Hosting a Hive

Do you live in the Queen Anne or South Lake Union area of Seattle and are interested in hosting bee hives?  The information below covers the essentials for being host site, plus some interesting bee facts and terms.  Send me and email if you would like to get on the host site list.

Ideal Host Sites Should Have Most of These
  • Someone interested in wildlife and in helping the bees survive.
  • Sunshine. Hives need as much sun as possible in cloudy Seattle.
  • Chemical protection. Particularly pesticides and herbicides, should be avoided around the hives. If it kills bugs it can kill bees.
  • Private or secure location that is out of clear sight to prevent theft and vandalism.
  • Availability of a consistent clean water supply that bees can drink from without falling in and drowning. Water trickling over rocks or a pond/pot with floating vegetation are ideal.
  • Easy access to hives. Bees are inspected every 1-2 weeks depending on the time of year. You do not need to be home for inspections, and are welcome to watch inspections.
  • An ideal location that can host 2-4 hives. This helps to maximize inspection efficiency and increase management flexibility.
Host Site Considerations
  • Bees are fun to watch but the hive entrance is also their runway so stand to the side to watch them.
  • The hive is their home and they will shoo you away if you get too close. They may take notice of motors/machines more quickly at further distances.
  • Never put honey or sugars out for them (diseases spread from one hive to another through honey or this can start robbing).
  • Bees don’t like bears or anything that seems to them like a bear (body odor or dark colors).
  • Bees have a great sense of smell and are attracted to sweet smelling things, be conscious of your body fragrances around the hive even if you don't smell them.
  • Bees are curious and explore everything. They are also attracted to lights at night.
  • Bee stings happen, have an antihistamine like Benadryl handy (many people like liquid Benadryl for topical use). Localized swelling is a normal reaction to a sting and is not the result of an allergy. If you get stung on your finger and your throat swells or you have trouble breathing your body is responding with an allergic reaction and you should consult a doctor for medical recommendations.
  • Smoke occasionally is used to keep bees clam during inspections.
  • Pets instinctively know to keep their distance form hives and if not tend to learn quickly.
  • Gardens with pollinator friendly plants are nice so you can watch the bees work the flowers.
Interesting Bee Facts
  • Bees collect nectar, pollen and propolis within a 3 mile radius of the hive. They can fly up to 9 miles if an exceptional food source exists so don’t worry if you don’t have anything blooming.
  • In the peak of summer a hive will have around 60K bees; mostly girl bees (workers), a few thousand non-working male bees (drones) and one egg laying bee (the queen). Without a queen the hive will eventually die.
  • Summer worker bees only live 6 weeks.
  • Bees usually won’t fly under 45F or if there is heavy wind/rain.
  • Honey harvest is done late summer in August and/or possibly late spring in May/June if there has been ideal weather.  
  • Bees need at least 65 pounds of honey stores in addition to several frames of sealed pollen to survive winter. Only a surplus to this can be harvested.
  • Honey surpluses depend on the whims of Mother Nature and stress levels inside the colony.
  • Typically it takes two years for bees to build up a hive to a point where they generate a surplus of resources. Hives that do not have enough stores to survive winter may even be supplied food from other stronger colonies to help them survive winter.
Bee Terminology
  • Langstroth Hive: These are the typical white box hives you see most commercial beekeepers using. The bees move up the boxes like a tree truck storing excess honey in the top boxes. These hives use durable frames that may or may not have foundation on them that can be reused after extracting honey.
  • Top Bar Hive or TBH: These are long hives that are parallel to the ground. They mimic a fallen tree and bees store honey in the back of the hive away from the entrance. The bees build the comb from the top bars of these hives and there are no frames to support combs. New combs are monitored closely to keep them in line initially.  These hives are higher maintenance and are more delicate to work with.
  • Dearth: This is a period of time where the is a shortage of pollen and/or nectar. Bees can be prone to robbing behavior of other hives during this period and will be more defensive in general as a result.
  • Robbing: When bees of one hive overpower and potentially kill another hive to steal it’s honey stores. Yellow Jackets will also attack hives to eat both bees and honey.
  • Honey Flow: This is a short period of time when there is an abundance of forage for the bees to create a surplus of food. This surplus is what they use to survive winter and periods of dearth. If they have a surplus beyond what they will need for winter we can take some. Our major honey flows in the city are Maple, Blackberry and Knotweed.
  • Swarm: This is not a horror movie! This is the natural way hives reproduce and will usually happen in Spring/Early Summer during honey flows. The swarm will briefly gather on a nearby branch or ledge in a large ball of bees around the queen (usually around the size of a soccer ball but may be the size of a softball). If you see a swarm call a beekeeper as soon as possible so they can attempt to capture them before they take off and end up somewhere undesirable. Swarms may last for several minutes to days while they locate a new home. Beekeepers make every attempt to prevent swarms and to capture swarms if they do occur.  See my page on Swarms.
  • Hive Check: Hives are inspected every 1-2 weeks or as needed to prevent problems. Hives are managed to maximize colony size for honey flows while preventing swarms.
  • Nucleus Hive or Nuc: This is a smaller version of a hive that has a small colony of bees. This will eventually turn into a full hive and can be used as an immediate resource to fix problems in the main hive to grown into a full hive.  New hives for host sites are typically started from a Nuc.
  • Moving Hives: Hives are only moved in the off season as to not disorient the bees, the bees will remember where their hive was and go back to that location if it’s less than two miles away.
  • Treatments: Some beekeepers use different treatments or medications on their bees in and effort to prevent pests and disease. These treatments vary from management techniques, natural substances, soft chemicals and heavy chemicals. Bees are facing many challenges right now from pesticides to introduced pests and diseases form other parts of the world and it can be difficult to decide when you should help or when to let mother nature run its course. A beekeeper is someone who’s bees survive the winter and they will work towards that goal doing what is necessary.
Seattle Hive Placement Laws (summary of placement regulations only)
Hives shall not be located within twenty-five (25) feet of any property line except when situated eight (8) feet or more above the grade immediately adjacent to the grade of the lot on which the hives are located or when situated less than eight (8) feet above the adjacent existing lot grade and behind a solid fence or hedge six (6) feet high parallel to any property line within twenty-five (25) feet of a hive and extending at least twenty (20) feet beyond the hive in both
directions.