Monday, April 30, 2012

Apiary Part I - Idea to Design

Getting Started
I’m happy to have just completed (until I change it more) a backyard apiary/garden.  I wish to share this to hopefully help others as I had either difficulty or information overload when I was looking for guidance on the internet for things like “tiered garden”, “installing a fence on a hill” and many others.  I know that some of this was due to specific requirements I had but others were just difficult to get to the right answer.  I share this so that anyone looking to make a full out backyard apiary or even just a garden can hopefully glean some help from what I experienced.  You will note that as with all things when design moves into implementation, something always has to be changed.

I've segmented this write-up into parts for digestibility and because I am sure that if I don’t, I will continuously remember some minute detail and will have to edit the post a thousand times.  Hope you enjoy!

The Spark
It all began to formalize in October of 2011, but really had its roots since we moved into or house. There is a section of un-wooded area at the back of our yard that had always been a magnet for weeds and struggling grass. I had been mulling over in my mind for 3 years what to do with the space and in the summer of 2011 I started getting very interested in keeping bees. My Dad had kept bees when he was younger and my Grandpa also had helped his father with bees growing up. This interest combined with the desire to have a food garden sparked the idea to design and build a fenced apiary.  Once I convinced my wife that keeping bees was not a dangerous endeavor I sat down to design and plan the project.

The Design
The space I had to work with was around 18’X18’ and sloped both down and to the right towards the creek due to its location on the corner of our lot.   I expected there would  be some levelling and re-shaping of the land but I am not certain I was aware from the start of how extensive this work would end up being.

The design was partially constrained by how I would fence it.  If money was not an concern then I might have approached the problem differently. I was able around the same time as I got my hive (late October) to find 10 sections (1 being a gate) of fence on Craigslist that was used but in OK shape for $10 for each 8 ft section.  This is quite a discount from the $25 or so that Home Depot and Lowes sell fence section.  Working within this I decided on a 16X16 garden and proceed layout all the pieces.

Another concern was how to create level areas in the garden despite the slope of the hill. After researching gardening on hills it became clear the best decision was to tier the garden to allow discrete level sections for planting. The de facto standard for constraining in landscaping is salt treated timber.  My concern was that this was going to be a food garden and there is a risk of the salt treated wood leaching chemicals into my food.  Rail road ties though not as cheap (14 of them at $16 apiece) would make a strong design without the risk of chemicals in the soil and food.

Once I gathered all the “component” measurements (uncut railroad ties, fencing) the last bit to sort out was the elevation and actual design of the tiers.  From the photos you can see that the land sloped on 2 axes.  I measured the slope over one direction, halved the value to average the difference and then repeated the process for the other direction. Details of this are found on the 3rd page of the design.  From that and some trial and error, quite a bit of measuring, internet searching, and guidance from my residence landscaping expert (Dad) I drafted my design in late October which  I have attached a the bottom of this post

The design is a 3 tiered garden enclosed within a fence.  It ensures the plant beds are large enough to hold a reasonable number of plants and at the same time allow for an appropriate walk path for me to move between the tiers.
Structurally the railroad ties overlap to provide stability, erosion resistance, and to allow for simple securing of the timbers together.

With design in hand, it was time to get my hands dirty.

Garden Plans - [Visio] [PDF] 

[Continued: Apiary Part II - Stakes to Earth Moving]