Before we begin, an apiary is where you keep beehives. (Honey bees’ Latin name is Apis mellifera.)
In order to keep bees on an allotment you’re going to have to build a proper screened apiary. Having tall screens makes the bees fly upwards so they are above head height and can’t bother people. Without a screen their flight path will be shallow and potentially cross several other plots. When the hives are busy this could be thousands of bees buzzing back and forth across your neighbours. Not a good idea!
Screening can also provide a useful wind break to shelter the hives, though it’s best to find a site with some natural windbreak, like a hedge too.
Another factor is security. You can add a lock to an apiary gate and this stops people unknowingly (or stupidly) entering an area filled with bees. Obviously, a mesh screen can be broken through easily with a knife so it won’t stop a determined thief but it may deter the opportunistic.
So, what do you need to build a screened apiary?
Start with flat, level ground. A sunny spot is best, bees do not thrive in damp, in fact the damp is one of the biggest killers of British bees.
I like to use weed suppressant fabric to cover the ground. Bees hate the noise of a strimmer or lawn mower and you don’t want to be spraying harmful herbicides to keep weeds in check. Lay it out and peg it carefully so the fabric is tight.
Insert posts in all corners and spaced along the edges to support your netting. The size of your apiary will determine how many you need. Don’t forget to leave a door! The minimum number of poles you’ll need is five. Mine has seven. I used 8’ poles and metal post spikes. Use a spirit level to ensure your posts are true.
Use 2m tall UV resistant scaffold (or debris) netting for your screen. I like the black as it blends in really well. I find the green stuff visually offensive. You don’t want to use something like livestock wire as the bees can just fly through the holes. Lay it out first to check you have enough.
Attach your netting all around with felt roofing tacks. I find these work better than staples, which pull out and tear the netting more easily. Use many, many tacks.
Attach your gate (mine’s still under constitution but will be up soon) and your bees are ready to move in.
I’m thinking of adding woodchip to the floor for aesthetics but this does mean that you will have to keep on top of hand weeding and each year the chips will disintegrate a bit more and form ‘compost’ for weeds to grow in (and they do grow through the fabric) so you’ll have to top up the chippings frequently too.
And there you have it. An apiary! (Now I just have to get the bees moved but that’s another post in the making!)