hive placement

How close together can I put my hives?

As close as you want. The photo below is a good example of hives close together. This is actually a mobile bee house in Slovenia that can be moved from field to field. Here in the United States migratory beekeepers place whole pallets of bees in fields and orchards. The bees manage to find their way back home.

However, it is said that bees tend to “drift” to the hives on the end, so that after a while, the end hives have more bees than the middle hives. I have never noticed it in my own hives, which are three to a hive stand, so I don’t actually know how much of an issue it is.

Mobile bee house in Slovenia. Photo by Branko Habjah.

Mobile bee house in Slovenia. Photo by Branko Habjah.


  • Every fall we move our hives to the south pasture for warmer exposure and every spring we move them back to the bee yard. Ugh! such a nasty job, not to mention hundreds of very confused bees. This winter we designed a “Bee Coop.” We will place all 10 hives together (very much like photo above) and on the other side our chicken coop. Picture this !!! Hens,coop and free chicken run on one side. Honey/Hen House in the middle for equipment . 10 hives on the other side. During the winter months the heat from the coop will keep the hives around +1C……Also, hens will feast on dead bees during the winter months Comments???? Please be kind…….

    • Jane,

      That is freaking awesome! I love systems that are interconnected. For some reason it reminds me of a system my husband once designed. It used a heat exchanger to collect waste heat from a paper mill. The heat went into water and the water was then piped to a local high school where it provided space heating and water heating for the entire school. As an added benefit, the water was cool (rather than hot) when it went back into Puget Sound. So it was a win-win-win. This was ages ago and, as far as I know, it stayed in operation until the paper mill shut down.

      Anyway we all are going to want photos and a write-up about this project. Better yet, BC is on my itinerary for this summer. Maybe I should come see it???

  • Interesting to note…folks from Romania and Slovenia region don’t have any of the same problems as North America and Europe…makes one wonder what the difference is??

  • So if you have your hives close together, practically touching, and you do something in one hive that really upsets the bees, isn’t there a greater risk of the alarm pheromone from the disturbed bees drifting over to the neighbouring hive and putting those bees on the alert too?

    I think the answer is yes. I had one particularly grumpy colony all summer last year and just about every time I had to open it, the bees would virtually pounce on me and within minutes the bees from the nearest hive a couple feet away seemed to shift into extra defensive behaviour too.

    I’m spreading the hives out this year.

  • Rusty,

    I’m guessing you’re familiar with the German ethologist (Dr. Karl von Frisch) and his studies of honey bee behavior and particularly that of their optical perception. His studies revealed that a honey bee’s color perception is comparable to that of humans, but with a shift away from the red toward the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. He did this using classical conditioning by placing honey on different colored cards; it’s an interesting read.

    Anyway, when I became a young beekeeper in the 1970’s I read everything I could from Dr. Frish’s studies. So, back then and even today, I make stencils of varying designs and spray paint that design on the new hive body that will serve as the lowest brood chamber on a hive. When I started out with only a couple hives back then, I painted each hive a different pastel color — my beeyard looked like an Easter basket of color, but that got pretty tedious as I expanded, so I find that the stencil is super easy.

    I’ll send pictures when I get a chance, but based on Frisch’s studies it is believed that this will help alleviate drifting. I mention this only because of the varying colors used by the beekeeper of that mobile bee house in Slovenia and my thoughts are that it’s not a mistake or coincidence . . . that person must be aware of the study. In this case, it’s a combination of color and pattern that helps the bees orient themselves back to their colony’s position on the “grid.” Very cool!

    • Gerry,

      I used to use painted wooden cut-outs of flowers and animals that you can buy at a craft store. I stuck them on the lower hive body with Velcro fasteners, the kind that are sticky on one side. That way, if I had to move the boxes or repair them, I could just pull off the wooden artwork and stick it on a different box in the same position. I probably have a photo somewhere . . .

  • I was considering something similar to the coop idea. My Garden shed, doors open to the south, could I keep the hives in the shed, and open the doors on nice sunny days in the winter?

    • Norma,

      I suppose you could but you would want them outside in the summer, so you would have to move them all the time.

      • Yeah, thats what I was thinking, would be more hassle than it’s worth. Another Idea I have, what about putting a bottom on a hive stand, and then putting some foam insulation in that, then set the hive on top. Any reason you can think of that, that would not be a good idea? I’ve Langstroth hives.

        • 1. It would block ventilation through your screened bottom board, assuming you have one.
          2. It would negate the varroa separation provided by the screened bottom board, assuming you have one.
          3. Heat rises. Heat is lost through the top of the hive, not the bottom.

          • I think my head’s gonna pop! Did some online research re: screened bottom boards, leave off or on for winter. some say take them off for winter, others say it wont hurt to leave them on. One site said they left 3 on for winter and three off. The hives with the solid bottom boards on suffered. It also said as long as you give the hives protection from the wind, leaving the screens on should be okay. Wind and cold is my concern, goes down to 0 degrees at night, and most days does not go over 20 degrees. Gets windy, figured I’d stack hay bales on 2 sides, north and east, and even extend the hay forward of the entrance on one side. Thanks for letting me bend your ear.

            • Norma,

              This is why you can’t keep bees using rules. The “rules” change depending on your local climate and weather conditions, the race of bee, the size of the colony, the type of hive, etc. This is why people say “all beekeeping is local.”

              All you really need to do is understand the life cycle of the honey bee and the life cycle of the varroa mite. If you know these two things really well, you can figure out the rest.

  • How would a small green house work for wintering bees? One that can be opened up for the spring and summer and fall. I live in Minnesota and the winters get vary cold.

    • Charlie,

      It seems like it would work, but the thing I would worry about is keeping them too warm in winter. If they are warm and active, they will plow through their feed in no time. On the other hand, if you have a greenhouse sitting around, you could certainly give it a try.

    • Charlie, I’m in MN too. I’d like to hear how things worked out for you. I’ll be setting up two hives (first time) this spring 2015.
      Send me a note at jozu(dot)jones gmail

  • Mike Bush discussed the greenhouse idea on Apparently bees fly out to forage, bump their heads incessantly on the glass walls and die trying.

    • I just was thinking for winter. The green house part would be removed for spring and summer then replaced for winter. Do you think it would work?

  • I think what Aram is saying is that the warm temps IN the greenhouse in winter would cause the bees to think they could forage…then they’d die trying.

  • Rusty,

    What would you think of the idea of planting a thick ‘hedgerow’ of American Holly a few feet to the north of the hives?

    My thinking is that, since it has thick, green leaves all winter, it would make an excellent wind break and it would provide a lot of forage in the spring.

    Any thoughts?

  • Wow, this is an amazing site. I have longed to become a beekeeper. After reading about bee aggression I decided my property is too small to make my dream a reality. Instead I’ll keep the garden filled with pollen-rich plants that will make them happy. Just received an order of crimson clover, swamp milkweed, nigella and cleome seeds to add to the mix. Can’t wait to hear them humming.

    • B,
      Depending on the types of bees you are trying to attract, some of the presentations I’ve been to suggest that crimson and red clovers (two different kinds) have tube shaped petals that are too long for honey bees to get at the nectar. They say that honey bees can really only take advantage of white clover where clovers are concerned but that bumble bees can take advantage of the red and crimson clover. They also mentioned that, even though it’s the scourge of lawn owners everywhere, dandelions are actually the best “flower” for honey bees since they provide the majority of the make up of foraged pollen.

      Rusty, do you know anything about this?

    • Suzanne, you have a very informative website and the information is very compelling. Do you have, or know of anyone having a problem with anyone stealing the hives on the mobile unit? It would seem very easy to do all one needs is a trailer ball and hitch. I mention this because here in America especially in California the hives are stolen as fast as they can be put out on location. If I had not already bought enough hives for this year I would certainly consider getting one this year. Do you have any idea how much shipping would be to Arkansas? How much are your nucs with a queen? Thanks and look forward to hearing from you soon.

  • Thank you for visiting my website. I don’t think in Slovenia it is a problem as there are so many beekeepers, like 10,000, in a country the size of NH that there is no need to steal them. I can understand it being a problem here though. One way that might be better than a trailer is a bus or truck so that it can be locked and you could design it in a way so the hives could not be pulled out. If you write to me at then I can send you the hive information.
    Thank you, Suzanne

  • I have a top bar hive attached to pallets. They have no insulation. I would like to put the hive in my garden shed/greenhouse to keep them out of freezing cold idaho wind. Temp still gets to freezing in the shed, just no wind factor. I would face the toward big 4′ door and be able to open it up on good days. Thoughts anyone? TYIA

  • Bees with a chicken coop? Is that even sanitary? Chickens scratch the nasty poo dirt all over themselves in a dirt bath. We are talking just bacteria. We are talking microscopic worms, mites, and various microscopic parasites. I dunno if I want that anywhere near my honey.

  • In Slovenia, most hives are in a bee house, bee truck or bee trailers so being close together has not been an issue there since the 1500’s! You can have a bee house on one side and chickens on the other or change your chicken coop into a bee house like my neighbor did. I can send you pics if you email me or you can see on my website. I also organize Beekeeping Tours to Slovenia!

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