A Year in the Apiary:
At the time, I just wanted to make something for my own use. But after a while, I realized what a useful solution this would be for anyone who wants to keep bees near their neighbors.
Finding a frame
While searching online for frame-making ideas, I discovered the Harrogate Arbour from Agriframes™ in the United Kingdom. I had seen their stuff before and really liked it. Their smaller “Classic” model is large enough for two bee hives and more than tall enough to satisfy the flyover barrier requirement. It has a ten-year warranty and is much nicer than anything I could build. So I ordered one from Garden Artisans, their reseller in the United States.
Making a cover
I used heavy-duty shade cloth for the lower walls, and light-weight shade cloth for the upper walls and roof. The seams were sewn with UV-resistant heavy-duty outdoor thread, and the front panel sealed with Velcro®.
Because at its highest point the frame is 7 feet 3 inches — or 2.21 meters — tall, it helps to have an extra set of hands to fit the cover over the frame. One person can stand on a ladder, while the other adjusts the fabric. Once in place, the cover can be attached to the frame with zip ties.
However, the front panel was still the one place where a persistent raccoon with nimble fingers might find its way in.
So there you have it!
After nearly a year of testing, my enclosed apiary is settled into its surroundings, but has not gone unnoticed by the wildlife in my yard. Sometimes a bird perches on top of the frame and lizards climb up the sides to sun themselves. A neighbor’s cat stops by to swat a bee through the net and then curls up to sleep in front of the gate. Over the past year I’ve found evidence of one skunk that tried to dig underneath, but didn’t get very far.
Reclaiming your space
Although an enclosed apiary keeps most bees out of your way, you will bring them right back if you put their water source in the wrong place. Bees love pond water, and a half whiskey barrel with plants and mosquito fish makes a good, low maintenance, and nutritious water source. Just make sure to place it where the bees won’t cross your path as they haul water back to the hive, because they will be there in force on hot days.
Another activity that might cause concern for the uninitiated is the way bees fly in circles around the hive on sunny afternoons. Although sometimes mistaken for a swarm, it’s just young bees learning to identify landmarks so they will know how to return to the hive when they become foragers.
An unexpected benefit of having the apiary entrance so high off the ground is that it gives bees the opportunity to show their flair. When returning with a heavy load, some bees shift into neutral and slowly glide — sometimes in a spiral — or even free fall from the roof to stick a landing at the hive entrance.
This behavior must go back to when bees lived in treetops, but I haven’t seen it described anywhere. Maybe they’re just conserving energy, but it looks like fun.
So, back to my story. At this point, all I need is some bees!