Batten down the hatches

Anyone with any sense would be snuggling up on a couch in front of an open fire, not that there are too many of these anymore in the days of smokeless fuel, wood burning stoves and underfloor heating. The green mesh was nearly ripped out of my hands, flapping like a topsail in the gale that was blowing around my hives. How on earth did I ever think this would be an ideal spot to put some hives? The squall started. Rain on top of this! Serves me right. This is a job I should have done on a fine sunny day during this summer.  What was I thinking? Why did it leave it to now to buy the netting and fixings? It hadn’t even taken that long to go down to the hardware shop and pick them up. Am I so time starved that I couldn’t have done this months ago?  I was sitting on my couch only a few hours ago but decided to give a run around recce to my apiaries. I seem to collect apiaries, one hive here, two hives there, swarm picked up elsewhere. I tried to cut down this year but once I put a hive in a field the landowner grows very attached to them and looks in horror when I suggest I might move them. I’m a softy, the bees are happy where they are, what’s a few extra miles?  First stop was the swarm in “Stony Hill” field. I heft it up, hmm, does it have enough stores? Not bad.  Next stop is “Bee Nirvana”, a nicely sheltered spot, a heft to check the weight is good.

Bee Nirvana
Bees saying hello on a cold October day

Yes, I’ve given the apiaries nick-names – sometimes the name changes with my mood like the hive that needed the wind brake is now called “Cruich na gaoithe” Irish translates literally as “Stack of wind”! Which is my next stop. I drive up to the hive and have to be careful the car door isn’t blown off! It’s like a different climate in this apiary, the breeze has turned into a gale and the poor hives are getting a bettering. Time for action.

Here I am, my fingers are frozen and I can hardly feel the U shaped galvanised staples. I’m glad I bought the bigger sized ones so that my big fingers can get a good grip. I’m also glad I brought a friend to help me. I hold the staple to the wooden post while holding the flapping double layer of mesh in place as he hammers it all in place.

Galvanised staples

Bees, I hope you appreciate this! Look what I’m doing for you!! I stand back and assess our work. “Is four per post enough?” I say to the wind which catches my breath, the cold rain stings my face and the battle between the wind and netting is being won by the storm.

But not for long, we carry on securing the netting to the other posts and sew along the top of the double layer of net with wire.  I can feel the difference as I work behind this new wind-brake, the vortex around the hives has calmed.  The storm can build and rage all it likes now, the hives have shelter.  The next day I’m back to check that all is well. The weather is as calm as could be now. Am I being over protective? Nah! It’s only the end of autumn, there’s a long few winter months ahead, I’m happy with the windbreak and that the hives are well set up.

Location, location, location

According to Howland Blakiston “You can keep beehives just about anywhere: in the countryside, in the city, in a corner of the garden, by the back door, in a field, on the terrace, or even on an urban rooftop. You don’t need a great deal of space or flowers on your property; bees happily travel for miles to forage for what they need.”

I disagree, I think picking a spot for hives is a bit of an art form. Oh, and when choosing a location for a hive, enthusiasm is your enemy.  Wisdom only comes with years of ..well making a load of enthusiastic mistakes. I was warned at the bee keeping lectures what to look for but still fell into many of the pitfalls.

These are my essentials for a location for a beehive or apiary.

  • Not in my back yard! I’ve too many close neighbours with whom I wish to stay on good terms. See my post Could I put a beehive in my back garden?
  • Someplace I can drive up to the hives on a reasonably track.  Do you know just how heavy a full super of honey is? Complete Beehives says between 32 – 64lbs – if you are lucky enough to get a wall-to-wall full super. The website also gives the dimensions of supers and has lovely photos.  It’s bad enough hauling empty equipment across a long field but lugging full supers, even if you do have a bespoke ‘honey barrow’ puts a damper on the harvest as the sweat pours off you and every hump and bump in the field threatens to dislodge the boxes.
Flat bed honey borrow under construction
Bee-spoke ‘honey barrow’
  • Avoid being near people, like joggers [a nasty experience recalled on the Daily Telegraph] or dog walkers [see my blog post Bovine Encounter]
  • Avoid the hives being seen from a gateway or road. It’s too tempting for vandals, nosey people or worse thieves!
  • Hives should face south/south East (northern hemisphere). I avoid facing the entrance to the south West as that’s the prevailing wind here.
  • A place sheltered from wind – duh!
  • Shaded but not too shaded. Dappled sunlight in summer is delightful, if possible.
  • Dry ground. I wear wellies for a reason, shlurping through mud/bog/floods around our hives is not the reason. Stopping bees stinging my ankle or crawling up my trousers is the main reason for the wellies – I kid you not!
  • Reasonably level ground – gouging out holes to level a hive stand is not as much fun as it sounds.  Also, split level houses are only for architects. Dropping two feet to inspect the front of the hive and then towering above the hive at the back is a tad awkward. If you think it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, then you are correct.  
  • Have enough space so that I can approach the hive safely from the side and have enough space to the rear for easy access for hive inspections. A branch Loppers is an essential tool for a beekeeper as brambles in particular have magnificent growth spurts during summer and can literally trip you up as you work around your hive.
  • Keep away from overhead electric wires. Bees don’t seem to like them at all.

These are some other guides to finding the perfect location for beehives – I should have learned these off before rushing in!!!

Pick the perfect spot for your bees – for dummies.

8 proper beehive placement tips [has nice photos]

Beehive Placement: 10 Pro Tips for Finding a Perfect Site for Blissful Bees [also has nice photos]

The British Beekeepers Association has a very comprehensive downloadable leaflet about Bees neighbours and siting an apiary .

Finally, a bit of a distraction: here is a proper storm and the handling of sails in the wind: Around Cape Horn 1929 A fantastic video of a sailing ship rounding Cape Horn. It’s over 37mins long but well worth watching. BTW there is nothing to do with beekeeping in this video.

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