Urban Beekeeping

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If you have a yearning to have a beehive- but do not live in a rural area, what can you do? Well, urban beekeeping is a thing in many locations. Of course, not every location is appropriate for a beehive. But, many folks are successfully keeping bees in neighborhoods. Beekeeping in the city? Yes, it is possible.

Urban beehive on patio belonging to a city beekeeper.

However, it is important to note – if you are interested in keeping bees in close proximity to human dwellings – good hive management is even more important than usual. You do not want swarms of angry bees flying around the neighborhood.

Benefits of Urban Beekeeping

What is urban beekeeping? It is simply keeping honey bees in an urban or city environment. This includes large cities, small towns and surrounding areas that have a high population density.

There are several environmental, economical and educational benefits to having beehives in urban areas.

  • gives residents a way to connect with nature
  • provides pollination for community gardens
  • local honey is available for residents
  • educational benefits for children

Keeping bees in the city can be a great way to bring nature to city dwellers. Watching bees in the hive can be very calming and relaxing.

That is one of the primary benefits of beekeeping regardless of your location. And, one of the major reasons that people pursue beginner beekeeping as a hobby.

Even cities and neighborhoods have flowers and bees – and perhaps a few small vegetable gardens.

Adding honey bees to the native bee mix, allows for greater pollination of community and patio gardens.

And, it increases the biodiversity of the area by adding another species to the wild bees already there. Bee species often visit different types of flowers – it does not always have to be a competition.

Being able to produce or purchase a jar of local honey made right in the city is a major benefit of urban beehives. The beekeeper may recoup a bit of his/her expenses through selling honey. If you do choose this option be sure to label your honey properly.

If your small apiary is a family project, it give children a chance to understand the concept of managing livestock (bees) and harvesting food.

The Small City Apiary

Due to a lack of large open spaces, urban beekeepers usually have smaller apiaries. Their hives can be found in small backyard lots, patios and even rooftop gardens in New York City.

This is possible because a beehive or two, does not require a large area of space. However, this does not mean that you can just plop down a colony of honey bees in any location.

The urban beekeeper has some special challenges to overcome. There is a responsibility to both provide a good home for the bees and to keep public safety in mind.

Urban beekeeper with hives in small yard image.

Beekeeping Challenges in Urban Areas

Keeping honey bees has some challenges regardless of the location. However, managing bee colonies in populated areas has a few special risks or dangers that should not be overlooked. Practicing good beekeeping safety tips can help lessen the risk.

Here are a few of the top considerations:

  • Know the law
  • Face hive entrances away from human traffic
  • Educate close neighbors
  • Provide a water source
  • Practice swarm prevention
  • Consider community yards

Legalities of Beekeeping in the City

While people can and do keep bees in locations secretly, it is not my advice to do so. In this litigious society, it’s not worth the risk.

Before investing time and money in bees and beekeeping equipment, consult any local zoning ordinances and regulations. 

Not every community is welcoming to honey bees. And some that do allow bees, have restrictions on how many hives you can have in one location.

Some municipalities require each beehive to be registered and possibly inspected by a state bee inspector. Contact local authorities to learn the rules for where you live.

Large beehive near city road image.

Placement of Urban Beehives

Finding the best place to put your beehive is a important concern for any beekeeper. However, for the city dweller, hive placement can be even more challenging.

Having the back of the hive against a screen is one way to blend it into the surroundings. You can build a privacy screen and the hive area a beautiful addition to your yard.

But, remember you need to have enough room to work around the hive on all sides. Your hive inspections will requiring moving boxes to check conditions in the bottom of the hive. Give yourself room to work.

You need a spot that allows the bees to come and go without interfering with human activity. How much room does a hive require? 

Bee Flight Paths

The bees will be coming and going from the hive entrance. This is the side that requires the most personal space for your bees. 

When possible, having at least 10-15 ft in front of the hive as a “human free” zone is best – more is even better.

Those limited in space can choose to construct a solid fence about 4 feet in front of the hive. Now, the foraging bees will come out of the hive and go up and over. No conflict with humans.

If absolutely no space seems right, what about going up? Some apartment dwellers have received permission to maintain beehives on roof tops!

Educate Close Neighbors

While some folks decide to keep their hives a secret, it is very nice when you can be upfront with your close neighbors. Most of the concern is due to the worry of bee stings and it is a valid concern.

Ensure them that the bees should be no problem for them. That you intend to do everything in your power to manage the hives well.

Learn how to use a bee smoker, to keep colonies calm during inspections. Educate yourself through online classes, local classes and beekeeping books

Try to plan a time to inspect the beehive when close neighbors are least likely to be outside. Be a good neighbor. Encourage them to let you know of any concerns or questions them may have.

Do they have small garden plots? Your bees can help with pollination and result in larger yields for them. To a city gardener – this could be a compelling bit of information.

Offer to give your immediate neighbors a small jar of neighborhood honey when your crop comes in. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, right? I’m not sure that applies here but you get the idea – be nice.

Food Sources for City Bees

Beehives in urban areas play a role in increasing the sustainability of the area. Bees are very adapted at finding nectar and pollen sources. Honey bees easily travel several miles in search of food.

However, in large cities without much green space – you must consider if your hive will find the resources the colony needed to collect.

The majority of food needed by your hive will be collected from places off your property. This presents the possibility of your bees foraging on food or water sources that are contaminated with pesticides. 

You can only control this to a degree. If you have the space, planting flowers bees like in your backyard, or including bee friendly plants in container gardens may help.

One important thing you can do is provide clean drinking water for your bees. This water source also helps keep bees out of your neighbors swimming pool – another way to promote peace.

Honey bee swarm on a city slide image.

Swarming Bees Loose in the City

While the general public may appreciate honey bees, they are not well schooled in the natural process of honey bee swarming. While they are not generally dangerous, swarms scare people.

In urban beekeeping, swarm prevention practices become even more important. More frequent inspections and keeping colony populations under control helps prevent frightened humans.

Use techniques such as reversing hive bodes, keeping young queens etc – to reduce swarms.

For the urban beekeeper, more attention to catching bee swarms that do escape can help calm the neighborhood fears.

Several beehives sitting in urban neighborhood image.

Community Bee Yards

For some folks, having a beehive on your city property is just not feasible. This does not mean that your dreams have to end.

Reach out to local beekeeping clubs or community gardens. Many of these organizations provide limited space for beekeepers to use. There are several good books about the experiences of city beekeepers.

While not as desirable as having the bees at home, it is a great way to enjoy beekeeping for those with no alternatives.

Tips for Urban Beekeepers

For a beehive in any densely populated area, routine hive management becomes even more important. Keep the colony healthy and productive by performing inspections that look for signs of pests or disease.

Do not place your beehives close to your house – at least not near the back door. You will regret it eventually as the temperament of bees changes from time to time.

Always set a good example and wear proper protective beekeeper clothing when working the hives. Smoke is used to calm bees. Look like you know what you are doing (even when you are not 100% sure) those around you will feel more confident.


Is Urban Beekeeping Dangerous?

Urban apiculture is not dangerous-if the beekeeper takes the proper precautions. However, in untrained hands, honey bee colonies can cause problems and even liability. Educate yourself before obtaining bees.

Does beekeeping harm native bees?

Sustainable beekeeping does not harm native bee populations. A reasonable number of hives in one location should not cause a problem for native bees in search of food.

How do you start an urban beehive?

Research local laws and regulations first. Then, find the local beekeeping association (or state agriculture department) to learn more about beekeeping in your state. Then, educate yourself on beekeeping beginner basics.

Can I keep bees in an apartment or rooftop?

Some beekeepers do receive permission to practice rooftop beekeeping or have a hive on a balcony. You would have to research the rules and regulations for your building.

A Final Word

Considering the rate of bee habitat loss, scientists agree that all pollinators are having a tough time. Native species are most at risk – as honey bees are not endangered but what helps one helps the other.

Finding a safe spot for a couple of urban hives is an attainable goal. However, for the well-being of the honey bees and the safety of the public, beekeeper education is essential. 

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