Extreme Urban Beekeeping Methods

Discover the methods modern beekeepers must use to help their colonies thrive in an urban setting.

  • A swarm in the city is a chance to be both a teaching opportunity and a hazard. It’s a good time to reaffirm your relationship with neighbors and safety personnel.
    Photo courtesy of Quarry
  • When working your colonies, consider your neighbors and your bees. Midday is always good when most neighbors and most bees aren’t home. Avoid weekends, when the neighbors may be gardening or relaxing on the deck.
    Photo courtesy of Quarry
  • Urban beekeepers may have very small backyards close to busy streets with lots of foot traffic, or they may own farmland where houses are gradually encroaching.
    Photo courtesy of Quarry
  • One of the greatest challenges to suburban or urban beekeeping is having bees near a neighbor’s swimming pool. Fences may minimize contact, but the attraction of all that chlorinated water can be an irresistible force.
    Photo courtesy of Quarry
  • “The Backyard Beekeeper” by Kim Flottum has helped nearly 200,000 people start their beekeeping adventures.
    Photo courtesy of Quarry

The Backyard Beekeeper (Quarry, 2018) by Kim Flottum extends his expert advice on beekeeping, one of the fastest growing hobbies today. He walks beginners through setting up their colonies, choosing their bees, and the benefits of raising and caring for these buzzing bees. In the following excerpt, he discusses the various methods of urban beekeeping.

Extreme Urban Beekeeping

After three decades of decline during the struggle to cope with Varroa mites, the beekeeping industry has yet to climb out of its chemical fog and adopt industry-wide, reasonable integrated pest-management (IPM) techniques. But bees that have some resistance or tolerance are becoming more available, and progress is beginning to be made.

Also during beekeeping’s dark years, when there were fewer and fewer beekeepers anywhere, it was easy for urban areas—big and small cities and their suburban neighbors—to succumb to the pressures of those who were ignorant of the benefits of honey bees and regulate against them. Because there were fewer beekeepers, there were fewer voices to defend them. So during the decades Varroa mites were destroying beekeeping, they were ably assisted by misguided municipalities and many places became, simply, beekeeperless. There are no managed bees where there are no beekeepers. Varroa killed all of the bees, and governments killed the beekeepers.

But this has changed. Amid a growing awareness of habitat loss for all pollinators, coupled with the media-induced attention to honey bees brought on by the loss of pollinators of all kinds in epic proportions, the world woke up to the fact that the future of food was being threatened by the loss of honey bees and their keepers. The environmental and political action that resulted kindled a renewed empathy for all pollinators, including honey bees. Though we’ve always known it to be true, more people now see that it’s good to be a beekeeper. Small farmers everywhere won a moral and productive victory when the rules in many cities and towns changed to once again allow bees to simply be.

Increased Regulations and Inspections

In most places, however, there are still restrictions on beekeeping. Permits that need renewal and cost money are usually part of the deal. Numbers are too, with a cap on the number of colonies allowed in a given space. Registration, training, permission from neighbors, description of housing, sources of water, and other limitations often exist. Registration of hives with regulatory officials is usually required. Still, when you want to keep bees and you live in a city that now lets you, life is better for you, the bees, and the many plants that will benefit.

Over time, inspections and their requisite fees will probably become standard practice. The inspection programs are prepared to protect the city by making sure you are keeping your bees in a safe and secure manner. Hand in hand with inspections and inspectors is the permission for those inspectors to go onto the property the bees are on. If the property isn’t yours, then you may have one more obstacle to overcome to get bees located. Some locations require complete access to hives whenever the inspector wants it. Others work to make the inspection a teaching moment for the inspector and beekeeper. The logistics of getting an inspector to hives in dense urban areas can be complicated. Just think: Where will that inspector park when he or she wants to get to the apiary on the rooftop of that popular hotel?



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