Project Description

In 2019, Elk Root Conservation Farm undertook a project to build a Bee Barn. Below you will find a few details about the project and a video.

About the Project

The bee health issue addressed by this project is winter bee mortality and spring bee forage optimization. Our objective was to design and construct a ‘Bee Barn’.

The Bee Barn structure is designed to permanently house multiple individual bee colonies to address the escalating problem of overwinter bee mortality in BC. Improving overwinter survival rates and increasing colony size going into the spring means there are more forager bees per colony to take advantage of plentiful early spring forage resources. This is key to the future of overall bee health and reproduction as summer and fall forage resources are on the decline with drought conditions and wildfires drying up nectar resources and smoke impacting flying in the summer months in BC.

This winter (2019/20) we had 75% survival rate of our colonies. The 25% loss was due to an issue that arose with the construction of the barn and the disturbance of two existing hives. The bees ‘drifted’ to other hives during the Bee Barn construction which was close to their hives. Due to the drift there were not enough remaining bees in the two hives to survive the early October cold snap prior to the colonies being moved indoors (see Lessons Learned below). We are optimistic that now that the bees are indoors, we will manage losses to within a 15% sustainable loss rate.

The Bee Barn will facilitate the study of best management overwintering practices into the coming seasons. We plan on collecting data and monitoring:

  • the winter survival rates of our Bee Barn colonies compared against provincial and national survival rate statistics;
  • survival rates of Bee Barn colonies compared to survival rates to our outdoor Lang hives and our outdoor Elk Root Top Bar Hive design.
  • Improvements in overall colony health, early spring population size and strength;
  • quantity of honey and pollen stores – positive changes produced.

We look forward to sharing our results with the bee community in BC and have already had great success sharing our projects with the West Kootenay Beekeeepers with our Keynote presentations which have caused quite a ‘buzz’!

Lessons Learned

We learned many lessons in constructing the Bee Barn. Specifically:

  • timing and techniques for relocating existing hives during construction to avoid hive disruption and ‘drift’;
  • optimal seasonal timing for transfers and construction completion windows to limit disruption to existing colonies;
  • design considerations, modifications and pitfalls such as light control and exit strategy control; and
  • like any prototype, how to maintain design flexibility to allow for future modifications through field testing.

Lastly, it is always challenging with construction projects to stay on budget. Since this was a first-time construction of this new prototype, there were design and material elements that required rethinking as the project progressed. We ended up contributing additional personal funds into the project and in-kind labour was higher than anticipated. That said, we are very pleased with the result and anticipate that having now worked out the kinks, that the Bee Barn could be produced for the budget we quoted in our proposal.

To learn more about Elk Root’s conservation efforts visit: https://elkrootconservation.org/

In Summer 2020, we had the opportunity to visit Elk Root to see how the Bee Barn (and Forage Garden) were fairing, here’s the video: