When first year beekeeper Carol Lew was considering where to put her hives, a local expert suggested she put them in her barn loft. The reason? Bears. Carol lives in Massachusetts on the edge of a large state forest where bears can be a beekeeper’s nightmare.
At first she was hesitant, but after studying photos of European bee houses, she thought it just might work. She explains, “Last winter I did a lot of research on line, but I didn’t find many people who had done something like this. But I did see examples of hives in buildings in Europe, and I know that bees choose to live inside the walls of houses and barns, so I took a chance.”
A bucket, pulley, and ladder
Carol says she climbs up to the loft on a ladder, and she created a bucket-and-pulley system to carry things up and down. “It needs improvement,” she says of her system. “Bee stuff is heavy, and I really need a better pulley.” The best part, though, is the convenience. “I love that my equipment and supplies are all right there near the bees.”
So far, through her first spring and summer, the system has been a success. Still, she has yet to go through a winter, so she is looking for any advice that other beekeepers might offer. “Maybe others will share experiences that will help me avoid mistakes,” she says.
Hives on casters
In what I think was a brilliant move, Carol had her hive stands mounted on casters. When she needs to move her hives, she just rolls them around.
During the spring and summer, she kept the hives close to a large window that faces southwest. In the top of the large window, Carol mounted a storm door turned sideways. Below the horizontal door she installed two windows that swing open to the sides. When the windows are closed, the bees come and go through the space beneath.
In the fall, she found that the sun hit the hives earlier if she angled them as shown below. “The angle also helps to keep the wind from hitting the hives too; we live on top of a mountain and there’s lots of wind.”
About those barn swallows
No system is without a few problems. In this case, Carol found it necessary to cover the window opening with chicken wire to keep out the swallows. “My barn is a favorite place for barn swallows,” she said. “Last year we had fifteen active nests in the lower level and loft, and I’m pretty sure swallows eat bees. This year, we had only five nests because of my efforts, but a few extra smart swallows figured out how to get in.”
Dealing with rain
Carol explains that she put a sheet of vinyl flooring on the floor in front of the window because she is worried about rain coming through the window and rotting the barn. She says the rain wasn’t a problem in spring and summer, but that may have been due to a dry year. Although it is not shown in the photos, she has since installed a large piece of plexiglass on the right side of the window (as you face it) to help reduce the amount of wind and moisture coming into the barn.
Advice is welcome
If you have any comments or suggestions for Carol, please let us know. She is eagerly seeking any advice as she goes into her first winter as a lofty beekeeper.
Honey Bee Suite
Editors Note: I just have to mention that Carol is an artist who specializes in old world style animal portraits. I checked out her website and just about split with laughter when I saw her painting entitled, “Cat with a Pearl Earring.” It is so good. If you’re a fan of Vermeer, or even if you’re not, be sure to take a look.