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Urban Beekeeping – Benefits and Challenges

If you have a yearning to have a beehive of your very own but you live in the city, what can you do?  Well, urban beekeeping is a thing in many locations Not every situation is appropriate for bees. But, many folks are successfully keeping bees in close neighborhoods. Beehives in the city require a bit more maintenance than those in rural locations but it is possible to keep bees in close quarters.

Urban beekeeper with hives in small yard image.

What is Urban Beekeeping?

Urban beekeeping is the practice of keeping honey bees in an urban environment.  Hives located in city or town conditions are considered an urban apiary.

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These beekeepers have a hive or two despite not having large open spaces.  In most cases, small backyard lots, patios and even rooftops are in use for the apiary.

Don’t bees require a lot of space?  In fact, a hive does not require a large area.  However, the urban beekeeper does have some special challenges to overcome.

Beekeeper with frame from hive in the city image.

Is Urban Beekeeping Dangerous?

Urban beekeeping is not dangerous if the beekeeper takes the proper precautions.  However, in untrained hands, honey bee colonies can cause problems and perhaps even liability.

Learn how to manage your bees through online classes, local classes and books.  Choosing the best time for hive management when others are not outside can help reduce risk.

Special Challenges for Urban Beekeepers

  • Know the law
  • Face hive entrances away from human traffic
  • Educate close neighbors
  • Provide a water source
  • Practice Swarm Prevention
  • Consider other locations

Legalities of Beekeeping in the City

While people can and do keep bees in locations under cover, 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 laws and regulations. 

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

Some areas 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.

Hive Location Tips

Finding the best place to put your beehive is a concern for the beekeeper in a city.  In fact, it is important to any beekeeper regardless of location.

However, the urban beekeeper has a few more constraints to deal with.  How much room does a hive require?  We generally say you need enough room to work around the hive on all sides. 

However, having the back of the hive against a screen is one way to blend it into the surroundings. You can build a privacy screen – like this one at Gina-Michele to make the hive area a beautiful addition to your yard.

Also, 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 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.  Ensure them that the bees will be no problem for them. Encourage them that if they have any concerns or questions to please let you know.

One of the benefits of having your own hives is the promise of fresh honey. Offer to give your immediate neighbors a small jar of neighborhood honey when your crop comes in.

Flowers for Foraging Bees

Honey bees are very adapted at finding food sources. They can easily forage over an area of several miles. If you knew where your bees fly, you would likely be amazed at the amount of food they can find.

Of course, planting flowers bees like in your backyard, or including bee friendly plants in container gardens helps all area bees. 

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.  You can only control this to a degree.

One important need that you can control is providing clean drinking water for your colony.  This should be in place before your hive arrives.

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 process of honey bee swarming.  For the average backyard beekeeper, a swarm may be undesirable but either you catch it or you do not.

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

Other Options for Beekeepers in Urban Situations

For some folks, having a beehive on your city property is just not feasible.  This does not mean that your journey to beekeeping has a roadblock.

Reach out to local beekeeping clubs or community gardens.  Many of these organizations provide limited space for beekeepers to keep a couple of hives. Read about the experiences of other 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.

Keeping bees in the city can be a great way to bring nature to city dwellers.  However, for the well-being of the honey bees and the safety of the public, beekeeper education is essential. 

Finding a safe spot for a couple of hives is an attainable goal.  But, the beekeeper must remember that we do not control where bees fly.  Our livestock will be loose on the city.

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