Feb. 23, 2023

Considering Atypical Bee Yards (114)

Considering Atypical Bee Yards (114)

There’s lots of places you can keep bees that aren’t the typical backyard. Today Kim and Jim take a look at a couple of these places. The first is in an unused single car garage. The hive boxes sit on a bench inside the garage for easy access and...

There’s lots of places you can keep bees that aren’t the typical backyard. Today Kim and Jim take a look at a couple of these places.

The first is in an unused single car garage. The hive boxes sit on a bench inside the garage for easy access and he doesn’t need a cover, just a board over the top. These bees can be worked any time of day or in any weather and he uses a lot less smoke when working them.

Another placed discussed is up on the roof. There are some special concerns here you need to be aware of.

Listen today as Kim and Jim discuss Atypical Bee Yards.

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Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 114 – Considering Atypical Bee Yards


Kim Flottum: Hey, Jim, the other day when we were talking, you mentioned something about atypical bee yards. Where were you going with that?

Jim Tew: Atypical bee yards. Was that the bees on the roof comment I made just in passing? After we finished, you mentioned that the bees on the roof thing had some interest for you.

Kim: It does. Anybody listening here is thinking of putting bees on a roof because you live in town, you don't have a bee yard, you don't have any other place to put them. The roof just seems like the perfect place to go because there's nobody up there, and they're way up out of sight out of mind.


There's some things I want to want to point out to you about that. You ever have bees on a roof?

Jim: Now wait a minute. Where are you going with this? Am I being reprimanded? I just made a passing comment about putting bees on the roof, and now I got a segment going on about it.

Kim: Today, we're going to take a look at a couple of atypical bee yards. Maybe you haven't thought of where you're going to put them or where you can put them.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura, hosts, Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.


Kim: I know one time, Jim, a while ago, you were talking about putting bees in a shed. What's the advantage of that?

Jim: That was an idea that was not mine. It's an old idea. I guess I wasn't prepared to discuss this, Kim, but let me put my thoughts together here. The most prominent memory I have is a beekeeper who kept bees in a heavily populated area inside a single-car garage that was designated as the bee yard. There were shrubbery on the outside, so you couldn't tell that the bees were coming and going. You could only think that the guy must be making barbecue or smoking meat, or doing something over there, because occasionally, the neighbors, I'm sure, would see smoke in and around that building.

He worked the bees in the dark. He had a whole system set up for it. They were built on platforms inside. This was not really his idea. This has been done time and time again all over Europe, to some extent Europe and this country. I thought that's a grand idea. Thank him, I bought a shed, a large one. It must be 12, 14x20, and I was going to fill that thing full of bees. I must admit that what it got full of was lawn implements, tractors, lumber, bee equipment, and there's no wall space left. It's still on my to-do list Kim. That was my shed thought.

Kim: I can see where there might be some advantages of that, especially if you're in town and you don't want people watching you or thinking about you. Suddenly they've got a problem probably with a wasp nest on the side of their house or something, and the first thing they think about is that beekeeper next door, must be his bees.

Jim: You are precisely right. I feel very awkward putting on all those clothes and lighting that smoker, and with my face covered mysteriously, going back to my bee yard that so many of my neighbors from their second-floor windows can see. I don't mean to be a performer, I don't mean to be putting on a show. I want to be left alone. It's me and my bees back there. I don't mind having these things hidden. I would not mind going into the shed and just closing the door and minding my own business without having to have all these questions that would come up later.

Kim: Good point. I hadn't thought about a lot of that. I don't have that problem here. I don't think anybody can see me. I don't know. Nobody's ever said anything after 30-some years. I guess it's not a problem. I can see the other part of that is you could work those bees at night. You could work those bees when it's raining. You can work those bees earlier in the spring and later in the fall. I can see some real advantages to that.

Jim: There's other advantages too that I would not have thought about had I not talked of that guy and had a good tour that day. You don't have to have an outer cover. If the bees are inside, he never used outer covers. He just had a flat board undercover on them, and he said you could reduce smoke use by 50% to 60% to 70%. Because the bees were in the dark. You were using maybe a flashlight, the bees would go to the flashlight, you might turn a light on.

Then when all this done said and done and the bees are out, buzzing around, then you just open the door and the bees all fly out, and fly back to the normal entrance, and the little shed was cleared out. Had trouble with mice. When you got bees in a shed like that and you got all those dead and dying bees on the floor, then mice think that you put a buffet out there for them. That became an issue for him. He was having to struggle with mice all the time.

The other thing is, you said it, you can work bees at night, you can work bees during the rain if you have them inside this shed. When I was working with beekeepers in Burma, they kept all their bees under ramadas. Mexican beekeepers did that too. It was so hot, so rainy that they always had just a simple shelter over them, no walls. We have our own form of beekeeping right here in the US, in Ohio, in Alabama. We have our own form of beekeeping but that's not the beekeeping other people practice in other places.

Kim: There's another atypical place that people put bees, and it's not terribly uncommon, is to have them, if you're living in the city, to have them on the roof. There's some things you got to think about there. First, is your roof going to support a 300-pound beehive come September? One thing. The thing that people think about the least is, I've had them up there all year, how am I going to get the honey down? I got a box, I got a six, I got a 100-pound box of honey. Do I got to go in an elevator, do I got to carry them down steps? Do I got to go up a ladder? Getting them up there, same thing. Steps, ladders. Getting them down, steps and ladders. The first thing you have to think about is ease of access.

Jim: I was thinking while you were talking that I had an episode many years ago when they were building the bee lab at Ohio State. I had the privilege of being able to have a lot of recommendations and suggestions. One of the things I suggested was that we have a bee yard on the rooftop of the bee lab. We weren't vandalized often, but there were occasional incidences of vandalization going on. People were out walking on the weekend, and if a swarm was taking off coming out of the beehives, it was always a spectacle. I was thinking, let's just put them on the roof of this building and be out of sight.

I didn't see the reason why the answer was no. Because the roof warranty would be violated. If I was up there walking on that roof, it was not intended to be routinely walked on. If you want to put a roof down that you can walk on whenever you want to and put things on it, and act like it's a floor, then this is what it's going to cost you. It was dramatically more. That project went nowhere but I thought it was a good one, but it didn't go anywhere.

Kim: That makes sense for not being able to put those bees on that roof. Another question that comes from immediately behind that, what kind of liability do you have to the people who own the roof? If you're renting an apartment in a five-story building in New York City, that roof isn't yours. If you're thinking of putting them up there, you got to make sure that, A, the owner of the building is okay with it, and B, if something happens, how's it going to get covered?

Jim: I have no earthly idea, Kim. That's going to be a specific instance of all the details that are involved. I do have an input with that. There was a rooftop bee parade in Downtown Denver that I was allowed to visit with the beekeeper. It was really totally intriguing. You park on the side of the street right by a parking meter and you get out and you go in the back door, and you go through the kitchen. You go through all these back doorways, you go to the elevator with your cart loaded with all this bee stuff, go all the way to the roof, pull this thing out because there was a restaurant in that hotel, and they wanted to be able to say that this was their rooftop honey.

They wanted bees up there. They made it agreeable for getting up there to put the bees. That comes to mind. On rare occasions, people actually want it. Now, I told you a bit ago, I didn't like the neighbors checking me out. I felt awkward. Oh, I felt like a goldfish up there because we were surrounded by high-rise buildings and I thought at any given time, there must be thousands of people watching us work these bees. I felt like I was on a video movie up there the whole time.

Kim: I can imagine thousands of people watching that colony swarm next spring. [laughs] What were those bees eating? Food and water, where did they get it? Is there enough nectar-producing plants where you were in Denver to support a beehive?

Jim: Something I've become very comfortable saying is I have no earthly idea. He was making honey. They were getting it somewhere. All I can do is give you the perfunctory answer. There must be parks and flowers, and whatever, but I wouldn't think that Downtown Denver, since we're talking about Denver, would be an amazing nectar, pollen-producing area. I don't know though, Kim.

Kim: And water.

Jim: And water.

Kim: Where would those bees get water in all that pavement and brick, and sidewalk, and whatever? You might have to supply water, I would think, up there. The other half of that is, I've got permission to have these bees up here. My liability has been taken care of. I go up there and I work. There's nobody up there, so I'm not bothering anybody. I'm able to feed them and give them water. Either they collect it or I bring it up there. At the end of the season, I got to harvest. How do you get a 100-pound box of honey off a roof? Now you said you had a cart and they wanted the honey, but lots of cases that's not what's going on, is you got to get that box from up there to down here.

Jim: They had elevators too, Kim. What if you just had it on the top of maybe a two-and-a-half--story house and you're going up and downstairs? Right off the bat, if you're going to put bees on a flat roof like that, then you got to be a young person. You won't be my age or your age, Kim. I don't care if you're using eight-frame mediums or whatever. You got to carry that down those stairs, back up those stairs. I would improvise something. I got to have a hoist outside. That's just me thinking while you're talking.

Kim: I tell you what, you got me tired out. Let's take a break and let our sponsor get a word in here.


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Kim: That brings up one more thing. I had a friend in New York City, and I know lots of people keep bees on rooftops in New York City, I've got friends that do now. One Tuesday morning he was up there, and the person who owned the building came up right behind him and said, "These bees got to go today. Something's going up here. They got to fix the air conditioner. I'm going to have eight or nine people up here taking this thing apart and putting it back together. These bees got to go right now. You got a truck?" That's the thing. How do you get them off the roof? How do you move bees in the city right now?

Jim: Moving the colony itself, I could figure that out, but what am I going to do with that field force that's going to come back without a home? If that beekeeper in New York City had permission to have them up there, they may have to stand their ground and say either the guys work with me up here keeping the bees smoked and maybe controlled as much as possible, or you got to give me tonight to get these things out of here because otherwise, you're going to have thousands of homeless bees tomorrow in a foul mood.

Kim: That's probably a reservation you make before you bring them up there. You let the owner know that if something comes up and I got to move them, tell me yesterday so I can get them out of here today, rather than tell me today and have all those kind of problems. Either of these things, there's issues that you got to think of in the shed. I like that idea. I could make that work with my garage, I think. I don't have shrubbery around the garage a lot, but I could just take one pane of my six-pane window out and let them go out through there, and just out towards the backyard. That'd solve that problem. It would be light in there though all the time because there's windows in the garage. You said that your friend kept it dark?

Jim: He did keep it dark. He just turned the lights off and closed the door. Because he had a minimal cover. Just because he wanted to, this is going to take up too much time, he actually built boxes that had clear sides on them, plexiglass sides. They didn't really do anything. You could see some bees in there, but it was foggy and cloudy. I don't think that idea worked. Anyway, he wanted to keep it dark because he wasn't using wooden sides.

Kim: My garage is hooked up to my chicken coop, so I'm in there at least twice a day, sometimes three or four times a day taking care of chickens. I'm in and out of there. Oh, I'll have to look at that and see how lights would work in that. I don't have a flat roof, so I don't have to worry about trying that here. I got nothing flat enough to put a beehive on in my house.

Jim: I have a shallow-pitch roof house and I wouldn't be up there, I'm not going to be on a regular roof. There's all kinds of stories we don't have time for, Kim. One of the funniest presentations I ever heard was a bee inspector, a state bee inspector gave a presentation on atypical bee yards. One that he described was you had to go into the guy's toilet, his bathroom, close the seat on the toilet, open the bathroom window, climb out the window, and get on the flat porch roof that abutted the bathroom window to work the guy's bee colony.

Whenever he was handing equipment in and out, his stool that he stood on to work back and forth was his toilet. The guy couldn't get pictures of it, but he described it and just the mental image he grew was funny enough. Can you get to this rooftop? Can the roof stand you walking on it? I don't want any slant whatsoever, and I will not be up there in the winter. Right now is a classic case in point there's four inches of wet snow out there. I won't be on my roof for any reason right now.

Kim: The whole point of this thing, I think, is it sounds good to begin with, but look for the problems that you're going to see next in the middle of the summer and at the end of the season, and next spring too.

Jim: I want to squeeze this down because we're totally out of time, but Kim, here in the Midwest, these old houses were sometimes specifically built with bee coves in them. Bee holes, bee spots. I had a coworker who used to have a good eye, a great eye for figuring out that this house had a bee room in it. We went to several of these houses and toured usually way up in the attic.

If you're down in the kitchen and you want fresh honey, you send the kid up to the attic, they open this trap door, rip out a comb of honey, blow the bees off and run back downstairs. None of this is new. We didn't have enough time to go into it, but people live with their bees all the time. I'm dumb when I say this. You and I don't think a thing in the world by putting an observation hive in the house. We do it all the time, and in a way we're keeping bees inside, so it's not nearly as foreign as you might think. Now, I'm done.

Kim: I hadn't thought about the observation, but you're right. I've had over the years, four or five times I've had an observation hive sitting in my living room going outside through the porch window. I guess the whole message here, if you will, is if you're thinking of a roofs or atypical bee yard, think it through before you get them settled and have to get them out, so that if you do, you can do it easily.


Jim: Atypical bee yards will bring you atypical challenges, guaranteed.

Kim: Exactly right.

Jim: I got a good time. Thank you, Kim.

Kim: Yes, see you next time.

Jim: All right. Bye-Bye.