Step one in getting bees is deciding where to put them. Bees don't need a lot of space, but certain placements will help them thrive, and will help you enjoy working with them. Below is a very thorough walk-through of considerations for your ideal hive placement.
Note: None of these are absolute make-or-break conditions for your hive. The most important condition is that they are in a place that works for YOU. Aim to meet as many of these conditions as you can, while also recognizing that bees are very resilient!
If you're reading this when I wrote it, sometime between the Winter Solstice and the New Year, then now is the perfect time to decide where to place your hive.
It's a bit of old beekeeper lore (that means I can't remember where I first heard it!) that the best place for bees is a spot in full sun at noon on Christmas Day. This holds a great deal of truth and should be your first consideration.
Bees love sunshine and ideally, the hive entrance will be facing south to give them maximum sun exposure. If you need to choose between morning and afternoon sun, opt for morning.
Exception: if your summer temps regularly break 40ºC/104ºF, then you may want to consider a bit of afternoon shade.
It can be tempting to tuck your bees in beside a shed, fence, or hedge, but resist! Your life as a beekeeper will be much easier if you can walk all the way around your hive. Ideally, you want to do your hive work from the back (the side can do if necessary; but never the front).
If you will have more than one hive, you want to be able to walk around them both. It's fine if they are on a single long bench, but you need to be able to access the back of each hive, and it's best if there is a full hive-space in between them.
Bonus points if you space them to allow a lawn mower to pass behind/between them!
What To Put Your Hive(s) On
There are many options for keeping your hives up off the ground. We have found that the most comfortable height for us is if the bench they sit on is about mid-shin height.
Two cinderblocks make a very inexpensive and simple hive stand that is a nice hight for working.
A hive bench can be constructed fairly easily either from wood or a combination of cinderblocks and wood. This might be overkill for a single hive, but is a good level-up option for when you add hives.
Pallets are generally free and can fit several hives (many people do 4 to a pallet; we prefer 2). We find this a little too low to the ground to comfortably work so we are going to try stacking two pallets next year. Make sure to use pallets that you can safely stand on!
A bee deck is for those who are really gung-ho and will accept only the very finest architecture for their bees. If you are going to go to the effort of building a deck or platform for your bees, trust me when I tell you to build it for at least for hives (or don't come crying to me in two years' time!) and make sure there is also space for you and your tools to move around freely on the deck.
Considerations for Kids and Pets
If your bees will be sharing space with pets and kids, there are some simple things you can do to keep the interference to a minimum.
'Making a bee-line' is a common expression for a good reason. Bees don't like to detour for anything, and that includes kids bouncing on a trampoline or a dog chasing a frisbee. If your hive entrance faces right out across your yard, you will notice some interference with bees coming and going.
To prevent this, you might have to break the face-the-sun rule. Simply turn the hive backwards so it faces into your hedge or fence or the side of your shed, etc.
This will force the bees to fly up before they fly away and will mean they are above your head as they cross the yard. This is what we have done with our own backyard hives and we have noticed very little (if any) difference in productivity (although they do start flying later in the day).
Some beekeepers opt to keep their hives under a roof to protect them from rain and snow. This is not necessary, but can help reduce moisture in the hive if you live in a particularly wet climate. Make sure the roof is high enough for you to comfortably stand and work under (and know that your hive might be as tall as you are in a good year!). Personally, I have found that working in any kind of enclosed space (a shelter with one or more walls) really reduces my enjoyment of working the bees. I don't say this to discourage you from building a roof, but so that if you try a sheltered space and you find that you are not feeling at ease during your inspections, it might be worth moving the hives into the open.
You can also rig up a makeshift roof on your hive for the winter. We use election and for sale signs held in place by bricks and it provides a bit of extra shelter above the landing board.
If you live in an area with bears, you will want to add an electric fence to your equipment list. Here is an article about rigging up a bear fence.
A good bear fence should consist of 5 wires and be around 4.5 feet tall. We use solar powered energizers, but you can get less expensive plug-in units if your bees will be within extension-cord range of an outlet.
Access to Flowers, Water, Etc.
Unless you live in the middle of a desert, your bees will find what food and water is available (Note: there will be time when no food is available and you will need to feed them. More about that here).
They don't need to be adjacent to your garden if a more convenient spot is on the other side of the yard. You don't need to plant flowers all around them (although you can and it makes for pretty photographs!). And, in general, you don't need to provide water.
There are two exceptions to this: (1) if you are in a state of sever drought and small natural bodies of water are drying up, or (2) your bees have discovered your (or your neighbour's) pool (or some other water source where they shouldn't be hanging out). In those cases, you will need to set up an attractive (to the bees, not Pinterest-worthy) and consistent water source somewhere closer to the hive.
If you ever decide to move bees to a new location, there are some best practices to follow to make sure no bees are left behind and that your bees will reorient to their new hive location and not return to the old hive location. You can read all about moving hives here.
A Final Word
Keep in mind that you will be a better beekeeper if you are happy with your bees and where they are kept. Make sure the hive placement works for you and your family first and foremost!