By Guest Author Josh Andrews
Many of us understand how important bees are to the whole ecosystem. That’s probably why we’ve seen an upsurge in people wanting to start urban beehives in cities and suburban areas. It’s no longer just the country folk who get to have all the fun of beekeeping.
Although beekeeping in cities has become popular in the last decade or so, there are instances of urban beehives right back to the 1950s. For many years, local ordinances restricted keeping bee hives within city limits, but many of these laws have been overturned, paving the way to keep a beehive in any backyard.
Keeping bees in a town or city may seem like a strange idea, as our first thought may be that bees would thrive best in the countryside, with lots of clean air and plants for the bees to pollinate. But it’s a fact that bees in an urban environment can thrive and are more healthy and productive than bees found in the country. Scientists have discovered this is partly due to the higher average temperatures found in cities, and the wide variety of plant life found in the urban environment. The bees are also not subject to the high concentrations of insecticide used to control pests in modern farming.
Bee on the right side of your local laws
If you’re considering keeping an urban beehive, the first thing you need to do is check any local ordinances that may apply. There are often bylaws regarding beekeeping, and in some places, the hives need to be licensed and inspected regularly for any disease that can kill your colony or others nearby. In the U.S., most states require a beekeeper to have an Apiary License. This means the location of the hives has been approved and you meet your state’s regulatory requirements as a beekeeper. There is usually a fee for the license.
Where to place your urban beehive
You’ll learn quickly that bees are very territorial. They like to protect the hive, and that is why they sometimes attack people. That’s why you should choose a spot for your bee colony away from pathways and where there is little foot traffic. If anyone is living or working close by, it is a good idea to warn them of the hives, so there are no mishaps. Also, if there is not much space, stick to just one hive as it will cause fewer problems, and give the bees a large enough area to forage for pollen.
Put a beehive in your garden
If you live in a city and have your own garden, this is the perfect spot for your beehive. If you only have a tiny garden or none at all, there may be a community garden close by, or perhaps you share a garden with your neighbors. In any case, check to see if you can place your hive in a secluded part of the garden, as far away from people as possible, and where the hives can be signed to warn of any potential danger to those with bee allergies.
Most beehives are no more than two or three feet high, and a little over a foot square on the base, so even small yards can cope with that size. During the daylight hours, bees will be coming and going from the hive all the time. That means you will have bees always flying about five or six feet around the hive. Experts recommend a good ten feet separation of the hive from anywhere you might want to be regularly. For instance, don’t put it right outside your back door or the garage door just because it’s convenient. For tiny spaces, it’s a good idea to create a barrier of shrubs or a fence around the hive to direct the flight path of the bees away from ground level.
Put your urban beehive on a balcony or roof
If you live in an apartment with a balcony that is not used, then you could place the hive there. More likely, you will have a roof deck or space where few people will venture, which would be an ideal location away from foot traffic for your bees. As with a garden placement, the same distance requirements should be adhered to.
You can even put a beehive indoors
The less traditional option is to have a beehive within your home. The hives are usually attached to an outside wall, with a cavity allowing the bees to get outside. It’s a bit like the bees building their hive inside a hollow tree, where your home is the inside of the tree. These interior hives have to undergo the same inspection and regulation as beehives kept outdoors.
Installing an internal hive is a great introduction to beekeeping, and is a wonderful teaching aid for children. If you are thinking about doing it, it would be wise to warn the neighbors you’re going to house a bee colony. Some may be put off by the idea, but a jar of your first harvest of honey will go a long way to sweeten their attitude. One of the ways you can mitigate any problems with neighbors is to choose a quiet strain of bees which are less likely to swarm.
If you’ve never seen an interior beehive before check out the BEEcosytem. This revolutionary new method of beekeeping is specially created for indoor and urban environments. The hexagonal hive is made of cedarwood with clear panels to see into the hive itself. The modular design means the hive can be extended as your colony grows.
Supplies needed for starting your urban beehive
Before going out and spending lots of money on new equipment, it would be wise to search out your nearest beekeepers’ club. Club members are a great source of local advice on what to do and what not to do when starting. They will have a wealth of knowledge and experience which you can learn from to keep you from making too many rookie mistakes. They may know where to get the best equipment at a discount to help you get started and keep the cost down. But never buy second-hand equipment as you don’t know if it may carry a disease that could kill your colony.
- Hive Box – What kind of hive box you use depends on the type of bee hive is best for your environment. So as not to annoy the neighbors try and get the best quality you can afford so it looks professional.
- Hive Stand – This is to raise the hive above the ground to give it sufficient ventilation and to minimize the risk of moisture damaging the hive.
- Bottom Board – The bee hive stands on the bottom board and it can be either solid or mesh. A solid board keeps the hive warm in the winter and deters ants (predators of the bees). With the screen board, when bees clean themselves, any mites will fall through the mesh and not accumulate in the bottom of the hive.
- Deep Hive Body – This is the internal frame within the beehive to hold the honeycombs and house the bees. The body can usually hold 8-10 frames. Most hives have two of these bodies, one for the brood chamber in the lower part of the hive, and the other for the food chamber in the top.
- Frames – These are the wooden foundations bees use to build their honeycombs. Plastic frames are available, but they do not work as well as the traditional wood.
- Shallow Chamber – During the honey season, you need this chamber to collect surplus honey from the hive.
- Inner and Outer Cover – These provide air circulation for the hive, and come in long-lasting cedarwood or cypress, or even plastic. For an outer cover, plastic will not rot over time and will keep up appearances.
- Feeders – During winter hive feeders are a necessity as the bees can’t collect enough flower nectar to survive the cold weather. The feeder provides them with sugar water to sustain them through the lean months.
- Smoker – Probably the handiest beekeeping tool you will ever own. Smoking the hive calms the bees down, making it easier to get at the honey when you need to harvest.
- Frame Lifter – This little gadget helps you get the frames out of the hive if you need to inspect them, as they can be stuck together by the comb.
- Bee-Proof Suit – Only people who have been handling bees for a long time can go around without protection. The suit will consist of overalls, gloves, and a veil or mask to cover your face.
- A Swarm of Bees with a Queen – The final ingredient for a thriving hive is a swarm and their queen. If you are looking for bees that are calm and produce large amounts of honey in a short space of time, try the Italian bee variety. The Buckfast and Cordovan hybrid varieties are cross-bred and are supposedly more efficient and productive in honey production. The African hybrid is very territorial and has a reputation for swarming and sometimes even killing humans (so don’t get African bees!). Other varieties available are the Carniolan, Russian, and Caucasian bee.
Which type of beehive is best?
Unless you are a dab hand at DIY and have excellent carpentry skills to build your own beehive, chances are you are going to buy a hive off-the-shelf. There are lots of designs, each specific for location and climate. In Europe and North America, these are the most common types.
- Langstroth Hive – Named after its inventor the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth, this is probably the most popular hive design in the world. The significant advantage is the frame design within the hive for bees to create their honeycombs. The spacing of the frames is ideal for the bees, giving them enough space to move around. The internal system makes it easy to inspect the hive for any problems and to harvest the honey. Buy on Amazon: Complete Langstroth Wax Coated Bee Hive
- Top Bar Hive – This simple backyard beehive is widespread in developing countries. The top bar is where the bees create their honeycomb, but it does not give a regular pattern for the comb, and it is more like the natural honeycombs found in the wild. Because of its limited space, it can only hold a small colony. Buy on Amazon: Balanced Beekeeping: Build a Top Bar Hive
- Warre Hive – Noted for its quick and easy assembly, the Warre Hive is derived from the Top Bar hive and also attempts to mimic how bees construct their honeycombs in the wild. Experts suggest that this hive is suitable for those who are looking to help sustain the bee population and are not looking for high honey production. Buy on Amazon: Complete 4 Box Warre Hive Kit Fully Assembled
- Flow Hive – This is a recently adopted concept from Australia, where the surplus honey is allowed to flow from the hive without the need to smoke the bees. The interior is engineered to collect surplus honey and allow it to flow out of the hive and be collected. Frames can be added to give added capacity. Buy on Amazon: Golden Palace Auto Flow Beehive 7pcs
- Five-Frame Nuc Hive – Based on the Langstroth design, this hive is suitable for raising a new queen and creating a swarm. Because it is small and portable, it is often used to transport swarms. With only five frames, there is no room for expansion, so its use can be limited. Buy on Amazon: Blythewood Bee Company 5-Frame Beehive Nuc Kit
How much honey and beeswax will my urban beehive produce?
A single urban beehive can produce anywhere between 20-60 pounds of honey in each harvest. How much depends on the size of the colony, the type of hive, the location, and the weather. But it’s not just honey that you can harvest from a hive – beeswax can be used in all manner of ways. For centuries it’s been used to make candles and is an ingredient in soap and lip balm, and beauty products. And then there is the superfood bee pollen, which is sought for its antioxidant qualities and its supposed ability to boost the immune system.
How to harvest your urban beehive
If you are using outdoor hives, they need to be set up in the spring when the weather is starting to warm up and when plants are beginning to blossom. The bees will spend all summer gathering flower nectar to make honey, and it can be harvested in the fall once the frames are full. Then it’s a simple job to extract the frames, uncap the honeycomb with a knife and to place the frames in an extractor. The extractor spins the frame using centrifugal force to remove the liquid honey, which can then be collected, filtered and bottled.
Urban Beekeeping Check List
- Buy your bees from an approved dealer so they are healthy and robust when they arrive. Your local beekeeping club will have recommendations for responsible suppliers.
- Never buy used beekeeping supplies; they may contain traces of disease that can be passed to your bee colony. Always buy new.
- Join the local beekeeping club, as they will have all the knowledge you need to get started and will be an excellent source for troubleshooting. No one knows the ups and downs of keeping bees in your locale better than another local beekeeper.
- Pay attention to your bees; they need to be taken care of like any other type of livestock. If you look after your colony, the bees will do their work and pay you back with honey, beeswax, and bee pollen. Remember, beekeeping is not just a science but an art.
Author’s Bio: Josh Andrews is a keen gardener and has spent a good amount of time growing his favorite veggies. Keen on creating his own produce he has dipped his toes into beekeeping, mushroom growing and more!