Rooftop Beekeeping

The rooftop swarm catcher.

Urban beekeepers often practice rooftop beekeeping in places where space is tight. Keeping bees on the roof is also a great way to lift hives out of the deep shade often created by buildings and vegetation.  It’s not great for beekeepers who are afraid of heights.

This past Saturday, under a sky heavy with rain clouds, Kelly and I paid a visit to one of our new beehive hosts. At this particular location, we had decided on our preliminary visit that the nearly flat roof was the best spot for bees. But ferrying our supplies onto the roof via Kelly’s eight-foot pruning ladder was a sobering ordeal, and the thought of bringing full honey supers down from the roof makes this beekeeper quake in her boots.

Safely on the roof, we set up one swarm catcher complete with a pheromone lure, and leveled the box with scrap wood stacked up on the slight incline. The homeowner has kindly offered to install screw eyes to anchor the hives so that, in the event of a California temblor, our hive won’t go pitching off the edge.

Our second stop of the day was much less scary: a nice flat garden with overhanging oak trees. For this swarm trap installation, we set up a low stand of stacked cinder blocks, followed by a metal bar and wood contraption to deter ants, and placed the bee box on top.

Keeping ants out of the beehives

With the box securely resting on the stand, I used a paintbrush to apply canola oil to the metal bars. Honey-seeking ants can’t make it across this slick surface. Deterring ants is especially important for newly established honey bee colonies, which may not be strong enough to fend off insect invasions. We have heard more seasoned beekeepers describe losing hives to ants, though our own experience last year was far less dramatic. While we did see ants around the hives on several occasions, hand squishing the ones we could find and placing a few borax ant traps around the bases of the hives did the trick.

The swarm catcher sits on metal bars coated in oil to deter ants.

How to lure bees

We used commercial pheromone lures in the swarm catchers we placed this past weekend, but we’ve also purchased a small bottle of lemongrass oil, and we are including some nice stinky beeswax in each swarm catcher. Our plan is to test out the lemongrass oil versus commercial lures to see if we notice a difference in our success rate. Our apiary and swarm catching enterprise is so small scale that it will be impossible to know with any certainty what approach is more successful, but we are excited to experiment.

Here is a swarm lure stapled to the inner cover of the hive.

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