Bee shed 2: the sequel

All good things must come to an end, though this particular one did sooner than I’d hoped.

Our research apiary – affectionately known as The Bee Shed – lies in the path of a recently announced new road development. Not close to, not within sight of, but actually underneath a proposed access road to the new Madras College site to the West of St. Andrews.

Under construction ...

Under construction (mid/late 2015) …

The timing stinks

There are actually two preferred access road routes to the new school, but the Council (who in their infinite wisdom drag everything out to the last possible minute before committing) won’t decide which will be used until about a month or so before development is expected to start. This is intended to be early in 2018 i.e. rather too close for comfort if we don’t want our research interrupted.

We’ve known about the possibility of the new road since June, but things never seem to move as fast if there’s not a deadline looming.

We therefore need to prepare a second research apiary, move all the bees across and then disassemble the original one … all within the next few weeks.

Time spent in reconnaissance …

… is seldom wasted. And we’ve spent quite a lot of time. We’ve considered a number of alternative sites, some better than others, but none truly ideal.

Given the choice we’d have selected a sheltered, East/South facing site, surrounded by mature open woodland, with water close by, protected from strong winds by the adjacent woodland or walling, with abundant local wildlife, early pollen and …

No, stop, wait!

The bee shed in autumn ...

The bee shed in autumn (2016) …

That’s a description of the current site.

In fairness, there were some issues with the original apiary location. It was low lying and prone to minor flooding. Access was across a rickety set of scaffolding planks that threatened to pitch us into the burn when wet and slippery. Crossing the burn with the hivebarrow – particularly in the dark – required some courage (or stupidity). There was no power in the shed, it was quite remote and it was a bit on the small side.

There were some wonderful orchids though …

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchid …

I suspect these will struggle to re-emerge through the tarmac of the new road 🙁

Bigger and better

We’ve had to compromise on the new location, but – in doing so – we’ve managed to correct some of the shortfalls of the original site.

We’ll now have much more space and better drainage. We’ve achieved the former simply by specifying a larger footprint, and the latter by building on an earth mound raised a few feet above the water table. We’ve invested in solar powered lighting systems and have excellent shelter from the cold Easterlies that sweep in off the North Sea.

It’s also better located for outreach activities and closer to the research labs.

The final plans include a 15m x 15m platform to house a new bee shed of 16′ x 8′. Once we’ve vacated the original shed (a tiddly 12′ x 8′) it will also be moved to the new apiary, giving us additional storage and colony space.

In total we should have capacity for about a dozen colonies under cover, with more outside if needed. I should have added earlier … the two primary goals of housing bees within a shed is to  provide greater protection, enabling both a slightly longer brood rearing season and allowing inspections and brood harvesting whatever the weather.

If we absolutely have to inspect/sample on a Monday morning during a downpour, we can. The beekeeper saunters over under an umbrella, dons his/her bee suit and does the work. The bees don’t react badly to inspections in inclement weather. They simply exit the shed via the windows and re-enter the hive by a short tunnel through the shed wall.

Landing boards ...

Landing boards …

Over the next few weeks I’ll document some of the developments as we start to prepare for the 2018 season.

Here’s what I prepared earlier

Here are a couple of photos of the apiary in the very early stages of preparation.

Dig and Dug build an apiary

Dig and Dug build an apiary

The compacted grit base and shed foundations are now complete, with the shed and the fencing due shortly … and then it’s my turn to have a dabble preparing the shed for the bees, installing the windows and entrances and the solar power lighting system.

Early/mid December foundations and base installed

Early/mid December foundations and base installed

More of the same.

Shed foundations

Shed foundations

And then there’s the small task of moving the bees in …

This quote (Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted) is sometimes attributed to the talented and successful German Field Marshal of World War Two, Erwin Rommel. However, there are numerous other proposed sources … Sir MacPherson (Mac) Robertson (1860 – 1945), Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley The 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852) or Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC) in The Art of War. Take your pick. The meaning is self-evident … when planning something it’s worth considering all the possibilities, in particular the environment.


20 thoughts on “Bee shed 2: the sequel

  1. Tim Foden

    Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers are also having to move their branch (training) apiary on account of major roadworks giving improved access from the A46 to Warwick Uni. These apiary moves are a significant exercise and I would advise anyone identifying an out apiary to research the likely level of permanence to the extent possible as well as the many more well documented criteria before deciding on a site

    1. David Post author

      Good advice Tim … I’m aware your excellent training facility was having move. Of course, planning departments have all sorts of possible things on paper, many of which never materialise. If all these were considered off limits when investing time and effort in a permanent apiary we’d have much less choice of possible sites. The A46/University access was, like the new school here, listed as a possible site for development for years (perhaps even a decade). Unlike your training apiary, built by the hard work of lots of volunteers, I at least have the luxury of an Estates Department to do lots of the ‘heavy lifting’.

  2. Edward Hill

    Best of luck with the move, I always thought your shed idea was brilliant. Keep us posted of the move. PS make the maths cacha problem easier 9x tables were not my best subject.

    1. David Post author

      Thanks Edward … lots of interesting plans for the new shed, but quite a bit of work to do before the season starts.

  3. Bridget

    Sorry to hear you have to move but looks like it will be far better in the long run. It means you can iron out all those original wrinkles. I’ll be interested to hear about the actual bee move. Good luck with it all
    Bridget and Fraser

    1. David Post author

      Hi Bridget & Fraser
      The bee move will be a few weeks away yet. There are some logistical issues that are giving me a few headaches. Priorities at the moment are to get the shed and hive stands installed. I’m using pretty much the same design for the hive stands as before – including, as you first suggested, legs that project through to the foundations rather than simply being fixed to the shed floor.
      I think I’ve got the lighting issues resolved 🙂
      Best Wishes

  4. Larry

    Aside from moving always being a chore, there are the upsides which you have listed. And some excitement as the opportunity to make improvements presents – large and small. It’s a project with happy long term benefits. Enjoy, and keep us posted.

  5. Hans Weijman

    Wow and who’s going to pay for this?
    I’ve been following your blogs for a year or so. It’s been most informative, entertaining and unique.
    How on earth do you manage to compose your blog every Friday, do your beekeeping, research and have a social life too.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the new bee house.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Hans

      Ha! Social life.

      In reverse order … (now I’ve dealt with the social life Q) …

      • I’m fortunate to have a really great research team of PhD. students, technicians and post-doctoral researchers. And many visitors as well. These are the people who ‘do’ the research. I come up with (some of the) ideas and generate the money to enable us to do the work. I don’t do any lab work. If I did it would be chaos 😉 I used to, years ago, but now I leave it to the experts. My responsibility is winning the money. And that’s something I’ve had a lot of practice doing. I also do most of the outreach events – the winter talks, convention presentations etc. When I’m not doing this research I also have both undergraduate teaching and lots of exciting (!) administration to do for my employers. It’s always busy.
      • My beekeeping is squeezed into what little spare time I have at the end of the day and at weekends. I also do some of the beekeeping for the research apiary, though everyone in the lab has also been trained by our local beekeeping association to handle bees. I tend to do the slightly trickier stuff, like marking queens, swarm control and ensuring we’re on top of Varroa levels.
      • I don’t compose these posts every Friday. Actually, almost none of them are written on a Friday. Many take shape when I’m stuck in airports, or on some interminable long-haul flight (Chile, Florida, Malaysia in the recent past), or going backwards and forwards to London. Of course, I sometimes have to do real work on these flights instead. Once the basic idea is sketched out I expand the article as and when I get more ideas. Of course, some are particularly time-sensitive and these are often written late at night. At any time I might have 20-30 posts in the ‘pending’ folder, all of which need more work and/or photographs.
      • Some of the above covers who is going to pay for the new research facility … it is partly funded by the University and partly from my research grants. The headline figure appears high but in the overall scheme of things it’s very inexpensive when compared to the salary bills for my team, or the molecular biology reagents we use on a daily basis to do our research. Finally, it looks positively cheap (well, OK, inexpensive) when you consider the benefits it brings us in being able to do our research whatever the weather.

      Finally, it’s worth emphasising that some of the posts are interlinked with research projects we are involved in. All of the stuff on Varroa control is related to studies we’re doing at the landscape scale to help develop rational strategies to improve colony health. I’ll be writing about these as we start to get some answers, but the information is useful both to those involved in these studies and to other beekeepers who might need better Varroa control.

      Ha! Social life? I’m still laughing 😉

      Pleased you enjoy the posts. It’s always good to know things are useful or entertaining.


  6. Adam

    However much bigger your new shed is, it will not be big enough!
    Is the new site far from the original one? (I am thinking of the bee move here).

    1. David Post author

      Hi Adam

      Inevitably the new shed will be too small 😉 , but we’re restricted by space available on site and the sizes of “off the peg” sheds that don’t cost too much. In addition, we’ll be relocating the old shed to the new site in due course, effectively giving us something like 133% additional space.

      Which will soon be full.

      We’ll tackle the colony moves when everything is ready … if necessary we can relocate them for a week or two at another apiary of mine. It depends a bit on the temperature.


  7. TamiDee

    Hello so glad i found your site. Very hard to find info on bee sheds/houses. I live in high desert northern nevada. Very cold winters easy -20’s F
    High winds no trees. This will be my first time at bee keeping. Getting my bees this coming spring.
    My Q’s….
    * Instead of solid bottom board you prefer screened? For better insulation?
    *instead of roof cap wich is not neccesary in the shed you use a clear plexyglass? Do you put that on a rim with a notch for ventilation? The spacer rim sitting on top of a queen excluder?
    Thank you for all the info n pics you have up on your site it has been very helpful. 😁

    1. David Post author

      Hi TamiDee
      There’s very little information on bee sheds out there …
      You have to remember that our winters are nothing like as cold as yours. I estimate -20 F is almost -40 C. The coldest we’ve had this winter has only been -12 C. We have the shed as much for beekeeper protection as we do for bee protection. We need to be able to inspect irrespective of the weather conditions.
      Our hives all have screened ‘open mesh floors’ (OMF) but they also have a tightly fitting tray which cuts down draughts. However, this is only used when we’re monitoring Varroa levels. The OMF is usually open.
      The clear perspex crownboards all have covers of some sort, though a proper roof is not needed indoors. Sometimes I use a simple folded Correx roof, other times a simple square of plywood. Almost always there is a 50mm thick insulation block on top of the crownboard, and directly in contact with the crownboard. There is no gap for insulation. Condensation is not an issue and is not something I worry about. The combination of the OMF and the insulated cover is perfectly satisfactory.
      I’ll be updating the site with pictures of the new bee shed as we complete it this Spring.
      Good luck with your bees.
      Happy Christmas

      1. Jay

        It is 11/7 /2019 ,And I’m curious as to how everything worked out for you, I’m really looking into being a beekeeper, the more I read the more my heart pounds ! And I love the idea of a shed , it’ll make it so much easier to maintain

        1. Tami Standridge

          Hi Jay!
          This is my 2nd year and it has been great! Winter is already here dropping down into the single digits (Fahrenheit) already. I love the Slovenian Hives and my bee house. So easy to care for my bee’s. I even harvested a little bit of delicious honey this summer😃🌈🐝
          I have a youtube channel :
          TamiDee Living Free
          With several videos on my adventures in beekeeping with these hives, if you would like to check them out.
          Happy Beekeeping!😊🌈🐝

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