Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in Kim's backyard beekeeping series. See DIY Backyard Beekeeping: A Beginner's Guide for tips on placing your hives, choosing the right equipment, hives -- and of course, finding the best bees. Then, you'll be ready for these 10 Tips for Establishing Your First Hive. See Kim's book The Backyard Beekeeper for more thorough tips.
Right smack dab in the middle of town
I've found a paradise that's trouble proof (up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two
Up on the roof (up on the roof)
-- From Up On The Roof, by the Drifters
There's a lot happening, Up On The Roof, these days, and keeping a few hives of bees up there fits right in. If your plan is to have an apiary in the air, before you get started there are some ground rules to keep in mind so you don't have problems later.
First off, getting equipment up, and then down has to be considered. If you have pre-assembled equipment and you can get it in elevators, down halls, out doors or through windows then you know that you can probably get it back down again ... at least when it comes to does it fit. But if you are assembling equipment up on the roof, will all those boxes and such fit when trying to get back down? Try it first, without the bees, just to make sure.
Too, when you are removing equipment, full sized hives, supers full of honey, that split you made, will they have bees in them? And if they do, and you are going down hallways, elevators, lobbies and the like, will all of those you encounter be as enamored with your bees as you are?
If you're heading up, and then down on an outside fire escape ... does all that stuff fit? And moving empty, already-assembled boxes up can be a tad easier than getting them back down when they are full, heavy and you need to take seriously the this side up notice so things aren't spilling out all over.
Once up there, who else is up there? That pigeon guy? Sunbathers? Maintenance people? Stargazers? Is there a roof garden there that others will visit? Who else has access to your bees when you're not there, and is that going to be a problem? This is no different than close-by neighbors who aren't comfortable around your bees and may strongly object to this new activity of yours. Mostly it's not a problem, but you need to know for sure. And, there's always the security problem ... vandalism or theft can enter the picture if you're not careful.
How high can you put bees? Five stories? Ten? Twenty? There's probably an upper limit to how high, but I haven't run across it yet. The downside, if you will, is that the higher you go the farther the bees have to fly up ... and gravity is a harsh mistress. The higher you are, the more they will have to work ... but it's a tradeoff for safety and convenience for the beekeeper. If you are 20 stories high and the bees never thrive, can't fly for many days in a row because of the wind or the temperature, then you're probably too high. If you run into that problem, we'd like to know about it ... so we can share with others.
City beekeeping has several advantages over crowded country bees because there are fewer bees, beekeepers and, thus, pests in the area. Not none, but far fewer. That means your bees will probably do pretty well up there in the air. If there's food enough below a typical colony will thrive, and swarms and splits become routine. So how many colonies can you have, up on the roof? Realistically, how many? Overpopulation can be a decided problem up here. Be prepared to handle this before you run out of room.
One thing to think about too, is water. Roof-top environments can be warm, and water will be needed. A full sized colony in the warm part of the year will use a quart or more of water a day. If you provide that water they won't have to collect and carry it all the way up ... saving them a whole lot of work.
Not only are roofs hot, but they can be quite windy. Is a wind break on two or three sides possible? That way bees can fly low to the ground right out of the hive, off the edge and not get exposed to the windy side of the building, or the gale going across the top ... it makes life easier for them, and eventually for you.
The Roof it has a Lazy Time
A-Lying in the Sun;
The Walls, they have to Hold Him Up;
They do Not Have Much Fun!
The Lazy Roof by Gelett Burgess
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