October 11, 2016

Urban Beekeeping Considerations

It is possible to keep bees almost anywhere including cities and towns and in fact beekeepers often find that honey production is better in an urban setting than a rural setting, as there are often more varied flora for bees to be found in urban gardens. However those wishing to keep bees in a city or town should check with their local authorities first as there are still some who do not permit urban beekeeping.

Once you are satisfied that you are allowed to keep bees it is important to take certain precautions to ensure that your bee hives do not become a nuisance to those living nearby.


Bee colony temperament

First of all it is important that you only keep bee colonies with gentle temperaments, so only purchase bees that have been bred for gentleness. If your bees sting a lot or are aggressive and follow you after the hives are closed up you should requeen as soon as possible as this will usually change the temperament of the bee colony within four to five weeks.


Water source for the bees

You should provide a source of water near to the bee hives as this will prevent the bees looking for a source in the neighbours pool, bird bath or hanging laundry. This can be a real problem, as once bees have become accustomed to a watering source, they will continue to use it in large numbers throughout the season and it is almost impossible to stop without moving the bee colony some distance.


Locating an urban bee hive 

With a basic understanding of bee behaviour it is possible to locate your beehives so as to ensure they cause no problems to the people and animals around them. For example most bee colonies have a basic flight pattern as they leave and return to the hive. So it is important to ensure that people walking by are not likely to be within this pattern. Always ensure if possible that the beehives are not facing walkways or paths, children’s play areas or others gardens. In addition bees tend to release their body waste soon after leaving the hive so consideration should be given to spotting of laundry or cars underneath, especially if you are intending to keep several colonies of bees.

Bees will tend to fly straight out of a hive and ascend slowly if they can, so a good way of controlling their flight pattern is to build a fence or locate the hive opening towards a hedge, ideally this should be at least 6 feet high which will force the bees to fly above head level and thus reduces the chance of encounters with pedestrians. Fences and hedges also keep colonies out of view, which will help reduce theft or vandalism and also out of sight out of mind may be better for those more nervous neighbours. 


Good bee colony management 

When opening and inspecting your bee hives in an urban setting, you must think about the welfare of those around you. The weather and time of day influence the mood of a colony, just as bee colonies kept in the shade tend to be more defensive. Ideally you should inspect your bee hives on warm, sunny days, between the hours of 10 a.m to 4 p.m when most of the flying workers will be out foraging.

You should always use a well-lit smoker properly to control the bees and help prevent defensive behaviour. During a nectar dearth, keep robbing at a minimum as robbing stimulates defensive behavior. Keep examination time to a minimum and make sure honey supers and frames not being inspected are covered. All spare equipment stored outside should be bee-tight.

Swarming bees can be a major concern for neighbours. Even though swarming bees are quite gentle and seldom inclined to sting, the presence of a swarm in the neighborhood tends to worry people and your apiary, rightly or wrongly, will likely be seen as the source of the swarm. Having sufficient equipment to manage your colonies and reduce swarming is a must (see  our Swarm Management section).

Part of being an urban beekeeper is good public relations and beekeepers who allow their bees to become nuisances force communities to bring in banning orders which spoils it for everyone else. Exercise proper control and management of your bees and never keep more colonies, than the available  forage in the area can support or more than you have time to care for properly. Sweeten the neighbours with the occasional jar of honey or if they are interested let them see inside one of your hives. Follow these guidelines and you and everyone else arround you will be able to enjoy your urban beekeeping.  



Locating your Bee Hives

Once you have decided beekeeping is for you some consideration should be given to where your hives should be situated. In this article we are assuming that your bees are to be kept in a rural or non urban area (see Keeping bees in an urban setting),  most of the points covered here will also however be relevant to urban beekeeping. 

Although bees can travel up to three miles to collect nectar and pollen it is obviously more productive for them to be able to forage nearer to their hives, that is, within a mile or less. Pollen is essential for brood rearing and nectar and the honey produced is the bees’ basic source of energy. While bees can in general be kept virtually anywhere, large concentrations of floral sources and large colonies are needed to produce large honey crops. 

Bees also need a source of fresh water so they can dilute their honey to use it, regulate hive temperature, liquefy crystallised honey and raise brood. If a water supply is not available within a 1⁄4 mile of the hives, you can always provide a barrel or bowl of water with a floating board or small stones for the bees to land on and avoid drowning. Another source of water that bees seem to like is moist compost, a small open bag of potting compost is great for this.

Bees are also less irritable and easier to handle when located in the open where they have plenty  of sunshine. A southern or easterly exposure gives colonies maximum sunshine throughout the day, ensuring that the early sun hits the hives and gets them up and foraging early. The apiary is also best situated near natural wind protection such as hills, buildings, or evergreen bushes and trees.

The ground the hives are on should be dry and well-drained. Avoid windy, exposed hilltops or sites near water that might potentially flood. You should also avoid placing hives in heavily shaded woods or on damp sites to prevent diseases such as Nosema and European Foul Brood which thrive in such conditions. Hives should never be placed directly on the ground, but should have stands or be placed on pallets or similar. It is important to allow ventilation through the floor of the hive. 

You should also locate your hives where you can be sure of having asy year round accessibility. You will not want to have to carry heavy hive parts, (supers filled with honey can weigh up to 50 lbs) for any distance.  Hives should be secluded from traffic, constant noise and disturbance from animals and children. To discourage vandalism, placing colonies near a dwelling house or area frequently visited yet screened from view by hedges or other vegetation is a good idea.

Safety from pesticide applications that can affect colonies directly or where the bees’ forage is also important. Acquaint yourself with the pesticides commonly used in the area and place colonies away from fields or other areas that are routinely treated with pesticides.

When selecting sites for large number of hives try to establish how many other beekeepers are operating in the area. A location can easily become overstocked with bees, which results in a poor honey crop for everyone. If you do not have the space for your hives yourself, contact your local land owner who will usually be only too happy to have your beehives. You may even be able to get him to pay you if it is going to help pollinate his crops, if not, honey is often an acceptable rent payment.


More about setting up Hives







Why Keep Bees and Who Can Keep Bees?

Beekeeping has become increasingly popular in recent years. The old image of beekeepers as mildly eccentric elderly individuals has long gone and now young and old from all walks of life are enthusiastically embracing this fascinating occupation. There are many reasons to start beekeeping and in fact practically anyone can become a beekeeper. As long as you, a member of your family or anyone who will be in close proximity to the bee hives do not suffer from a severe reaction to bee stings, then you can become a beekeeper.

There are few restrictions on keeping bees in the countryside or in cities, for example, even New York City recently relaxed its ban on beekeeping. But check with you local authority or property management company if you are in any doubt. However even if you find that you are not allowed to keep bees on your own property, that does not need to be the end of your beekeeping ambitions. Ask around, as many farmers, small holders or even other home owners might be glad to have your bees on their land. In the case of farmers they may even pay you, as your bees will be helping pollinate their crops.

Why Keep Bees ?

Ask a group of beekeepers why they keep bees and the chances are you will receive several answers. However the following are the main reasons why people keep bees.


Honey is of course the major reason for keeping bees and nothing tastes as good as the honey harvested from your own bees. Honey long recognized for its health giving properties can be enjoyed by all your family and friends. You can also make a bit of extra money selling any excess honey you have, as there currently is a shortage of honey in most parts of the world.


Beekeeping is a great way to relax and take your mind off your worries. There is nothing more relaxing and stress relieving than sitting watching your bees coming and going on a warm sunny day. It can also be a great way to make new friends through beekeeping classes or your local beekeeping association.


Apart from helping their local environment many beekeepers, who are also gardeners  find that their own vegetable and fruit production is increased as a result of their bees pollination skills.


The decline in the world’s bee population has been well documented, so by rearing your own bees you are doing your bit to try and reverse this dangerous decline.


A great side product from beekeeping is beeswax, this can easily be turned into products such as candles, lip balm or cosmetics which make great gifts for friends and family.


Beekeeping or bee farming can be turned into a lucrative business. Apart from selling honey, you may also consider selling bees wax products, rearing and selling bees, running courses or hiring out your bees for crop pollination.

Whatever your reasons for keeping bees once you start this fascinating hobby you will be hooked for life!