Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bees in the City, Part 3: Where to put your bees

I recently had the honor of writing a guest piece on my sister April's blog I [Heart] My Life.

In the first segment Bees in the City, Part 1: Are You Ready for a New Hobby? I wrote about beekeeping as a fun hobby, and share my thoughts keeping bees in the urban environment.

In the second segment Part 2: 4 Steps for Getting Started With Beekeeping I wrote about how a person could get bees and start beekeeping.

This post is written as a third installment:

Part 3: Where to put your bees.

Before you actually take the leap and start beekeeping, take a second and consider you're going to put your bees.

My Langstroth hives
Of course the bees themselves will fly where they want to, but where you put the hives is pretty important. Hives should be placed in a sunny, well ventilated spot, with the hive entrance facing away from the prevailing wind. Sunny locations with good air flow reduce moisture and mold in the hive, keeping the bees dry and closer to their optimal temperature (about 90 degrees F). Facing the entrance away from the wind will help the bees come and go without getting blown off course. Also, if you live in a windy spot like I do, don’t forget to put a weight on the hive lid, or strap them down. I once had a lid blow off in a spring storm, and my bees were subjected to a wet cold night in the open air – Bad News!

 Since I have backyard space, my hives are placed away from the trees, in a spot that gets lots of sun, facing east. My hives sit on stands approximately 6 inches off the ground, to allow air to move under the hive, but not too high to make working the hive difficult.
Full honey bee hives are heavy, and taking a moment to consider that before housing your bees is a very good idea. Langstroth hives consist of one or two deep deep boxes for the bees to live in and several medium or shallow depth “supers” on top for the honey. The term “super” refers to the upper boxes superseding the main hive body. In an established colony, the main hive body will weigh well over a hundred pounds and each super weighs about 40 or more pounds depending on how much honey is in there.
While you hopefully would not be moving the main hive boxes very often, if you are successful in bee keeping and get lots honey, you will be moving the supers.  A healthy colony can fill 3 or more medium depth supers in a season.
For neighborhood beekeepers with limited space, roof top locations can be the answer. The roof top is a generally unused space, with good sunlight and airflow. For many beekeepers rooftops also afford a nice amount of privacy – the only people who know about your bees are the ones you tell. It still seems a bit odd to me, but rooftop beekeeping is becoming common in big cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
Since I don’t have any personal knowledge of rooftop bee keeping, I’ll just mention a few considerations to keep in mind. Access – don’t place your bees in a spot that is hard to get at. Weight – remember bee hives are very heavy and the last thing you need is to crash through the roof with your bees. Heat – bees don’t mind the heat, but working a hive on a blazing rooftop may be pretty uncomfortable.
Finally, one last point on hive placement: In the spring, when the bees leave the hive for the first time months, they have not relieved themselves since the previous winter. For me the first warm 50 degree days of spring are quite a sight with the bees emerging from the hive and cleansing. Cleansing is a beekeeper’s term for pooping.  Yes, the bees fly out and poop. About a quarter of their body mass. That means anything near the hive, especially in front of the hive will get spotted with bright orange bee waste. This is funny at first, until it’s all over your car. Or your neighbor’s car. Or their living room windows. I have actually heard of law suits stemming from this very thing, so it’s worth thinking about before it happens.
Honey bees returning from a spring cleansing flight.
I could go on, but in the interest of keeping things simple I’ll end here. 
I encourage anybody interested in bees and beekeeping to give it a try, but be warned. Beekeeping is fascinating and if your not careful you might get hooked!

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