Urban Beekeeping Benefits You and Your Neighbors
Can You Keep Bees in the City and Keep Your Neighbors Happy?
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The list of urban beekeeping benefits is extensive, so long as we approach it in a neighborly way. Being a courteous beekeeper in a city or suburb goes a long way.
We live on a tenth of an acre in a dense suburban area. Our backyard beehives are mere feet from our neighbor’s house and their flight path goes directly over the home right behind ours. Yet for five years, we’ve had this exact setup without incident. In fact, our neighbors regularly ask about the well-being of our bees!
How have we cultivated such a peaceful context in our cozy little community? I’ll walk you through the steps we took.
Keeping Urban Bees and Neighbors Happy
Can I keep bees in the city? The very first thing every urban beekeeper must do is answer this question. Many municipalities have rules regulating urban beekeeping. Some don’t allow it at all. Some have particular restrictions on the number of hives, location, or even distance from the property line. To further complicate matters, your Home Owners Association (HOA) may have its own set of rules. Neither our municipality nor our HOA has any beekeeping restrictions so, from a legal standpoint, we were good to go.
Don’t surprise your neighbors! The first step in keeping your neighbors happy is to keep them in the loop. In my opinion, much of the neighbor conflict that arises from urban beekeeping comes from the uninformed.
Three months before our bees arrived, after completing our beginning beekeeping class, we sat down with our neighbors to let them know we are preparing for this wonderful hobby. We shared all the current information about bees and beekeeping and answered all their questions. They were, understandably, apprehensive. But, they appreciated our candor and agreed to come directly to us if there was ever a problem.
Plan your hive location. Keeping bees on large parcels of land has its own set of best practices. Ideally, the colony would be protected from harsh elements, facing a particular direction, have easy access to water and food sources, and be touched by the sun in some way. As an urban beekeeper, the hive location options are likely limited. Additionally, the urban beekeeper must add “neighbor impact” to the list of best practices.
Our hives sit in a narrow space between our home and our next door neighbor. The hive entrances are less than 10 feet from the neighbor’s house and their flight path, left unimpeded, would send them straight into the neighbor’s back yard.
This serves a couple of purposes; first, it gives a little psychological comfort as the visual to the hives is blocked, and second, it helps direct the bees’ flight path away from the neighboring house. By the time the bees are over any neighbors, they are dozens of feet in the air.
Create a high-quality water source for your bees. Bees will travel as far as five miles from their hive to find and gather resources. As an urban beekeeper, you cannot possibly provide your bees enough pollen and nectar on your small piece of land (or balcony or roof). However, bees are efficient foragers and the amount of water they require is substantially less than pollen and nectar.
To be sure as many bees as possible got water on our property, we created bee water sources near their hives in our back yard. Initially, we bought two large bird baths and filled them with stones. We then filled them with clean water just deep enough so that the stones became little islands for the bees to land on. Finally, we added a little bit of Honey B Healthy to attract them to these sources of water. It worked (mostly) like a charm.
One summer, though, they discovered the hot tub across the street. Luckily, these neighbors had already become fans of our bees and weren’t bothered by it at all. In fact, they started rescuing bees that had fallen into the tub! Still, we didn’t want this to become a habit so we eventually had a large year-round fish pond built in our front yard. Our bees LOVE it and use it almost exclusively for their water needs.
Share the bounty! Good urban beekeepers share their honey with their neighbors! Every fall we give at least a jar of honey to all our immediate neighbors as a gift for supporting our bees. And they’ve begun returning the favor by sharing the crops from their vegetable gardens. After all, it was likely our bees that helped pollinate their plants!
Manage your hives to minimize/eliminate swarms! Overwintered colonies want to swarm. It’s how they spread their genetics and propagate into the environment. Once a colony swarms, unless they are captured, they will find a new home as quickly and efficiently as possible. In an urban setting, these new homes often end up inside the walls of someone’s house. That’s a very expensive and invasive problem to solve. A best practice for urban beekeeping is preventing swarming as best you can.
Our first year we explained to our neighbors what a swarm is so they would know what to look for. We also made sure they had our phone numbers so they could call if they ever saw one. In the spring, we make sure to be proactive in our swarm management practices. Our goal is to never have a backyard colony swarm. We’ve been very successful, minus one exception!
A couple of years ago we had a swarm happen mid-day while we were both at work. By this time our neighbors’ concerns about our bees had totally dissipated and, they knew what to do. They excitedly called us on our cell phones. My wife was able to escape work early and got home in time to capture and re-hive the swarm. The neighbors got a huge kick out of the whole adventure.
More times than not communicating with your neighbors and following courteous practices as best you can is enough to create community harmony as an urban beekeeper. It’s worked well for us all these years and we hope it works for you too. Urban beekeeping is a real joy and, recent research suggests honey bees may do better in an urban setting!