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Urban Beekeeping

Most people consider beekeeping to be a rural pastime, but plenty of beekeepers successfully keep bees in cities or suburbs.  These brave individuals, known as urban beekeepers, face their own sets of challenges and rewards.

There are unique payoffs to urban beekeeping that traditional rural beekeepers simply can not obtain.  First, cities and suburbs feature abundant flower sources from multiple types of trees, shrubs and gardens.  Urban flower sources also tend to be largely impervious to drought or lack of rainfall, because homeowners and city governments rarely stop watering landscapes and gardens.

Let’s face it, almost every home or business has a flowering garden of some sort.  Plus, cities and suburbs are abundant with trees, many of which are well known to be excellent honey sources – elms, maples, and sourwood in the eastern US, tupelos and magnolias in the south, eucalyptus and willow in the west, mesquite in the desert, and an abundance of fruit trees nearly everywhere.  It only takes a few blooming trees to deliver an excellent source of nectar to an urban colony of bees.

Furthermore, in many urban areas, only a limited number of honeybees compete for those bountiful nectar sources.  Unlike in the countryside, cities and suburbs rarely feature giant apiaries of honeybees that compete for all of this excellent forage.  As a result, urban bees generally have a better ratio of honeybees to flowers than in the countryside.  That is why urban beekeepers almost always produce larger and more consistent honey crops than their rural counterparts; massive 200+ pound honey crops per colony are not uncommon in urban beekeeping.

The challenges of urban beekeeping, however, are obvious.  Close neighbors, strict zoning, and high liability immediately come to mind.

Of course, there are ways to mitigate these concerns.  If you are an urban beekeeper or plan on becoming one, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Out of sight, out of mind:

Stealth and secrecy is probably the most important consideration for an urban beekeeper.  In general, the less people who have any idea about your hobby, the better off you will be.  It only takes one overreacting neighbor to potentially shut down your entire endeavor.  Your beehives and your bees’ flight paths are best kept out of the sight (and minds) of the public.

Keeping your beehives surrounded by tall shrubs, fences or walls will assist you by not only hiding your colonies, but by also forcing your bees to fly high overhead rather than at ground level. This will keep their flight paths clear of people and out of the line of sight.  Keeping beehives on a rooftop also accomplishes the same.

Keep gentle bees:

Always keep known gentle races of bees and requeen them regularly so that the bees are of a known, gentle origin.

Watch out for powerful night lighting:

Bees, of course being insects that they are, can’t help but to fly into lights.  Nearby powerful night lighting can agitate beehives during the evening and keep individual foraging bees from properly orienting at dusk and dawn.

Think about your neighbors, and choose the best times to work your bees:

Obviously, it is best not to work your colonies when neighbors, children and pets are outside and nearby.  Extreme caution is always best.

Keep zoning in mind:

Always adhere to your county and city zoning requirements.

Don’t forget about water:

Bees need plenty of water.  Maintaining a nearby clean water source for the bees will keep your bees out of your neighbors’ swimming pools and fountains.

And, finally, share the love:

If nearby neighbors do know about your bees, a few jars of honey each year is a small price to pay toward keeping them on board with your hobby.  Sweeten the deal, and you will make some new friends in the process!

What To Look For In A Beehive Inspection

A successful beehive inspection begins even before a beekeeper opens the colony.  Sometimes, if the weather is too cold or otherwise unpleasant, an outside inspection may be all that a conscientious beekeeper will want to do for the day.  Not every day is ideal for opening a beehive.

No matter what the conditions, however, an astute beekeeper can learn much about a colony’s health simply by carefully observing the bees outside of the colony and considering . . .

  • Given the conditions of weather and bloom, is the level of activity taking place on the entrance greater or lower than what would be expected?
  • Are the bees bringing in pollen?
  • Are there signs of robbing or defensive behavior?
  • Are the bees fighting off invading insects such as wasps or ants?
  • Are there dead bees lying in front of the entrance?

Once a beekeeper decides to open a colony, the beekeeper will next want to consider . . .

  • What does the colony sound like when opened? (A healthy colony will have a contented and relaxed “hum”, whereas a queenless or otherwise stressed colony will often have an uncomfortable roaring sound.)
  • Are the bees in a cluster? This will indicate the location and size of the brood nest.
  • Does the colony feel heavy with honey? Or, does it have enough food?
  • What does the inside of the brood nest look like?  Is there a good mix of eggs, larva and capped brood?  No eggs may indicate that the hive is without a queen.
  • Does the larva look healthy, bright and white?
  • Does the larva look “wet” and well fed?  Dry larva may indicate that the colony is starved for pollen and could benefit from pollen supplement patties.
  • Does the capped brood look healthy, compact and well shaped?  Spotty brood may indicate disease or a failing queen.
  • Given the bee population and conditions of the season, do the bees have the right amount of space?
  • Are there swarm cells or signs that the colony may be planning to swarm?

A careful beekeeper always considers the well-being of the colony during the inspection.  The goal of the inspection is for the beekeeper to help the colony, if necessary, and not to overly stress the colony with too much invasiveness or rough handling.  At the end of the inspection, the beekeeper should replace the combs in the same order, and close up the hive as securely as it was before the inspection.

 

Spring Beekeeping

Spring arrives at different times in different parts of the United States.  Here, at Wildflower Meadows, our spring begins in early February.  For some of our customers, whose apiaries are in the north of the country or are in the mountains, spring can arrive as late as the middle of May or early June.  Regardless of the timing, however, spring beekeeping activities are the same for all beekeepers.

Spring is a time when the population of a beehive is about to grow rapidly.  The queen has begun to lay new frames of brood in earnest.  Often in the early spring a beehive may appear to contain more frames of brood than bees!  Accordingly, most spring beekeeping is focused on managing the expansion of the bee population and gearing up for an oncoming spring honey flow.

Honeybees’ swarming instinct is strongest in the spring, so the beekeeper needs to be especially aware of warning signs of swarming.  Having a young queen inside the hive, and making sure that there is enough extra space (supers) for a growing colony are the two best actions a beekeeper can take to control swarming.  Most colonies will need increased space as the season hits its stride of one or two weeks after the onset of spring.  Spring is also a good time to:

  • Clean off bottom boards
  • Remove entrance reducers (robbing usually is not a problem in the spring)
  • Replace old or destroyed honeycomb
  • Make sure that the bees have a clean and reliable nearby water source
  • Evaluate the quality of the overwintered queen

Although it is important for a beekeeper to ensure that bees have enough space heading into spring, a good beekeeper does not want to get too carried away by adding too many supers, or adding supers too early in the season.  Sometimes early an spring will bring unexpected frosts or chilly weather.  Too much space inside a beehive can make it difficult for the bees to keep the nighttime cluster warm and could result in the brood being chilled.