Urban Beekeeping For Beginners


The Daily Green's Beekeeper, Kim Flottum, has been working to help people start beekeeping, which he promises is no more difficult than gardening. Before reading this latest in his backyard beekeeping series, check out DIY Backyard Beekeeping: A Beginner's Guide for tips on placing your hives, choosing the right equipment, hives -- and of course, finding the best bees. Then, you'll be ready for these 10 Tips for Establishing Your First Hive, or these tips on rooftop beekeeping. For more detail, see Kim's book The Backyard Beekeeper ... or sign up for this free urban beekeeping Webinar.

Photo: Mark and Shelley McAlpine, in Ontario

Have you been thinking about keeping bees? After reading more about bees in the last couple of years than in the last 20 has the thought of actually keeping bees gone from a mere whimsy, to ... "That's something I could do, and I think I'd like to try," and having some in the back yard, or on the deck, or on the roof has become focused, and maybe ... just maybe ... possible.

And newspapers, magazines, shows on TV and even web pages keep showing beekeepers making honey, looking in those hives, and talking about pollination and how good bees are for the environment ... yup, this IS something to try, and they're doing it in towns and cities and on roof tops and porches and empty lots and backyards, so maybe I can too? But where do you start? You don't even know any beekeepers, and Home Depot doesn't carry bee hives, Wal-Mart doesn't have bee suits, and the farm supply store you pass on the way to work everyday doesn't have bees for sale. So where? And probably more important, how?

OK ... here's how ... First, see this earlier Do It Yourself Beekeeping article we did that talks a lot about getting started: Your family and neighbors, the law, hives and hive stands, protective gear, what kind of bees to get and where to get supplies. This is a good grounding in basic beekeeping so be sure and read it, but there's not much about roof top or vacant-lot-in-the-city beekeeping. And there can be a big difference between city bees and country bees, and you need to know the differences. So read on.

When I did the revision of The Backyard Beekeeper this summer I focused on the two things that have changed dramatically since the first edition came out 5 years ago ... the first was Urban Beekeeping, and the other was safe and sane pest control with your bees. The revision will be out after the first of the year, but here are some of the pointers from that new chapter on urban beekeeping you need to be aware of if you really want to keep bees and you live in the city.

But first, view the photos that lots and lots of city beekeepers sent in and you'll begin to see some patterns and get some ideas on where and how and why and when that will help, too. Take a look at all of these ... some are fascinating.

Beekeeping Starts In the Fall or Winter

So if you want to start keeping bees, now's the time to start getting started.

Photo: Rev. Jacqueline Cherry, in San Francisco

Find out if keeping bees is legal where you are now. Things may have changed lately. If you know one, ask a beekeeper or perhaps a Master Gardner. Or call city hall.

Find a local beekeeping group. There might not be one close if beekeeping has been outlawed for some time, but check. You can find a list of local beekeeping groups at Bee Culture magazine's site. If you don't see one on this list today, check back in a couple of weeks because we are updating this list this fall and there have been many changes this year due to all of this attention.

If it's legal to keep bees but you don't have a yard consider keeping a hive inside a shed or garage, on the back porch, or even out front with the hive made to look like the rest of the furniture there.

Where To Keep Your Bees (Other Than Where You Live)

If you absolutely can't keep one right at home and have to put it somewhere else, here are two thoughts to keep in mind ...

Photo: Meredith Meyer Grelli, Pittsburgh

Be sure the location is easy to get to. In a city that means parking close enough to be able to carry whatever you need whenever you need to be there.... And what if you don't have a car? Can you take city transit, realistically? ... What about locked gates? Are the hives close enough that you don't have to pack a lunch to get there, or that going home to get that forgotten tool won't take the rest of the day? ... And don't overlook fences, drainage ditches, dogs, kids, and all the rest of whatever can get in you way.

  • All bees need the same things ... water, food, protection from vandals and animals, sunlight, screens to get them up in the air and to keep them out of sight, out of mind. So how do you find a spot like this ... well, take a hike, now, while it's still more summer than winter. Walk neighborhoods both during the day and the night, use Google Streetview to get a better look perhaps, drive around, ask around, look around.

    Of course there's probably going to be permits and licenses, registration and maybe even inspections, so be prepared for that, and get all the paper work in line now, before the bees come next spring. And to find out if you even need to register or sign up ... check out your state's beekeeping requirements.

    These first things will get you started. Be sure to check out the photos. Get a good book or two (yes, I recommend the current edition of The Backyard Beekeeper, but there are several on the market that will do the trick until the next edition of The Backyarder comes out early this year). Join a club, or maybe start a club if there isn't one nearby. Subscribe to a beekeeping magazine. And sign up for a beginner's class now, so you're in the loop next spring.

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