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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?

Are you an Urban Beekeeper yet?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      We are a country of beekeepers. One of the two most popular species of bees comes from Slovenia (the other is from our neighbor Italy) and we have a long tradition, but this year after series of (mostly weather related) problems, we will be forced to eat mostly imported honey. Bees are great indicator of fragility of ecosystems. I am always glad when I see them (and although living in town can still see them on daily basis) - yeah!

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 3 years ago

      Bees play an important role in agriculture not mention the health benefits of honey that they produce. I say 'save the bees'! Fantastic beekeeping ideas! Blessings! Sundae ;-)

    • opatoday profile image

      opatoday 4 years ago

      Just painted a waterfall that had thousands of bees in a palm tree just over the slide (not an easy slide to paint) bump a branch and jump in the pool

    • Coffee-Break profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 4 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      I guess for my the challenge would be the time. Maybe when I approach retirement I will take up on it. I find bees fascinating, and their products a great source of natural remedies, (I am using now a cream with propolis).

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      I blessed this lens about a year ago, have returned and done it again.It is very sad the loss of honeybees worldwide, let's hope that more urban bee keepers can help these poor little bees. Great lens.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Honey bees are starting to do better in lots of urban environments than they are in some rural areas, due to agricultural pesticides & monoculture, versus the diversity one finds in a city - weeds are not necessarily weeds to the bees, remember! Interesting place to start learning is to check out the forward-thinking hotel chains who have rooftop hives to pollinate rooftop salad gardens and supply honey to the chefs... First step to sustaining our pollinators is to lay off the pesticides, so if your city has not already got on board re cosmetic use of lawn chemicals, etc., that would be a good first move! Good on you - good luck!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      just saw a documentary on hulu about the loss of honey bees, and how it is related to systemic pesticides. my wife and i have decided we are going to get the word out, and get more people to grow their own food. bees are an absolutely integral part of the cycle, and i am going to learn how to sustain bees in an urban ecosystem! thanks for the lens!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      I'd love a hive, and beekeeping is legal in my city, BUT there's a $1300 permit requirement and a formal neighborhood hearing process... sigh. One of these days, I'll move back to a delightfully unincorporated area. Till then, the bees drawn to my wildflowers will have to suffice :)

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      My hubby and I want to build some bee boxes this year. great lens-- just what I was looking for!

    • profile image

      CatJGB 5 years ago

      I'd love to have bees but we are on 1/8 acre and I'm just not that comfortable with having them quite that close. Rooftop beekeeping is taking off in Melbourne though, but so far it's mostly big buildings in the city. My local community garden has just started keeping bees too.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      So very interesting...I'd love to do this. I have lots of bees in my yard (southwest USA) when it warms, big black ones, very tiny ones, as well as the regular type. Thank you

    • Shorebirdie profile image

      Shorebirdie 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Cool lens. I don't keep bees myself, but I wish more people would because of the declining bee population overall.

    • profile image

      cottagecrafts 5 years ago

      Thumbs up from Cottage Craft Works.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @Elsie Hagley: I saw a video recently of those big nasty Japanese wasps attacking and wiping out a hive of European honey bees: it was terrible to see! We're lucky here in eastern Canada to have wasps that are smaller and not as smart as those in the southern hemisphere. Our puny little wasps can kill individual bees but they are no match for the colony as a whole, thank heavens!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 5 years ago from New Zealand

      We live in the country in New Zealand and have bee lives, on our property.Just one thing if you have wasps, watch out for them, they can kill the hive out.Great Lens Blessed.

    • knit1tat2 profile image

      knit1tat2 5 years ago

      great lens, and I'll try to send a link of this to a friend of mine too!

    • OzGirl LM profile image

      OzGirl LM 5 years ago

      We don't live in an urban area, we actually live on 27 Kansas prairie acres, but I've been interested in beekeeping lately. Enjoyed your lens immensely -- lots of excellent info and links here!!

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 5 years ago from Canada

      We depend totally on those busy little bees.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      I wish I had the nerve to keep bees. I love the honey, but am afraid of pain.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      enjoyed the read on this tonight, enjoy honey and even bees. In Utah, my in-laws have had bees as they kept them on farm land so they could pollinate the area.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I had never thought about urban beekeeping. Thanks for expanding my horizons. Very interesting.

    • profile image

      CPDInteractive 5 years ago

      Hi, gr8 lens, very informative, keep up the good work.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      Great lens. Always glad to see there is interest in bees. We need them more than we realize. Good on ya squid!

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @davenjilli lm: Ironic, isn't it, that just when municipalities are starting to ban the use of "cosmetic" pesticides, it seems that use of agricultural pesticides is increasing in rural areas for "cosmetic" purposes. Heh. and I hear you on keeping bees over winter - that is always a challenge up here in Canada, too.

    • davenjilli lm profile image

      davenjilli lm 5 years ago

      I have bees on and off - they usually end up dying on me over the winter. I keep bees in the country. One big challenge that we face out here is spraying for insects! We can get the municipalities not to spray around the block where bees are kept. Not too sure how much good that does as bees travel quite far.

    • Craftymarie profile image

      Marie 5 years ago

      I love bees and I'm all for the promotion of keeping them. Great lens.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @anonymous: The honeybees thank you very much, SquidAngel Tipi :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      ....also, angels love to bless the honeybees...we're friends!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've never done beekeeping and I would say that honeybees must absolutely be welcome everywhere after the scare we've had with so many losses. So nicely done!

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @PamelaDW: Philadelphia is a lovely city, as I recall - it's been a few years since I visited, but I have vivid memories of enjoying so many parks and flower gardens. I'll bet it would be a great place for urban beekeeping.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: It's true that beekeeping is a certain amount of work, but then, so is gardening and just about any outdoor pastime, I guess. The trick is to get a nature-minded and muscular young person to be your "apprentice," so I've learned as I get older and kinda creaky. ;)

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @Pam Irie: You had me at "Oahu"! :)

    • PamelaDW profile image

      PamelaDW 5 years ago

      A tenant in my sister's Philadelphia apartment had a backyard apiary. You hardly knew the bees were there most of the time.I love seeing more people looking to urban homesteading.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm not willing to take the project on, but I'm glad people do. We need the bees.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 5 years ago from Land of Aloha

      We just visited some friends the other day who live in a rural mountainridge area of Oahu and they are actually keeping bees now. It's really an interesting concept for the "average joe".

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @Andy-Po: Thanks, Andy - I'm just getting started here, stay tuned! :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @jseven lm: That's why we always advise new beekeepers, and especially urban and suburban beeks, to give away part of their first harvest to the neighbours - keeps 'em sweet! ;)

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @rob-hemphill: Thanks, Rob3 - bees are indeed fascinating. Truly, I can sit and watch them for hours!

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 5 years ago from London, England

      Very interesting.

    • profile image

      jseven lm 5 years ago

      I live in an apartment,but buy raw honey from local beekeepers and love the health benefits of it!

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 5 years ago from Ireland

      I've never kept bees but are completely fascinated with them. Interesting lens.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @GramaBarb: Isn't it just a delightful image? And so practical, too. A number of big swanky hotels now keep bees on their flat rooftops, and use the honey they produce in the hotel kitchens and breakfast trays. :)

    • GramaBarb profile image

      GramaBarb 5 years ago from Vancouver

      I love the idea of rooftop beekeeping!