Can you really keep bees in the city?
A Guide to Urban Beekeeping
Bees are incredibly well adapted and can comfortably live on most continents and face many different environmental conditions. Bees can manage through freezing winters and hot summers, in rural landscapes and deep in urban environments. Keeping bees in an urban setting is perhaps more advantageous than a mono-culture farming ecosystem as there is a great diversity of flora from botanical gardens, market gardens, street trees and of course the patchwork of varied backyards that account for hundreds of different foraging options for bees.
Think carefully about whether you should have bees in this environment by considering the issues below and you will be well on your way to having a successful urban beekeeping experience.
Considerations for Urban Beekeeping
I DON’T HAVE MUCH OF A BACK YARD!
They require very little space. In fact you could put them on a balcony, on a rooftop or even inside a shed with the window left open (yes it does happen). It is most common to put them somewhere on the ground, in a section of your property where people and pets don’t inhabit to often. Check out this blog post on Choosing an apiary site to guide you through how to select the best site.
You should know that there may be limitations to how many beehives you are allowed to keep on a certain size property. There might be local laws or state/national code of conduct recommendations. Either way you should learn them and stick to these protocols. You might be surprised as to how lenient and supportive some jurisdictions have become in recent years.
DO I NEED A GARDEN FULL OF FLOWERS?
No. Bees will travel for up to 3 kilometres to get to nectar and pollen sources. As previously stated there are usually plenty of parks and gardens available within the range of your apiary. Don’t forget the valuable forage found on weedy disused blocks of land, alongside railway lines and the vast areas of public and private lawns. They should not be undervalued as a food source.
BUT WHAT ABOUT MY NEIGHBOURS?
If you have friendly neighbours then it is more likely to be a welcomed addition to the biodiversity of your street as they will thank you when your bees pollinate their fruit trees and flowers and even more grateful when you hand over a fresh jar of honey.
If you have concerns about a neighbour’s opinion then perhaps a discussion before you get your bees so you can satisfy their concerns before spending considerable time and money.
I have had some trouble with my bees drinking from the neighbours swimming pool. Despite putting out various water sources this is hard to completely resolve. Read this blog post by Hilary Kearney for some tips to help you out with this issue.
A free pot of honey from time to time will subdue just about any person who might otherwise want to cause you problems.
IS IT SAFE IF I HAVE KIDS?
Yes, Most people don’t have any negative reactions to bee stings other than localised discomfort and some swelling. Having said that you need to be careful the first few times anyone is stung by a bee in the event they might have a severe allergic reaction. If you or someone nearby is known to have an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings then you need to take precautions or not have bees at all.
My experience is that kids are fearless around bees and love to get up close and help out. I would go as far to say that you should always have two hives and one of them should be for your kids (if you have them). They can learn about bees, their biology and behaviour. The benefits of being involved in beekeeping at any age makes it a worthwhile pursuit.
I HAVE PETS, WHAT ABOUT THEM?
Most pets will work it out very quickly that they should stay away from your bees and their flight path. If you have your concerns then a fence or barrier will be necessary to keep them apart.
Did you know it is actually very common to locate chickens and bees together? The chickens help contain and manage many of the invertebrate pests of the honey bee like wax moth or small hive beetle
IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS WHEN STARTING BEEKEEPING
This list below is not exhaustive but a few key ideas that have worked for most new beekeepers that I know. Please write in the comments at the bottom of the blog with any additional ideas you think are important.
- Do an introductory beekeeping course
- Find a mentor that will help you when you have a situation you’re not sure who to manage
- Join a beekeeping club
- Read beekeeping blogs that can help you learn quickly
- Check out beekeeping books (we’ll make a post about good books in the future)
- Start with two hives not one – makes it possible to compare hives against each other
- Once you’ve got your bees don’t kill them with too much love. Leave them alone!
The pleasure of beekeeping for anyone of any age are worth the few hassles that you may experience over time. It is an interest that not many people will ever look back from once they get started. You will love it!