Beekeeping 101: Planning for Honey Bees

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How to Start Raising Bees

The Editors

If you've decided to move forward with raising bees, let's get down to business: Know beekeeping rules and regulations, choose the right location for your hives, and make sure you have the right habitat.  Here are answers to your practical questions.

Note: This is the second post of a Beekeeping 101 series. If you wish, go back to the first post to fully understand the pros and cons of raising bees.

Know The Laws

Your county or municipality may have restrictions on beekeeping, such as how many hives you can keep. There may even be an ordinance prohibiting beekeeping. In many states, there is a regulation that requires beekeepers to register their apiary locations and pay a small annual registration fee. This is done to lessen the spread of bee diseases.

Also, make sure your Homeowner's Association (HOA) approves and that you follow the HOA rules.

Beyond the laws, it’s important to make sure that your neighbors are comfortable with and not seriously opposed to your keeping bees in the community. Many an uncertain neighbor has been won over by the promise of a jar of honey someday. Be a good neighbor. Place your colonies with care to avoid causing problems with others in the area.  

Understand The Bees' Flight Path

We use the term “beeline” for a reason. Bees will take the quickest path from their food source to the hive. Sometimes, this results in disturbing humans or animals and pets.

Also, bees defecate in flight on their way to food and water. This can stain car finishes and leave colored spots on everything below.

If the bees will be flying across a pathway where people walk, consider installing fencing or tall plantings near the hives to encourage the bees to gain altitude quickly. This will help to keep them (and you) out of harm's way.

Choose The Right Location

Fortunately, bees can live in almost any location. We’ll talk about different hive styles in another post, but try to face the hive toward the rising sun (East) or towards the South. Morning sun on the hive front is a good thing; it warms the hive and the bees.

Place your hives in a sheltered area. Try to avoid hilltops, as they tend to be windy. Also, avoid low spots that hold cold air for longer periods and tend to be damp. Be sure that your hive area doesn’t have flooding issues so that you can always access the apiary.

As well as sunlight, bees need water every day of the year. Is water accessible? If you or your neighbor have a swimming pool, get an alternative water source for the bees in place before bees arrive so that they aren't tempted by the chemically-treated water. This source should be closer to the hive than the swimming pools.

Bees also need nectar and pollen. Will you have to feed the bees to ensure their survival? Yes, sometimes you may need to help the bees with feeding. This is especially true in times of drought or to help a weak hive prepare for winter. This brings us to food sources . . .

Know Your Flowers

Bees make honey from flower nectar. This can be found in plants such as white clover, asters, dandelions, maple trees, citrus trees, etc. After some time, you will come to recognize when the heavy nectar flows occur and when the nectar flow is scarce.

Before owning bees, make sure that you provide them with a safe, natural habitat. Pesticides on flowers are a major cause of death for honey bees. Be sure that no large areas around you are being treated with commercial insecticides. If a worker bee is not killed on site by the poison, it is possible for her to bring it back to the hive, killing the other bees and even the queen.

Now that you know what your bees need, find out what you—the beekeeper—will need for clothing and supplies.

A thank you to Master Beekeeper Charlotte Anderson from South Carolina who consulted on our beekeeping series


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pam shank (not verified)

3 years ago

I live in west central Ohio and my first year of having bees has gone smoothly. My husband wants to install foam insulation around the hive to keep it warm. I have never noticed other hives being insulated and I do not my bees to get too warm.
please advise
thank you

Alan George (not verified)

7 years 1 month ago

Another great article on honey bees. Many people are becoming interested in the hobby of beekeeping. If you are interested in beekeeping, or already keep bees, you may be interested in natural beekeeping. Natural methods are becoming more popular throughout the agricultural community. Beekeeping is no different. Come and join the discussion at Natural Beekeeping Board.

Tom Osterried (not verified)

7 years 10 months ago

I have honey bees living under wood siding in a old house that must be torn down. Is it possible to relocate them to a commercially built bee hive, & will they stay there?

Debbie Strobel (not verified)

6 years 7 months ago

In reply to by Tom Osterried (not verified)

Yes. Contact your local Beekeeping Association, County Extension office, or local university/college. They can remove the bees and relocate to a hive and get free bees!