The Thriving Hive participants - our urban rooftop beekeeper

The Thriving Hive participants - our urban rooftop beekeeper

One of our most urban study sites was Tim Vivian’s apiary on the roof of the Custard Factory in Digbeth, near Birmingham city centre (Custard Factory Bees @custardbees). We interviewed Tim to find out more about his apiaries, how he keeps his hives healthy and areas he thinks warrant further research.

Tim has been beekeeping for over 20 years and has kept bees at the Custard Factory for six years. Tim’s main apiary is at Hanbury Hall, a National Trust property in Worcestershire, and he also has a couple of other apiaries in Birmingham city centre. To keep his hives healthy Tim told us he carries out regular hive inspections and has been fortunate to never have a notifiable brood disease. Tim also highlights that he has a dedicated set of equipment at each apiary to avoid transferring diseases between sites.  

Tim’s Custard Factory apiary, which was a study site in Thriving Hive, consists of four hives on the roof of the four-story building where Mr Alfred Bird used to make his famous 'Bird's Custard Powder'. Tim’s bees mostly forage on the scrub plants along the railway lines into central Birmingham and on the nearby building sites. Tim said his biggest honey flow occurs when the wild Buddleia comes into flower.

Beekeeping at such a height provides unusual challenges, and Tim said “it is difficult to keep the hives out of the wind and rain on an open rooftop, so I have started to provide additional insulation in hive roofs. I think that this will keep the hives warmer in the winter, and also reduce the effect of solar radiation onto the metal hive roofs on sunny days in the summer. I will be monitoring this over the next few years to see if colony winter survival rates improve.”

When we asked Tim why he decided to take part in Thriving Hive, he said “I have always been interested in allowing my bees to be used for teaching and research. I have benefited from the research carried out by previous scientists and beekeepers, and I think that it is important that we continue to expand our knowledge.”

Tim told us that his apiary in Worcestershire is an Animal and Plant Health Agency sentinel apiary, providing samples so that the National Bee Unit can check for the arrival of exotic pests into the UK (particularly the small hive beetle Aethina tumida and Tropilaelaps mites). Tim said that the results from his samples confirm that Varroa is endemic, so he treats every autumn with Apiguard, and then in a brood free period in the winter with Oxalic Acid syrup. Tim has chosen this approach as “the mechanism of each of these treatments makes it unlikely that the mites will be able to evolve to become immune to their action, but I also monitor to see that they are working by looking at mite drop during the season.”

Tim suggested further research to explore the effect of the smoke used during inspections, whether this varies depending on the type of smoker and material burnt, and also ways to reduce the particulate matter produced entering the hive. Tim highlighted the fact that beekeepers use a range of different smokers and materials, adding that he uses rotten wood, but knows of other beekeepers who use corrugated cardboard and wood chippings. Tim pondered that “the level of particulates and other chemicals in this smoke must be much greater (albeit for a short time) than the natural 'background level' of air particulates. It would also be interesting to see if there were simple methods to reduce the particulates blown into the hive from the smoker - for example some books recommend adding green grass to the top of the smoker so the smoke has to pass through to 'cool' it. Does this even work?”.

We are grateful to Tim for his participation in Thriving Hive and for answering our questions.

To find out more about Tim and his rooftop bees visit his urban beekeeping website and follow Custard Factory Bees on Twitter @custardbees.