So, if I'm going to be responsible for taking about 20,000 honeybees from their nice snug home, have them rudely and violently shaken into a small cage and stick them with some high and mighty Queen that they don't even know, then I suppose I should make a nice place for them to live, right? The hive body itself is one thing, their surroundings is something else. Thus, my latest hairbrained idea.......the bee garden.
Now, I know the actual benefit from planting a bunch of bee-friendly flowers around the hives is probably about nil. Since it takes about *two million flowers to make one pound of honey and I'm only guessing that the amount of pollen collected from these same flowers might be only slightly better. The actual number of flowers I'll be planting isn't quite in the million range =) Despite this, I'm hoping to at least have a visually pleasing place for the bees to live. And I suppose at the very least, my wife should love the flowers. I am no landscape architect to be sure but here is my concept:
I wanted to put the garden and hives in the back corner of my property so a triangle shape seemed fitting. I plan on lining the edges with some cheap brick (about 150+ of them by my estimate) and on the two opposite corners I am going to stack the bricks up two or three levels to create a raised bed for some herbs. Splitting the triangle in two will be a walking path. Not sure if I will mulch it with some bark or maybe even some gravel. At the right-angle corner will be a wider area where the hives will go. The entrance of each hive will be facing generally South, so they should point to the back corner. This should make it easy to approach the hives as well as enjoying the flowers without being directly in the flight path of the bees. Originally I thought to have a bird bath in between the two hives but my wife had read that the bees like to "cleanse" as they leave the hive so it isn't a good idea to put their water source right in their flight path (or poo-path as the case may be). So, as you can see in the drawing, I think I will put the bird bath in the middle of the walking path instead. The edges of the path around the bird bath are shown as straight but I'm planning on bowing them outward a bit to follow a semi-circle around the bird bath.
Planning on the general layout of the garden was the easy part. Selecting the flowers, determining the area they would take up, the season in which they would bloom and how tall they would be was much more difficult. A lot of research went into this and I bet the final result won't look quite like the drawing. I was hoping to save some money by growing most of the flowers from seed. Sadly, in the course of my studies, I found that the majority of flowers I selected were perennials that would not bloom the first year if I chose to grow them from seed. The Coneflower and Zinnia are the ones I am going to try growing from seed. Hopefully the color comibinations of the various flowers won't end up looking like someone scattered a random selection of paint cans in the back yard! My wife will be the ultimate judge.
With all the planning done, I had to start the actual work. I had read that the best time to start a new garden bed was in the late fall. One method is to turn over all the grass/sod so the roots are facing the sky. This is suppose to kill all the grass over the winter and come Spring you can till all the now dead grass into the soil and provide a nice infusion of decaying organic matter for the soil. With my luck, I will end up with grass growing between every brick and under both hives! All I can say is that I REALLY underestimated the amount of manual labor involved in turning a 30' x 30' area. I thought I was in pretty good shape since I attend kung fu classes and play in volleyball leagues on a regular basis. Well, it won't be the last time I was wrong about something.
All in all it took me around 8 - 10 hours over the course of about a month. I would work for an hour or so here and there when I got the chance. I started at the long end and thankfully each row I turned over got shorter and shorter as I worked toward the narrow end.
At least I finished before the snow hit! Well, one more thing off the bee checklist. Next? Order my packages of bees right after New Year's day!