I wrote half of an entirely different blog post last week, and intended to finish painting over the weekend. But all my plans changed when Memphis developed a sudden case of spring this weekend.
As those of you who live in the area know, spring in Memphis has very little to do with the actual season, and is not significantly correlated with any particular calendar month. Seasons arrive and depart around here on their own schedule, thank-you-very-much. It was spring in Memphis for most of November and December. It’s been monsoon season for what feels like forever, and we don’t even have a monsoon season around here. It will be winter again on Wednesday. On March 20th, we may just skip straight to full-on summer. You never know.
So an opportunity to enjoy this weekend’s warm spell and bask in Mister Sun, The Great Bringer of Vitamin D, was too good to pass up. This also allowed me to tackle another of the things that has intimidated me the most about this whole “beekeeping” gig: Setting up the hive location.
I’ve known approximately where my hive was going to be located since before I closed on the house. There’s really only one option, so that space has been very deliberately earmarked since about 2016… no joke. But I needed some sort of stable, level ground cover to support my hive stand. The cheapest and simplest way to do that was with concrete cap blocks… which meant a trip to the hardware store.
As a small female person, trips to the hardware store are a little bit fraught for me. Sometimes everything’s fine, and sometimes I’m subjected to tooth-grinding levels of condescension. (If you think I’m blowing this out of proportion, consider that once when I asked for advice on the best way to accomplish a task, I was told “Just get your husband to do it.”) Grr! I hate the assumption that I have no idea what I’m doing in a hardware store. I hate even more that in my case, it is absolutely true. I have no idea what I’m doing in a hardware store. My sister (also a small female person) occasionally builds houses for fun, but that talent does not run in the family. We’ve already discussed my carpentry skills, right? So the hardware store is not my happy place*.
On this trip, I had to stalk a pair of employees down two aisles and finally break into a run
then lasso and sit on them until I got close enough to call out and ask where to find “you know, like cinder blocks, only the narrow kind.” They were curious what I planned to do with them. When I told them I was building a level spot for a beehive, one of the two went absolutely bonkers. Her enthusiasm was so deeply gratifying that I thought better of hardware stores for at least two and a half minutes. By the end of the exchange, I had ten bricks in my car, and she had the name of the Memphis Area Beekeepers’ Association on her notepad. Win.
My satisfaction lasted until I got home and had to actually set the bricks into place. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say that it’s a great relief to have this part finished. Two very important questions were resolved in the process, though:
1) Is all of this necessary? Strictly speaking, I could have just put down one block at each corner. It would have been loads easier.
I’ve read that there may be some benefits (maybe) (possibly) (well actually maybe not) (it depends) (who knows?) to a non-permeable surface under the hive. Small hive beetles, a significant pest of honeybee hives, emerge from the hives they have infested to pupate beneath the soil, so some sources suggest that a solid surface that doesn’t allow burrowing or emergence may help short-circuit that cycle. Then again, other sources point out – very reasonably – that if you are in a situation where you have hive beetle larvae pouring out of your hive, that horse has left the barn. (Er. Left the hive? The horsefly has left the hive?) Also, hive beetle larvae can wriggle quite a distance in search of a place to burrow down, so… putting down something impermeable directly under the hive may not be doing much good in the first place.
I’m going to be doing more reading about this debate, so I’ll circle back around to it when I have a better answer. But ultimately, it’s a moot point in my case. I am keeping my bees in a landscaped suburban yard, so there was a more pressing concern:
“Do you want to have to weed directly underneath 60,000 bees?” I asked myself. “Why, no. No, I don’t,” I answered myself. And bricked the whole thing over.
2) Where is the business end of the hive going to point?
There is Hallowed Bee Wisdom around this one, and it is: Any direction is probably okay.
But if possible, it’s best to orient your hive so that the entrance faces eastward or southward, to maximize morning sun access and minimize cold winds and rain blowing in. Coincidentally, the best arrangement for me – in terms of pedestrians in the yard being able to pass as far as possible from the busy hive entrance – places that entrance pointing eastward. Perfect!
Bonus: The lovely stone footpath my talented and tolerant
landscapers lawn fairies put in last year takes me directly to the side of the hive. When opening and working in the hive, it is best to stand beside it or behind it – not in front, where guard bees** are on duty.
Voila! It’s done. This is where my bees will live. It’s even level.
See? Really. IT’S LEVEL. (Shush! Totally level. I absolutely did not crop out the other bubbles from the photo for any particular reason. It’s level enough.)
This morning, of course, I woke up and thought immediately about all the other, more decorative bricks that are available. I even looked some of them up online. Hmm, maybe I should go back and — no. No. The option I went with has one overwhelming advantage over all the others: It is done.
The other thing I did this weekend was some important reorganizing for equipment storage. I don’t have a garage or a workshop, and my beekeeping supplies were starting to petition for furniture status in my house, which is really not okay.
So it wasn’t the weekend I had planned, but I feel really great about having this part done. Most everything else can be prepped indoors, no matter what season our fickle weather bestows on us next.
There’s just one more important thing in the back yard I need to adjust, and that’s the sprinkler system. I have an appointment in a few weeks to change out the spray heads in the vicinity of the hive, so I’m not drenching the bees every time the irrigation system goes off. Bees in nature may have to deal with inclement weather, but my bees are going to be living in luxury. More to the point, the entrance to a wild bee tree is probably never located three feet from a horizontal spray that spews high-pressure irrigation directly into the hive entrance.
*When I build my time machine, I’m travelling back to 1993 and making my high school self enroll in shop class. Unfortunately, to build a time machine, I’d have to know how to build things. Which means I would have had to take shop class in high school…
**Guard bees are a real thing. More on this later.