest in a colony of honey bees. Your package bee order is set to arrive in the spring at just the right time for your location. Your new Langstroth style hive is assembled and waiting at the back door.
Now where do you put this new livestock?
One of the first considerations is access. A perfect location may be available but not easily accessible. You will be visiting the hive every week or so to check on the bees. For a new package installation you will be visiting more often in those early weeks to provide sugar water. In the late summer and fall will be the honey harvest. Supers full of honey are heavy. Access with a truck, utility vehicle (we use a Kawasaki Mule) or at the very least a wagon to pull is critical.
Look around for a good water source within a reasonable flight for the bees. They tend to like water that has some organic matter in it. A farm pond, creek, stream, stock tank or even a goldfish pond will give your bees access to the water they need.
Most areas will have nectar and pollen nearby but make sure your bees have something to forage. Bees can fly up to three miles for pollen and nectar but more time in flight equals less nectar in the hive. Closer supplies mean more honey.
Consider Sun Exposure
Next look for a site that has full sun. Bees are active from sun up to sun down so locating your hives where there is maximum sun exposure will allow your bees to benefit from a full day's work. Hives should ideally face south. This gives the bees the earliest start in the morning when the sun warms the entrance. Even though bees like sun they also need a bit of protection from wind. For a windbreak, you can locate the hives against a building, a few feet from a fence row, a line of trees or you can build a windbreak. Strong winds can topple over a hive or blow off an outer cover despite your best efforts to weight it down.
An open or toppled hive is a sure way to lose your colony. Try to choose a location with a slight slope to allow for drainage. At a minimum ensure that the ground is not prone to flooding. Bees do not thrive in damp locations and you need to ensure that there is no risk that water will run or seep into the bottom of the hive. If your location is otherwise good, you can accommodate this factor by raising the hives on a hive stand or concrete blocks.
At Five Feline Farm the apiary or "bee yard" is a short distance from the house accessible by either truck or UTV. This gives some space between the bees and the house, but allows for easy access. The UTV is particularly helpful when transporting supers or brood boxes and bee equipment as well as when harvesting honey. If we are just doing a quick inspection however, it is easy to grab a tool and walk to the hives.
Our hives are located in a tall meadow with native flowers and brambles. A few wild olives have been allowed to grow and flourish as the bees like nectar from these invasive plants. These brushy trees, tall flowers and brambles provide a natural wind break for the hives.
Last year we experienced a late spring snow that threated the health of the colonies. The bees had already broken cluster with temperatures in the 60's, so we offered additional insulation and wind protection during this storm. Even with a polar vortex in our recent memory, keep thinking about spring and getting started in beekeeping.
Five Feline Farm is a hobby farm in Central Illinois staffed by now four felines and two humans. We strive to be as sustainable as possible with a modern flair. Check out our website www.FiveFelineFarm.com to read our blog about life on the Farm and like us on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/fivefelinefarm.