Urban Beekeeping: Be a Backyard Beekeeper

Greg Underwood recounts a successful venture in urban beekeeping, including his capture of a wild swarm to serve as his initial colony and the new hive's unanticipated productivity.

  • Urban Beekeeper
    Urban beekeeping is surprisingly easy. As long as flowering plants are available the insects adapt well to the setting.
  • 061 urban beekeeping
    Even in the city, you can find plenty of flowering plants to keep a hive and become a successful backyard beekeeper.

  • Urban Beekeeper
  • 061 urban beekeeping

Believe it or not, I produce all the honey I can eat (with plenty left over to give away and sell) less than two miles from downtown San Francisco. Better yet, I was able to start my hive with wild bees that I caught myself ... and there's no reason why other folks can't get into a backyard bee business in the same way!

My urban beekeeping enterprise began some time ago, when an evening's conversation turned to the subject of bees. On the spur of the moment, I thumbed through the yellow pages to "Beekeepers" . . . and dialed the first number I saw. That impromptu call resulted in a half-hour's discussion about bees and how to get them free! It seems that my informant and his mother owned several hives in the country, and—every spring—these folks would be called upon to remove swarms of wild bees that had gathered in nearby cities. It was, of course, an easy matter for the experienced beekeepers to collect such "wandering hives" and sell them to beginning "honey farmers".

I was excited by the prospect of producing my own honey, and asked the 'keeper to phone me the next time a swarm was reported.

Sweets to My Suite

The call came a month later, but it was the beekeeper's mother who phoned. She told me that a mass of wild bees had settled in a downtown parking lot. Unfortunately, neither she nor her son was available to help me out, but—after the lady assured me that swarming bees are too preoccupied to sting anyone—I let my trusting heart (and foolhardy nature) get the better of me ... and decided to try and capture the insects on my own.

The swarm was a crawling mass of wings and legs, perched on a stone wall and oozing over onto the sidewalk. I inched over to the cluster and—very carefully—began sweeping bees toward my newly purchased hive with a piece of cardboard. The insects were buzzing wildly, and incoming stragglers circled me from every direction. . . but I wasn't stung. Perhaps, I thought, my lack of defenses convinced the bees that I meant them no harm.

Good intentions, however, weren't enough to insure my success ... because after a minute or two the steady hum rose in intensity and the swarm began to disperse. I grabbed my hive and gave chase, ending up on a neighboring rooftop just in time to see the last of the swarm disappear into a hole in a brick wall. Since I had no way to remove the insects from this "fortress", I released the few that I had managed to capture and went home.



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