Keeping bees on a roof

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Beekeeping is a gentle and fascinating hobby.  In theory, it isn’t too time consuming either.  But speaking as a beekeeper I can confess to wasting many a minute just watching the ladies fly in and out of the hive carrying different coloured pollens. I can’t help but wonder where they’ve been when they do their little dance to direct the other bees to some flower-rich place where there are rich pollen pickings.

Anyhow, I digress.

When I tell people about the bees in my garden, the first thing they ask me is “how can you bear to be in the garden with them flying around you like that”.  Personally I’m not bothered by them, and they’re certainly not interested in me.  But I can understand why people are concerned.

There are three good ways to keep bees away from humans.....

  1. Keep the hive out in the countryside or on wasteland where people just don’t visit.  I know beekeepers who are lucky enough to be able to do that.  In theory, I can too, for I am a farmers’ wife.  However, one thing worries me.  Not pesticides.  Farmers around here are very bee-concious.  It’s theft.  Bees and Beehives are expensive to buy which makes them extremely “nickable” and in a rural area where policepeople are a rare species.  I don’t want to take the risk.
  2. Put the hive entrance very close to a 6ft high fence – the bees will come out of the hive and immediately fly above head-height to continue their journey.  Simple and practical provided the fence doesn’t cast too much shade on the hive.  I want my girls to feel the warmth of the morning sun and start work ASAP.
  3. Put the hive on a roof.  Once again, the bees are above head height when they leave the hive AND the whole thing is a lot less vulnerable to thieves.

 bees entering and leaving a beehive

honeybees appreciate having their hive situated close to a source of food.  In urban areas, a green roof is the ideal place for a hive.

What sort of roof is best for bees?

The first and most important thing is safety.  Can you get on and off the roof easily?  If the “girls” do get upset, are their fall restraints so that nobody can come to grief trying to escape from an angry bee?

Remember, when you do come to gather up the honey, it’s heavy.  It won’t be practical to carry several frames of honey down from the roof via a ladder. Especially not as you’ll be wearing a protective veil, gauntlets and boots.  You need proper stairs, a door that opens onto the roof, or at the very least, a window that you can climb through.

A flat roof is best, and preferably one that is sheltered from high winds.  I have known beehives to blow over in gale force winds and that’s very disruptive for the bees and for the beekeeper.  Maybe you could construct some sort of windbreak to protect it?

The very best beekeeping roof has food on it

The ultimate beehive on a roof will have a source of food very nearby.  Bees will travel up to 5 miles to gather pollen and nectar but that takes energy and time.  Less time spent on the wing = improved efficiency = more honey.

A living green roof is a built in source of bee food.

What do bees need to eat?

Honeybees need pollen to feed their lavae and they need nectar as an energy drink and to make honey stores for the winter. 

They need those nutrients all year round – which is why they have stores of honey and pollen stashed in the hive.  And they will be out gathering food whenever the weather is fit to do so. 

Bumblebees are different, they need the same nutrients, they don’t lay down winter stores; they hibernate so as not to need food in the colder months.

Pollen and nectar come from flowers – as we know – some flowers are better than others.

What should I plant on my bee-friendly green roof?

Sedums are awesome on a beekeepers roof.  They’re low maintenance plants with star-shaped flowers that have easy access to the pollen and nectar inside them.

A sedum roof buildup isn’t too heavy either so not too great a burden on the building.

Take a look at this video showing you how to make a sedum green roof.  This roof is slightly curved and not suitable for a hive, but believe you me, the bees will come for miles around to feed on it!

 

 

Further reading about green roofs and bees


Bees on the roof of a hotel in Kent

 

Green roofs as wildlife corridors for bees

 

Top ten green roof plants 

 

Green roof weights and loadings