Update Spring 2015: Two years later our little urban apiary is as beautiful as ever! It is everyone’s favorite place to hang out and is the focal point of our yard. The ducks make their nests and hatch their young among the lavender, the chickens relax under the shade of the tree and the bees bustle about. We often sit on the retaining wall stones watching bees come and go, breathing in the sweet scent of rosemary and lavender. It is just as idyllic and well serving as I had hoped.
The intent was to landscape a beautiful apiary for our bees so that they would have a functional and welcoming home. What we ended up with lies somewhere between apiary, herb garden and aroma therapy garden. I love when planting is multipurpose – edible, perennial, aesthetically pleasing and good at attracting pollinators – and this apiary is just that. It’s a lovely space for bee and beekeeper alike.
Consider planting in your apiary during early morning on a cool, drizzly spring or fall day. I know these aren’t the gardener’s preferred working conditions, but neither are they the bees’, which means you are far less likely to cause a disturbance. Bees will not venture out of the hive for foraging activities until the outer temperature has risen into the mid 50’s. There may be the occasional security guard that comes out to supervise your activity, but in general, they will remain out of your way and you out of theirs.
A cherry tree, which is full of heavy blooms in the early spring to feed hungry, over-wintered bees, casts dappled shade to offer some reprieve from the Southern summer heat. Honey Bees are very particular about the temperature inside the hive, working year round to maintain 94-97°F. When you live in a climate with extreme heat, it may be necessary to help them out by creating some shade – not too much though, they’ll be wanting that sun come the cold winter months. Think of something native to your area that has sparse branching and will lose all of its foliage in the winter months.
Lavender is a clear choice for apiary landscaping as it’s one of bees’ favorites. We included various varieties of lavender in different sizes, foliage color and flower color. There are hundreds of lavender cultivars to choose from; we recommend choosing native varieties that will flourish in your growing zone as they will require very little care once established. When planting for pollinators, consider planting in clumps or clusters, rather than a single plant. Not only do they find this more attractive, it makes it more worth their effort.
Rosemary is another bee (and chef) favorite. The blue blooms and highly fragrant foliage are calming for both bee and keeper. Here, rosemary acts as a slight barrier between the entrance of each hive and the boisterous activity of the backyard. Honey Bees take very serious the job of guarding the hive entrance. By planting a visual and physical barrier you’re helping them keep things around the entrance calm. This barrier should be at least a foot away, giving the bees plenty of space to come and go free of congestion.
Heather acts an extremely low maintenance ground cover that produces droves of purple, pink or white flowers from very early spring through late fall. Meanwhile, fast growing Pampas grass will add movement and height as it matures. Remember to leave plenty of space to work in and around the hives. You don’t want to feel claustrophobic when the plants mature to full-size, so plan accordingly.
A nicely designed apiary allows for easy foraging (like super healthy, beautiful fast-food for bees) and creates a space for all inhabitants of your urban property to share and enjoy.
Which means, while these happy ladies are busy working away…
…we can relax with lavender-mint vodka tonic while enjoying the warm evening, aromatic garden, and gentle humming of the hive. Bliss.