MY BACKYARD APIARY DESIGN
I have never been satisfied with my backyard apiary design. Not only does it look messy, it makes inspections challenging, especially when they are done with a group of beekeeping students. Now, with my husband Tim’s help, I am finally doing something about it! Read on to find out what my plans are and the rationale behind them.
We enjoy a corner lot with a large (for Southern California), flat backyard. The space behind the house is a rectangle approximately 85′ X 74′ with neighbors on two sides. The bee area is a 50′ long by 15′ wide strip along our back fence stretched between two sheds. It also runs along our vegetable garden with no barriers between the two spaces.
So, why am I redoing this space? Let’s go over some of the current apiary design’s problems.
Flight Path Drama
The beehives are lined up in several short rows with 2-4 hives in each. Their entrances are all facing the same direction (towards the north shed), like chairs in a classroom. This keeps the bee flight paths from going directly into the vegetable garden, but it also means that their flight paths are easily disrupted during inspections.
The hives in the first row must fly around the hives that are in front of them. So, when I stand behind one hive, I block another’s flight path. This setup is especially problematic when I am teaching. All of the extra bodies stading in the space become obstacles that confuse the bees as they try to find their entrances. Just a few minutes into my beekeeping class, we have created a chaotic aerial traffic jam!
Most of the time, the bees are tolerant of us, even when we work very close to them in the garden. However, we do experience defensive behavior from the occansional guard bee and I am always on alert when I am close to the hives. Now that we have a toddler, it’s more stressful. I constantly worry he will go into the bee area. We also have this problem with guests and dogs that come to visit. Since there is no clear division between the apiary and the rest of the yard, new people and dogs often wander right into the bee area. Some don’t even realize the bees are there!
To keep the weeds down I partially covered the area in cheap astroturf. I know this isn’t a good solution, but I had some on hand so I figured why not? After awhile, I got sick of looking at the unnatural green and covered it with straw as a temporary fix. However, weeds still grow through it and cause issues with ants. Also, the astroturf has started to break down from sun exposure and is now shedding horrible microplastics everywhere. I regret using it.
To be frank, the apiary design is ugly. The way the hives are arranged looks messy and the ground cover is incomplete and unsightly. We are constantly battling weeds and in the spring, parts of the apiary are swallowed by them. It has gotten to the point where I avoid showing anyone the apiary because I am embarassed by how it loooks.
The New Apiary Design!
After living with this problematic apiary design for several years, I am so excited to redesign it. The new space is not only going to look great, it will be more practical!
It consists of two levels framed by redwood borders and filled with decomposed granite (DG). I chose DG because it is inexpensive, helps with weed supression and has a natural look. The lower level will be a 3ft wide planting strip, raised 4″ above the garden area. I plan to grow drought-tolerant, native, pollinator shrubs.
Behind that will be the second level and main bee area. It will be raised 8″ above the garden and bordered with a tall fence. The fence will not be what you imagine. It will be made up of sheer panels (either hardware cloth or metal window screen) so that the bees cannot pass through it, but the hives will still be visable. There will also be a gate with ramp entrance (in lieu of steps) so that heavy hives can be wheeled in or out.
After the space is complete, I plan to line up my hives in a single row that faces the fence. Since they cannot go through the fence, the bees will have to fly up and over. This will keep them above our heads as we work in the garden. Also, because they will be in a single row, all the flight activity will be in front of the hives. My students and I will be able to stand behind each hive without causing chaos.
Also, the view from the apiary will no longer be a sea of weeds and the side of a shed. Instead, we will have a lovely view of the garden and house. Similarly, when I work in my garden, I won’t have to stare at my eyesore of an apiary anymore. Instead, there will be a row of flowering shrubs and a cute line backyard beehives peaking out from behind them.
We’ve already started working on this project. Head to my Instgram (@girlnextdoorhoney) for all the latest updates and to watch it come to life in real time.