Sun or shade: which is best for the bees?

This is a contentious issue. Many—perhaps most—beekeepers believe that more sun is better. In fact, many beekeepers go out of their way to make sure their hives are in full sun the entire day.

However, wild swarms left to their own devices always go for shaded areas. After all, they nest in trees and trees have canopies that shade them. Wild swarms don’t select deep shade, but usually choose a location on the edge of the forest that is shaded at least part of the time.

Why the discrepancy? Why do we put bees in places they don’t prefer?

I think there are several answers. First of all, a hive in the sun becomes active earlier in the day. Bees become active when they get warm—and they get warmer sooner in a sunny location. We see this activity and assume the bees are “happy,” when in fact they are just warm.

Early morning activity is equated with extra nectar foraging, but on hot summer days collection may slow down as the workforce is needed to cool the brood and the hive. Even if nectar is delivered to the hive, the house bees may refuse to take it in if the brood nest is too hot. So although you may gain something early in the day, you may lose it later on.

Hives in the sun also get active earlier in the spring and have the opportunity for early cleansing flights. But there are downsides to this as well. If the hive is artificially warm, the bees make take flight only to die in the cold outside temperatures. If it is warm enough to fly, but forage is not yet available, they can waste a lot of energy looking for something that isn’t there.

Another reason hives are kept in the sun is that commercial beekeepers often have no choice in the matter. They often keep their bees in open fields where there is no protection from the sun whatsoever. The rest of us see these busy hives and assume this is the “correct” way to place hives. And the truth is, these full-sun bees do absolutely fine. The workers cool the brood, cool the hive, and thrive through the most treacherous of summers. So should we care about placement at all?

The decision of where to place a hive is often determined by factors outside of the beekeeper’s control. Bees in pollination service are put near the crop they are to work. But even hobbyists are constrained by neighbors, property set-backs, small lots, buildings, rooftop configurations, or a myriad of other considerations.

Nonetheless, it is instructive to read the comments influential beekeepers have made about the placement of bait hives and colonies.

This comment appears under the entry for “bait hives” in The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture. It says bait hives should be

. . . well-shaded, but highly visible; if the sun hits the bait hive the bees will probably leave if no brood is present.

This comment appears in The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum:

Place colonies where they’ll have some protection from the late afternoon sun.

Thomas Seeley in Honeybee Democracy says of bait hives:

. . . a good location is about 5 meters off the ground, highly visible but fully shaded, and facing south.

All these comments indicate that bees prefer a home in the shade. So my own recommendation is to give your hives some shade if you can and try to avoid full sun. But if your situation dictates otherwise, don’t worry, just make them comfortable by providing adequate ventilation—such as screened bottom boards and screened inner covers—and your bees will take care of the rest.


Dappled morning sun



“Dappled morning sun.”

You’re reminding me of Yeats, a little ditty called Wandering Aengus. Not many people can get away with using dappled. Good work.


Wow, I’ve been compared to Yeats and Reagan all in one week!

Withers Mountain Honey Farm on Facebook

My preference is to face them southeast near or under a tree or wind break where they get morning sunshine and afternoon shade. It gets them up early and helps with cooling on those hot summer afternoons. It also provides relief from the cold north by northwest winds in the winter. I have an apiary in northern Michigan which sits in a clearing amongst pine trees. My hives are in a rough circle because of the size and shape of this apiary. In the early morning the hives on the west and northwest side receiving sunshine get out nearly an hour ahead to the bees on the east side facing west. Then, by late afternoon they are the shaded ones. These hives are consistently the best producers in that apiary.


I agree that early morning sun and afternoon shade is the best of both worlds. Another reason for getting the bees up early is that some plants only deliver nectar in the morning hours–buckwheat, for example.


Our bees at work are on pallets, so depending on the yard, two hives per pallet face North, two face South (or two face East, two face West).

The better performing hives vary quite a bit between yards (I mean, it’s not always the East or South facing ones that do better), but there usually is a trend in any given yard. I think for us the wind is a big factor. The most protected yards seem much stronger.

Kurt M.

Your hives sit on a pallet at ground level? I read one comment that suggest 5 meters off the ground. Is this just optimal? How does one maintain a hive that high.. In nature the probably locate even higher.
Just starting this hobby.

Renee T

It looks like you didn’t get answered…The suggestion about “5 meters off the ground” was referring to bait hives; when you’re trying to capture – oh, I mean – make a comfy home for a wandering swarm of bees. Once they are moved in and settled, the beekeeper brings down the hive and moves them into a “proper” box set-up and puts them where he/she can get at them every so often to see everything is going ok.


I’ve heard that placing the hives in the full sun helps to control small hive beetle. I tried it both ways and it seems there might be something to the claim. Here in Florida it does get hot in the full sun and natural instinct is to put hives in the shade. However with a screened bottom board bees don’t seem to mind some extra heat.

Ralph Badgley


I don’t have any bees yet but planning to. I did buy some equipment, hives, jacket, things that a basic beekeeper has. My question is how do you tell if you got a first year queen or one that may be 2 years old.




Packaged bees come with a new queen. A nuc generally has a new queen, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the seller. Asking is the best way, I think, but you never know for sure.


What about veeery hot summer days, forecasting 40-45 oC (I live in Melbourne Australia). My bees will be under direct sun and will get a lot hotter than that. Should I use a shade cloth?



I would, especially in the middle of the day.


I read somewhere that varroa are somewhat more sensitive to heat than are bees. Therefore, the theory goes that hives exposed to more sun can fend off varroa better. Anyone have confirmation pro or con?


I’m in a very rural location outside Victoria, BC, Canada (very temperate location, rarely gets below freezing in the winter, agricultural zone 9). There will be no problem with local laws or neighbours. There will be a problem with local black bears, who have enjoyed my garbage from time to time (planning a cage to protect the bins on trash day).

I’m planning on starting with two hives, and I’ve got two options for location:

1. An area of yard enclosed by plastic deer fencing. I’m only somewhat confident it will deter the black bears, as the hives would be fairly distant from the fencing. But if a bear wanted through, he’d get through. The yard gets dappled sun in the morning, and a lot of sun through the late morning to early evening. This is the dog’s yard, and we’d have to mow the grass around it occasionally.

2. A small, largely unused 2nd floor balcony off my living room. It’s glass-railed, and south-facing. It gets lots of sun in the morning to late afternoon. Balcony is 5′ deep by about 12′ wide. This area would have a bit of a greenhouse effect, being sheltered from the wind by the glass fencing of the rails around it. Meaning it would be warmer during the winter, but also on the few days of the year the temp gets above 30C (86F). On the hottest days, I could see it getting over 40C/100F on this balcony.

I can see pros and cons to both setups, but I’m wondering if you folk can weigh in on what else I should consider.

One specific question I had was about the glass-walled railings on the balcony. Pics here: with Maggie-dog ( and without ( I imagine it’s not the greatest idea to have a glass wall 12-18 inches in front of the front door of the hive? If so, I could put the hive right on the floor of the balcony, with the entrance pretty close to in line with the gap underneath the railings. It’s second floor, so would there be a problem putting my hive screened bottom board / sliding directly on the ground there?

Thanks so much in advance!


I’ve never had a situation like that, but I’d try putting the hive entrance right up to the gap. Then, their flight path would be unobstructed. On really hot days, you could always hang some shade cloth or even a towel over the railing.

I’d put something under to the screen bottom board just to protect the deck from all the droppings. A piece of plywood or plastic should suffice.



I’m new to beekeeping in New England, and I have placed my hives where they get direct sun on the fronts during winter/spring and will be lightly shaded in summer/fall.

Regarding hives becoming artificially warm in the spring… can a beekeeper “mulch” the hives by placing hay bales around them to regulate temperature and keep the direct sunlight from warming them too quickly?



I suppose you could, but be careful that you aren’t holding in the heat and humidity with the straw bales.

Mary Casavant

There was a question about whether Varroa mites are heat sensitive? According to a new article, not only are they heat sensitive, but there is a hive prototype in the works that uses solar power to heat a hive beyond what the mite can stand while still allowing the bees to function. Sounds like the bees would spend quite a bit more energy cooling this heated environment down, but it could help solve the issue with the mites. One thing I didn’t agree with is that the article attributes Colony Collapse Disorder solely to Varroa mites when I have seen lectures, read articles and watched movies that attribute CCD largely to chemicals. Currently the main chemicals to blame are referred to as systemics and are used to control pests in crops. The chemicals affect the brood so often the deleterious effects are not noticed right away. Anyway, the article is titled: Brilliant new beehive harnesses solar energy to exterminate the colony’s worst enemy”.



Many people have been looking at this new hive, but the part I don’t understand is this: the warmer it gets, the harder the bees will fan to keep it at the proper temperature, so I don’t see how it will work. Also, it seems that in just a few generations, you would select for heat-resistant mites.

Danger Brown

Hi Rusty. I believe the thing has covers so it operates normally most of the time, then you uncover the glass to allow a greenhouse effect which heats it up for a few hours. It is a varroa killing heat treatment which probably has some merit, and some risks.

BUT, like you, I agree that it would lose effectiveness over time. I believe all forms of human intervention will produce tougher mites and eventually become ineffective. We just need mite resistant bees.

The theory holds for all bee ailments.


I have been told the reason for full sunlight is to control hive beetles. What are your thoughts about this.

If this is true and I opt to go to shade anyway, are hive beetles hard to control?



As with most decisions, there are pros and cons. The very best deterrent to small hive beetles is a strong, healthy colony. If hive beetles move in, you can use beetle traps, avoid pollen patties, keep extra space in the hive at a minimum, and some people find that bright sunlight helps. The first thing to find out is how bad are hive beetles in your area. If they are a problem, what do local beekeepers find useful other than sunlight? The answers will be different depending on where you live. I actually don’t know the full impact of sunlight on hive beetles, but it is probably a function of how hot it gets in there and for how long. Again, this will depend on your local conditions.

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