The first question to ask yourself is “Should I hide my bees?” If you want to hide a beehive because beekeeping is illegal where you live, then I don’t recommend it. It’s probably easier to keep the bees elsewhere because courts, fines, appearances, and lawyers are no fun at all.
If beekeeping is legal where you live, but you want to hide your hives to appease the neighbors, avoid attention, or reduce the likelihood of vandalism, then go for it. Conceal that puppy.
Most jurisdictions, especially smaller towns and cities, don’t ban beekeeping outright. However, your property may be subject to homeowner association rules or other deed restrictions that do prohibit beekeeping. In other words, your research isn’t complete until you’ve read all the paperwork.
Reading between the lines
I’ve received many letters about legal issues over the years, and the worst problems stem from homeowner association regulations that contain vague language about what you can and cannot do with your property. For instance, the document may say that animals (or pets) “are restricted to dogs, cats, caged birds, gerbils, and fish.” Or it may say, “no livestock” or “no wild or dangerous animals.”
You, the beekeeper, can then argue that your bees are not pets, livestock, or dangerous. Good luck with that. These association documents can be a lawyer’s bread and butter because they are often loosely written and may be interpreted many different ways. And if you lose the battle, which is likely, you will be saddled with fines and legal costs as well. Worse, you still have to get rid of your bees.
You will often hear that most neighbors are understanding and perfectly willing to accept bees in the neighborhood. I believe this is true. But your problem is not the vast majority who are understanding, but the single one who isn’t. And there is always one.
A honey of a deal
The tradition of giving a jar of honey to each neighbor works with most, but it doesn’t sweeten the woman who has a obsessive fear of anything with five or more legs. I don’t mean to be sexist here, but if you run into one of these irrational, hyperventilating, vitriolic women, you’ll wish someone from Oz would drop a house on her head.
Furthermore, they are never afraid for themselves—of course not!—but they fear for the safety of their children, grandchildren, pets, husband, cleaning lady, errand boy or whoever they can think of. These people are hell-bent on winning and they don’t give up easily. You might not want to cross them.
Hide it or flaunt it
In spite of all that, there are two kinds of beekeepers: those who announce their hobby to the world and those who quietly mind their own business. I understand either philosophy because each has pros and cons, and every beekeeping situation is different.
But before you accuse me of being vague and wishy-washy, let me clarify that I absolutely belong to the latter group. I mind my own business and expect them to mind theirs. My neighbors know I have bees, but I never told them. I think it just osmosed into their consciousness, the way their pigs and roosters osmosed into mine.
Now let’s assume that beekeeping is legal where you live, but you want to keep a low profile anyway. What is the best way to hide your hive?
Smoke and mirrors
My preferred method is paint. I live in the woods, so dark green or brown hives are just the ticket. My main fear is vandalism. Since I live adjacent to a state forest with lots of trails, I don’t want my hives to be visible from a distance. So far, this has worked well. I’ve also seen beekeepers paint their hives to match their house or barn. When the hive is in front of a matching building, it blends right in.
Surprising as it may seem, most people won’t recognize a beehive when they see one. I’ve had lots of clueless visitors say, “What’s that?” The answer depends on your personality. If you want them to back off, just say “beehive.” Or you can play dumb and say, “What’s what?”
If you live in a populous area, the fenced enclosure is a good choice. People often use such enclosures to hide garbage cans, so they easily go unnoticed. I’ve also seen photos of dog houses, children’s play houses, tool sheds, and wood sheds used to conceal a beehive or two. You are limited only by your imagination.
The dead giveaway
But here’s the hitch. When beekeepers get discovered in these ploys, it’s because they wore a bee suit. Just think. If every time you visit your child’s playhouse, you dress in full hazmat, people will start to wonder. You would draw less attention if your hive was fluorescent orange with a flashing beacon. To ordinary people, any suit that covers you from head to toe, especially on a sweltering summer day, signals real danger and they will wonder where you escaped from.
One of the best hiding places, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is the barn loft. In a loft, the bees can move freely, you can wear hazmat if you like, and the bees are high off the ground when they take off. Even balconies are pretty good because people don’t tend to look up when they’re looking for trouble . . . that and the fact that staring at a bedroom balcony is considered pathological.
Compromise if you must
Many factors influence the position of a beehive, and new beekeepers should remember that the comfort of the bees is just one part of the puzzle. Family, neighbors, local ordinances, and homeowner associations all play a part in selecting a location that will keep everyone—bees, humans, pets, and livestock—happy and healthy. Sometimes the perfect location for beekeeping is not ideal for peacekeeping. Compromise is key because honey bees are more adaptable than humans, by far.
Honey Bee Suite