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Avoiding Urban Beekeeping Problems

This post follows Kim Flottum’s Urban Beekeeping article, posted last August..

OK, you’ve got a start: where to get equipment, groups to join, classes to take, and mentors to hook up with. Now’s the time, before you have bees, to take a long hard look at some of the rest of the things you need to be thinking about.

Unloading a colony of honey beesNow’s the time to make sure where you are is zoned for bees, if some level of registration is required, and any other legal items are taken care of. Finding out later can be expensive, and painful. And will insurance of some kind cover anything that might happen? A neighbor’s dog gets stung and you get sued. Vandals destroy your equipment. And here’s one you can prevent, but I’ll bet you never thought about… when bees leave the hive, they drop their waste as they leave. This material is usually golden brown, sticky, and very, very acidic. It’ll take the paint off cars, stain the siding on a house or clothes on a line. Avoid this certainly, but if caught in the middle of a bee poop battle…who pays to have that car painted? Plus, just having bees may cause your homeowners insurance to be canceled. Find out before you need it.

Oh. What do your neighbors think of your new found activity? Most don’t care a bit, some will be concerned but can be won over, and some will become hysterical and run straight to the local council office demanding your head on a municipal code platter. Find out before those bees arrive anything that won’t work, or needs work when it comes to neighborhood relations.

Bees blend in with the landscapeWhere will the colonies go? Backyard, roof, balcony, maybe a community apiary, someone else’s property? The cardinal rule for bees and people is out of sight, out of mind. Consider painting them a color that blends in with the surroundings. (Probably the greatest temptation in the world is two 14 year olds with an “I dare you” attitude.) Full sun if possible, on a hive stand, that’ll hold four or five hundred pounds for late season crops, a screen if at ground level so bees have to go up, up and away when they leave home, above people’s heads to avoid close encounter of the honey bee kind. If in a yard, as far from property lines as possible, or legal, and keep the front door aimed away from sidewalks, doorways and where kids play. It’s all common sense when you think about it.

Water, however, is a serious matter. On a hot summer day, a full sized colony will use up to a gallon, even more sometimes of water a day! Where will that water come from? They will get it, and if you don’t provide it, everyday, they’ll find a swimming pool, several bird baths, leaky air conditioning units or faucets, pet watering dishes, sprinklers in the garden… anywhere and everywhere there is water. And, if there isn’t one good place, lots of foragers will be looking instead of foraging for that honey crop you wanted. So, supply water. Lots of it. And never, ever, ever let it go dry. Once bees can’t get it where they could get it, they move on. Before you get your bees, get your water source set up: a large pool, an automatic livestock waterer, a water garden. Make sure there’s a place for the bees to land – floats, a beach of sorts, something – and if stagnant, add a scent such as food grade peppermint oil or Honey-B-Healthy, so they can find it at first, and can locate it later. Water is the second biggest problem urban beekeepers have, and it shouldn’t be.

Kim Flottum presented workshops at the 2012 Pennsylvania MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. 

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs: June 1-2 in Puyallup, Wash., Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa., and Oct. 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets are on sale now. 

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