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Bees and The Urban Beekeeper

Updated on November 24, 2014
Extracting honey from beeswax honeycomb.
Extracting honey from beeswax honeycomb. | Source

Urban Beekeeping: Raising Your Own Honey Bees in the City or Suburbs

Not just for farm folk these days, beekeeping is becoming a popular activity for urban dwellers who are growing more concerned about food safety, their family's health, and our natural environment.

In fact, as more big cities legalize beekeeping, and with growing concerns about food safety, the 100 Mile Diet, and threats to our pollinators -- small-scale beekeeping is taking off on city roof tops and in suburban backyards... in fact, you might say that urban beekeeping is all the buzz!

In addition to the environmental and nutritional benefits of keeping bees (whether you want to pollinate your vegetable garden for greater harvest, or produce your own sweet natural honey, or both), experienced beekeepers will tell you there's a "spiritual" benefit to keeping honey bees.

The comforting hum and orderly activity of a well-functioning colony of Apis Mellifera, and the remarkable sense of being part of a centuries-old tradition of insect husbandry - well, there's just no better fix for our stressed-out busy modern lifestyle!

Poll: Is Beekeeping Legal in Your City?

Beekeeper inspects a hive.
Beekeeper inspects a hive. | Source

Is Beekeeping Legal in Your City?

See results

Where the Honey Bees Are

Daily Green put together a list (with map) of cities where beekeeping is illegal. The No Buzz Zones map was last updated when New York City dropped its ban on beekeeping in favor of allowing residents to keep honey bees in the metropolis -- so there may have been a few recent changes. Daily Green relies on submissions from people living in the listed cities, so feedback and updates are strongly encouraged and may be sent to Kim Flottum (Kim@BeeCulture.com).

It is important to note, however, that most cities and towns do not actively ban backyard or rooftop beekeeping. They just haven't made any laws to do with apiculture at all. And in other cities where beekeeping is not expressly forbidden by municipal by-laws, there may still be restrictions placed on the kinds of activities that can take place within city limits, particularly in terms of distance from neighboring properties and/or "nuisance" considerations. In most locations, then, unless it is actively outlawed, you may keep honey bees -- as long as you don't run afoul of your neighbors or violate any other existing by-laws in the jurisdiction.

A little "diplomacy" -- like a gift of honey to your neighbors! - can go a long way to making sure that people and bees live together happily in an urban or suburban setting.

Is Urban Beekeeping Against the Law? - Believe it or not, some cities still have a ban on keeping bees within city limits! But other municipalities see the ben

No Buzz Cities
No Buzz Cities

Cities Abuzz with Urban Beekeeping - Discovery News Video

Pay a visit to a Washington, D.C. rooftop, home to thousands of bees - thanks to restaurant Founding Farmers, "which owns one of the nation's largest urban beehives. And while the chefs get all the honey, researchers [from George Washington University] study the bees."

It may be that city living is actually good for honeybee health, due to the diversity of the forage plants that are available to bees in an urban area, especially with so much of the rural USA given over to monoculture and so many cities nowadays either discouraging or actively banning the use of garden pesticides.

This is a really cheery little news story, with some nice close-up shots of the bees. Enjoy!

Best How-To Books for New Beekeepers - My Personal Recommendations for New Hobby / Urban Beekeepers in North America

I've added notes to the Amazon info below, to give you a good idea of exactly WHY I'm recommending these 3 books in particular, among the many beekeeping books you'll find out there.

Do check your local library for other books (and for apiculture magazines like Bee Culture or the American Bee Journal in the US, or Hivelights if you're in Canada), too. Books are only the beginning, however -- there is no substitute for working alongside an experienced beekeeper who can show you the basics hands-on! But these three books will give you a good foundation:

Beekeeping For Dummies
Beekeeping For Dummies
Don't be put off by the title - this really is one of the very best guides for anyone who is just beginning to keep bees. It's got that easy-to-follow format that the "for Dummies" series has become known for, and the information it provides is solid. While many beekeeping books are written specifically for, say, people in California (which can be a real problem for those in New England or Minnesota!), Beekeeping for Dummies applies to beekeepers just about anywhere in North America, including us up here in Canada.
 
The Backyard Beekeeper - Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden
The Backyard Beekeeper - Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden
Kim Flottum is well-known in professional beekeeping circles as the long-time editor of Bee Culture magazine. If he's written it -- you know it's a beekeeping book that's well worth reading. (While you're at it, check out Kim's beekeeping blog at http://blog.beeculture.com/ and sign up for his newsletter -- there's no better way to stay in the loop with everything going on in apiculture today.)
 

Best Practices for Urban Beekeeping - "How To" Video

Here's a great video introduction to beekeeping with a solid overview of what's involved in urban beekeeping, equipment, general principles of beekeeping and the hive equipment - from New York City beekeeper Andrew Coté.

The "Bible" of Beekeeping in the United States

The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia Pertaining to the Scientific and Practical Culture of Honey Bees
The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia Pertaining to the Scientific and Practical Culture of Honey Bees
No dedicated and curious beekeeper should be without this hefty classic. "The ABC," as its known for short, has been in print since the mid-1800s with regularly updated editions. You'll find some of the earliest editions to read free online, which will give you a chuckle ("lady beekeepers"!), amaze you with how far science has come along over the years, and also give you a good idea of the kind of detailed information about all aspects of apiculture included in the up-to-date ABC. It truly is an "encyclopedic" volume.
 

Beekeeping Online Courses and eBooks

I'll be straight with you, online courses may not be the best way to learn. It is difficult to find a reliable online course for learning how to keep bees, as there are a lot of them made by people who really don't know anything more about keeping bees than you could find out for yourself by searching the internet.

More to the point, however, beekeeping methods are not "one size fits all" - there are many ways to keep bees, depending on how "green" or "organic" you want your apiary to be, how many hives you want to run, whether your primary goal is to produce honey or to supply bees for commercial pollination services, and where in the world you are located.

Even a piece of advice as apparently "basic" as an equipment list will depend on your location. For example, in the UK the National beehive is more common than the Langstroth hive that is most widely used in North America, while the Top Bar and Warre style hives have their own keen followers in different areas around the world.

All of which is to say that I don't personally feel comfortable to recommend a particular online beekeeping course, but it may be worthwhile to check for an offer of a free "mini course" by email. You'll get a sales pitch, of course, but a free sample will give you some idea of how useful and clear the paid course is likely to be.

The Best Way to Learn to Keep Honey Bees

Without any question, the best way to learn about beekeeping is to find a local beekeepers' association and follow along with an experienced beekeeper, out in the field, hands on.

Beekeeper handles a hive frame of honey bees.
Beekeeper handles a hive frame of honey bees. | Source

National Beekeepers' Associations - Worldwide Beekeeping

Beekeeping is one of the few agricultural industries or pursuits that has a keen following in almost every country of the world. Here is a list of some of the national organizations of beekeepers (and/or federations of local beekeepers' associations) operating in countries where English is an official language and/or one of the predominant languages of business.

Beekeeper at Work

Beekeeper assembles a frame.
Beekeeper assembles a frame. | Source

Love to hear from all you backyard beekeepers -- big-city dwellers and suburban beekeepers alike, as well as those who are just starting to think about getting into honey bees! What's your biggest challenge with keeping bees in an urban area? Got any tips to share? Comments?

working

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