MY BACKYARD APIARY DESIGN

Posted July 21, 2022
by Hilary

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.

Backyard Beehives

The Space

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.

The Problems

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!

No Boundaries

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!

Weed Meadow

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.

Aesthetics

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.

The Beehives

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.

 

8 Comments

  1. Erin

    It is going to look so good! Looking forward to seeing the results!

    Reply
  2. Norm

    Great concept and design, can’t wait to see the finished pics.

    Reply
  3. Kathye Mathews

    Hilary – that is the perfect solution for “natural” beekeeping! Enhancing the apiary with drought resistant pollinator plants and keeping the bees happy

    Reply
  4. Jace

    I like the concept. Looking forward to seeing pictures of the completed project.

    Reply
  5. Tilisa (Bee Happy Farmer Gal)

    I love it! I would vote for window screen material as it is easier to work with =) I also struggle with working in my garden and being in their flight line (several bee stings with them flying right into my hair!) Creativity in small space is necessary and it looks lovely!

    Reply
  6. Denise Bienias

    Looks good Hilary. I also have DG under 2 hives, my only complaint is the small rocks can stick to say a queen excluder edge and will block a snug fit or fall into the hive. My solution was to place some stepping stones we already had under those 2 hives and I make sure to place my excluders on the stones up against the hive during inspections. This extra height also insures splatter from the rain on the DG doesn’t cover my ant cant. My other hive sits also on several stepping stones on top of the lava rock (bigger than DG) and works well. The fly over fence will be very helpful for your close gardening, great idea.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Thanks for the tips, Denise!

      Reply
  7. A. Casey

    What a brilliant design. I’m very excited to see the final product, especially which medium you use for the fencing.

    A week before work on our addition was started my family and I went to the house to clear out the back yard. The bees were calm and amiable in April – when the project was initially supposed to start – but come late July they were getting a bit ornery and chased more than one of us out of the yard. We installed a fence in front of the hives and the bees adapted immediately to the new trajectory and havn’t bothered the crew in the least. Since the new patio (and human activity hub) will be closer to the hives, I’ve been trying to think of creative solutions to keep the bees happy while still being able to observe their activity. Your solution is perfect! Good luck to you and the girls.

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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