Getting Started in Urban Beekeeping

Reader Contribution by Kim Flottum
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There’s never, ever been a better time to get involved with
honey bees and beekeeping. By starting now you’ve got all winter to join a
local club, read a few of the great books available, take a beginner’s course,
scope out all the different kinds of equipment and find the best place to get
it. And for the next few months you can watch some of the YouTube videos out
there, read a few of the blogs by other beekeepers, find a bunch of the web
pages that feature bees and beekeeping, get in on some of the discussion groups
that are talking about the topics of the day…and do all of this at a leisurely
pace that doesn’t drive you crazy, lets you work at your speed, and have fun
all of the time.

But most importantly, you’ve got time to get to know a few
local beekeepers that can help you next spring as mentors and advisors. If you
ask, you might even get a chance to help them this fall with their
getting-ready-for-winter chores so by next spring you’ll already have a few hours
of ‘bee work’ under your beesuit (and you’ll know the best protective gear to
buy because you’ve been working bees and talking to beekeepers). Plus, you’ll
know how heavy things are, how sticky it can get, learn a lot about fall and
winter management, and will have had the chance to listen to a seasoned pro who
can save you hours and hours of work with the short cuts he or she has learned
over the years, and even better, save you a good deal of grief by showing you
how NOT to upset your bees. Finding a mentor or two is absolutely the best
teaching aide you can get.

So right now is the time to get started. To find a local
beekeeping group contact your county extension office or simply Google ‘your
county’ beekeeping association, or maybe ‘your state’ beekeeping association
and you’ll be hooked up before lunch. Attend their meetings. In fact, find two
or three groups that are close enough to attend and go to a couple of meetings
at each. You’ll be amazed at how differently folks approach the same subject…because
of location…and a Cardinal rule is that, like politics, all beekeeping is
local…or because of leadership, experience or even politics. Find the one that
fits your style, temperament and goals best and then settle in (but don’t be
surprised if you find that all of them fill part of your needs, but not
everything, so you end up at all of them). But wait! Don’t abandon them all
when it comes to beginner’s classes next spring. That amazing difference
between groups will spill over to an amazing difference in the quality and
content of the classes. Attend as many as you have time and resources for…you
will only be a better beginner when you are done (and here’s another hint…take
a couple of beginner’s classes the following
year too. You have no idea how much you missed the first time because you
didn’t know it was important, or you were simply overwhelmed…do it twice…you’ll
be four times more informed.

Keeping bees when you live way out in the country, with
neighbors miles away but confrontations with domestic or even wild animals
highly probable is much different than when you live in a subdivision with five
acre lots, neighbors close enough to see but not hear, and things like dogs and
kids and water sources an issue, but usually not critical. But when you live in
the city all the rules change. Neighbors close enough to talk to, water a
critical issue, locations hard to find, even parking a problem when you want to
visit your bees…urban bees, and urban beekeeping presents a unique set of
challenges, and there isn’t a book available that can answer all of your
questions, or a class that knows all of the answers, yet.

But there are answers. There are ways and means to keep bees
in the city, in town, on the roof or fire escape or balcony or community
apiary. Stay tuned for the next round of this ongoing story for insights on
some of these answers, and come to the Fair for even more.