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How to hide a beehive

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.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

You can hide a beehive in a barn loft.
I love the idea of beehives in a loft. Of course, most people who have a barn don’t need to hide a beehive. Such is life. Photo and hives © Carol Lew.

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Comments

Bill Halstead
Reply

Hi,

I am setting up some new-to-me beehives for this spring. I was interested in the idea of beehives in the window area of a barn loft or some similar place. Not because I have such a place, but because I am trying to figure out how much sun needs to hit a beehive in order for the hive to be healthy and productive.

It seems that in a barn loft, only the front of the hive would get any sun, ever. Is that enough sun for the hives to do well in the very maritime Pacific Northwest?

I want to make a shelter for the hives, as we are in a pretty windy area, and I’ve had lots of problems here with water getting into the hives in winter. My first thought is to make the shelter, something that can be opened up to the sun and air, as needed (maybe hinged roof and hinged sides that can be swung or lifted out of the way). But if hives will do well without anything but the front exposed to the sun, that would make it a lot simpler as I wouldn’t have to open the sides or back except when I want to open up the hives. Or perhaps in very hot weather.

I’m on a hilltop, hence wind and generally a little colder that surrounding areas. I also live on an island, so the cool, maritime weather is generally cooler than it is farther from salt water. For the most part, we have more trouble with too much air movement than too little (but I am assuming that a shed would need to have enough space around the hives that they wouldn’t be stuck in a dead air zone, and probably something built in for good ventilation).

All of which is to ask: What do you think about having the hives enclosed as they would be in a barn loft, or a smaller shed? Would they really get enough sun? Do they really need much sun, here in the cool, damp climate?

Thanks,
Bill

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

The real consideration is not how much sun they receive, but how much heat they receive. We equate direct sun with warmth, and it is an excellent indicator. But if the bees are warm enough, they will go out to forage. The hives themselves don’t actually need light. Remember, it’s pitch black in the hive in either case.

In fact too much warmth in a hive is also a problem, which is why artificial heaters don’t work well. When the inside of the hive gets warm enough, the bees go out. If it is freezing outside, they are likely to die. The artificial heat can easily send the wrong signal.

Personal opinion here, but I think we put too much emphasis on sunlight. If you look at feral colonies that have chosen their place to live by themselves, it is usually in a shaded area or in dappled light. They don’t usually nest in the bright sun by themselves. If you read Honeybee Democracy, Seeley talks about colonies preferring places at the edge of a forest or clearing, which usually means they get both sun and shade.

Some of my hives are deeply shaded. One in particular has survived for seven years now. A swarm moved into an empty hive that I had stored under some western red cedars. I just left it there, even though I knew they would get zero direct sunlight. Zero. Every year, they are my healthiest bees. I’ve done nothing to that colony for the entire seven years except steal queen cells, frames of brood, extra nurses, or whatever I need.

Of my other hives, most get a few hours of sun, but none get all day sun. The people who say early bright sun will increase honey production are probably right. But honey production is one thing and colony health is another. I think shade is just fine.

Dieter
Reply

From memory: I once read of a hive (or more) inside a building and the bees went and came through either the chimney or some vent pipe. Can’t remember.
Could you check that out? That would be an elegant solution.

Rusty
Reply

I love this observation hive. The bees go through a very long tube to get outside.

Dieter
Reply

So would this not be a solution? You could have a hive or more anywhere in your house, basement, loft, next to your computer as an observation hive if you wish or in a tool shed as long as you have access to the outside world for a duct. And nobody would know.

Rusty
Reply

Dieter,

I think it would be cool.

William HN Fleming
Reply

Bees can find there own way to suitable nesting sites against those IDIOTS who want to make it illegal for people to keep bees in some areas.

Ken
Reply

Nice article. Here in TN we were starting to have problems with municipal ordinances. Fortunately we have a strong state beekeepers organization with a strong lobby in the state house. A few years back the state passed a law banning ordinances/laws against owning/having bees on a person’s property. This law was not grandfathered purposely so that everyone could have bees. This law also applies to homeowner association regulations.

Let’s hope other states follow suit. I love my bees and love watching them at work. I think of them as livestock pets that I can love just like my LGD, cat, and chickens.

Rusty
Reply

Ken,

Good for Tennessee!

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

I totally appreciate this post. My hives were hidden until the lower branches of the pines died and now they are totally visible from the street. I am going to move them for all the reasons listed in this post. If you have any tips on moving an active hive, I am listening.

Peter
Reply

Hi.

I got my bee hive in London, UK. Here keeping bees is legal. Legislation in the UK says that honey bee belongs to you when it is inside your own hive. Flying bee outside hive is wild being – belongs to no one;) Despite that I am still waiting for reaction of one of my neighbours – they always got something to say about everything;););)

Rusty
Reply

Peter,

That’s an interesting interpretation. It would keep beekeepers from being sued over swarms and stings. I like it.

steve
Reply

I’ve had bees for years. The village ordinance says no farm animals. If I ask for an interpretation, it’s like I turn myself in. I wear a homemade black vail over regular clothes and I live on 2 acres. My closest neighbor is fine with it. I also have top bar hives and most people would not recognize them as bee hives.

I love your advise and your creative way of expressing yourself.

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

That’s true about top-bar hives. Almost nobody recognizes them.

frances I Moore
Reply

I put up a fence for mine but u are right. Everybody knows because I live in a small city and they’ve seen me in the bee suit. I mind my business also. I also put up a no trespassing sign to protect me from the kids or whoever I want to stay off my land so if they get stung I can’t be sued. So the yard is fenced in with a privacy fence around the bees, Can’t do much more. Thanks for all your posts. I read every one. U are a great teacher about the bees, I have learned a lot from u. I can’t go to be meetings, I work. I get all my information off the web and u tube has great videos.

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Frances.

John Turpen
Reply

I’m in the Denver area and we have had some warm weather so I checked my hives and have lost two of the four. This is my second year of beekeeping and I’m not sure what to do with dead hives, can I clean them and add new bees, swarm trap?

Thanks, John

Rusty
Reply

John,

If you are satisfied that the bees did not die of a brood disease such as American foulbrood, then I would just scrape out the dead bees are reuse the hives.

lee
Reply

I’ve seen various admonitions about barrier walls spooking the bees. Even one instance where our club enclosed a donated hive inside a chain link fence enclosure to protect viewers and viewed, and the colony never “took off”. I wonder how true are the stories about bees being unable to navigate, even if grown up with it, some sort of opaque wall. I’ve not seen solid research into these parameters.

Rusty
Reply

Lee,

There are dozens of reasons why a colony might fail, but I wouldn’t blame the chain link fence. I’ve seen hundreds of different types of barriers, including fences, concrete walls, hedges, chain link, sheds, buildings, awnings, and trellises where colonies have thrived. Honey bees are miraculous navigators and humans are miraculous story tellers. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Slavisa Nesic
Reply

Hello,

It is interesting what course of action is taken by people and maybe society. We are pushed to be afraid of keeping bees because of various justified reasons but it seems that society is not as much afraid of destroyed plant species. It is actually ridiculous IMHO, that most governments (I am from Serbia) seem sometimes more involved in bans, taxes or similar activity then protecting our nature, our soil, our bees, our future.

There is saying here something like “if bees are gone, the people would follow”. The flowers are less and less every year – correct me if I am wrong about this! And we are forced to hide the rest of our bees. So sad, isn’t it?

Rusty
Reply

Slavisa,

I agree completely. All nations have major problems, but we spend our time and money on nitpicky little things that don’t matter and that don’t fix any problems.

Debbie
Reply

Good idea … I live in an Amish community, and lots of them keep their hives in storage sheds. I paint my beehives camo so that they blend into the woods and are more difficult to see. Keeps prying eyes away. A lot of people who do see them, end up wanting bees for their own yards ! go figure !

Rusty
Reply

Debbie,

You can never predict how people will react. You should send us a photo of your camo hives. Very cool.

Ames
Reply

I’m lucky enough that I have an 8’000 sq. ft. barn up here, but…..no way am I bringing a lit smoker into it.

Rusty
Reply

Ames,

Good thought.

Mike G
Reply

Thanks Rusty – I completely agree.

Up to now all the advice I’ve received has been to ask my neighbours first. Well I know my neighbours and I know no matter what I asked them they would say no along with plenty of swearing and shouting, and then I’d never get to have my bees. So I decided that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. (And put up a 7′ fence.)

A few years later I no longer bother to change into my bee suit out of sight behind the fence. These particular people were working on the roof of their garage last year and would have been looking straight down on the hives so it’s no longer worth hiding. Someone nearby also called round recently to ask me to help remove a wasp nest problem because he’d heard that “I knew about this sort of thing”.

For most people I’m sure it’s better for them to experience living near beehives before they’re asked to think about it. And if anyone does complain now I can say that they’ve been there for years and haven’t been a problem before.
Of course the first swarm that lands on their washing line will be interesting.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

“So I decided that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” Exactly right.

Ray
Reply

Sadly in the UK hives are often secreted due to theft. Theft is awful but the sad bit is that quite clearly the thieves are competent beekeepers, and maybe even worse, the spoils are being sold on to beekeepers who obviously know they are entering into a ‘shady’ deal.

Rusty
Reply

Ray,

That is really sad. There is quite a bit of theft here, too. Truckloads are sometimes taken right out of the fields. Hare to believe, but true.

Richard Caton
Reply

When I got into beekeeping 3 yr’s ago I went through some of this. I had the ‘devil be dammed’ attitude towards what anyone had to say. I’m doing it. But a friend told me that although the neighbors are one thing the city can come down hard on me. So when I talked to my neighbors I was surprised to find out they thought it was pretty cool and would like come over and watch me do it. All but that one that you mentioned Rusty. Spot on. She took alarm to it. BEES!!! They swarm! Wow, here we go.

So I took the time to explain to her what a swarm really is that these are gentle honey bees and if she has any issues or sees a swarm in one of her trees to call me ASAP at home or work and I will deal with it. This calmed her fears. I went on line and looked up the city ordinances and it looked like I was in a no bees zone so I called city hall. They asked for my address and said that I am in a newer part of the city where the homes are spread out more and I can raise bees. Nice to get the green light on that.

We have had some warm weather here in Minnesota and the bees were out foraging. My wife was out for a walk and got a complaint from a neighbor a block away that her bird feeders were full of bees (nice to know the girls are ranging out that far already). She explained to her why they were in there but I am going to have to do something about it if I can. I read where I can mix up a solution of soybean flour and brewers yeast to keep them around the home. Trying to be a good neighbor about it. I don’t need any heat from city hall.

Rusty
Reply

Richard,

It can be really hard to break the bees from a hummingbird feeder once they know where it is. Let me know how it goes.

Ken A
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Always enjoy your articles, I’m a second year beek up here in Ontario Canada and just last week found out that my hive had survived, we had a warm spell and the girls were out in droves. Weather is cold again, so not out of the woods yet but quietly confident.

I found a cheap tip for checking to see if your hive is surviving, I wasn’t sure it worked but now have a lot more confidence that it works. Use an electronic cooking temperature device with a probe, insert the probe into the top entrance and check that the temperature is higher than the outside ambient temperature. Not looking for a large difference, just an indication that something is generating heat inside. I was getting a temperature difference of two to four degrees Fahrenheit so I kind thought the hive was OK, now the girls have confirmed it. The reason the differential is so low on hindsight is that I have an insulated moisture wick installed inside my top cover. The FLIR camera would work in warmer climes, but up here with the insulating wraps and minus 20 celsius (-5 F approx), I’m not so sure it would work.

As for legality or not, mostly the authorities turn a blind eye to contraventions of the Provincial Act and Local By-Laws unless there is a complaint, so I just keep well hidden and very very quiet. My hives are in the middle of built up area just east of Toronto. (Shhhhhh)

Ken

Rusty
Reply

Hi Ken,

Okay, got it. We won’t tell anyone where you live…

As for your thermometer idea, you made my day. Entire post coming up; full credit to you.

kirby
Reply

Am curious about your previous comment where you said can mix up a solution of soybean flour and brewers yeast to keep your bees around the home. Can anyone elaborate on the recipe/directions?

Rusty
Reply

Kirby,

That was Richard Caton (above) who mentioned it. I don’t know if it would keep bees from a hummingbird feeder, but honey bees do like to collect it. I think how well it works would depend on the bees’ need for sugar vs protein. Here’s a recipe: Dry Pollen Substitute you can try.

Richard Caton
Reply

Kirby & Rusty,

I don’t know the mixture ratio offhand. It is something I will have to experiment with. I got the idea off a U-Tube video and if I can find the video I’ll let you know. I am not concerned about hummingbird feeders right now as the bees are going into the seed feeders and collecting what is referred to as ‘fake’ pollen. They will also go after sawdust. I worked on my deck last fall and had to make sure I cleaned up all the treated lumber sawdust so the bees don’t pick it up in the spring. If they get enough of it, it will kill a hive.

Richard Caton
Reply

Hello again,

I got the information you’re looking for. Take one pound of soybean flour and mix in 1/4 pound brewers yeast and serve dry.

kirby
Reply

Thanks so much–will keep you posted on how it works!

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