Urban Beekeeping

Urban beekeeping has been on the rise, probably for a combination of reasons.  People have ventured into beekeeping because they have heard about bee decline, and wanted to do something about it.  This has, on some occasions, extended to businesses and even churches.  In London, for example, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London have become home to several colonies of honey bees, with hives installed on the roofs.  On the other hand, some people have an interest in producing honey and others have simply decided to pursue a hobby.

Whatever the reason, due to the fact that so many people live in towns and cities, its urban beekeeping or no beekeeping for many.  However, whilst bees can thrive in towns and cities, urban beekeepers do need to take into account several issues particular to their environment, so if this is something you are contemplating, maybe you would like to think about the following points.

Considerations For Urban Beekeepers

1. Are vandals likely to be a problem?  Unfortunately, if you live in an area with high levels of vandalism, it would be unwise to install hives.  I have heard of a proposal to install beehives in an area in an attempt to deter vandals from destroying ancient ruins.  The plan was quickly abandoned when the inexperienced (albeit well-meaning) individuals realised there is nothing to stop vandals throwing bricks at hives from a distance, for example. ……Although I understand bee hives with colonies of honey bees are very effective for discouraging elephant crop raids in Kenya!

2. The temperament of the bees you install in your hive of bee hives, is something you should think about.   It is better to avoid more aggressive bees, and to opt for more passive strains.

3. What is the attitude of your neighbours?  If they have young children (or even if they don’t), they may be against you keeping bees for fear of being stung.  You may be able to allay their fears, and take measures to discourage the bees from swarming, and you may be able to erect a tall screen to encourage the bees to ‘fly high’.  However, if you are not able to come to some agreement with your neighbours, it may be better to find an alternative location for your hive – perhaps at an allotment (if you are permitted) or the garden of a friend with neighbours who are amenable to the idea of living next door to a honey bee colony.  Note that some people do have very legitimate reasons for concern – allergy to bee stings is not common but can be fatal!

4. Is urban beekeeping allowed in the area in which you live?  For example, in some towns in the USA, there are restrictions on beekeeping.  If you have a city allotment, you may have to negotiate with the body in charge of the allotment (and even the other allotment holders).

5. Is there a local and active beekeeping association in the area?

If you are new to beekeeping, this may be very important for you.  They would also be able to share advice and tips. 

In addition, if you are venturing into urban beekeeping as a means to ‘do your bit’ for the bees, then speak with beekeepers first – and perhaps even your local conservation body. 

In 2010, the Mayor of London came under criticism from the local beekeeping organisations, for encouraging more beekeeping (see below):

“John Chapple, chair of the London Beekeepers' Association, which has seen a five-fold increase to 150 members in the past few years, said: "London is already saturated with beekeepers. We don't need any more, what we need are better beekeepers.….Rather than jumping on the beekeeping bandwagon, Boris [the Mayor] should stop parks from planting double-headed flowers that provide no nectar or pollen, cutting back trees and shrubs that provide vital forage for bees, and spraying with chemicals".  He added: "Londoners who want to help bees would do better planting bee-friendly trees and flowers and lobbying for a more bee-friendly city, rather than keeping them."

Source:  The Guardian; 16 December 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/dec/16/boris-capital-bee-beekeepers-criticise

6. If you are wanting to help bees but find that for various reasons, you are unable to become a beekeeper, there are other positive actions you can take: create a bee garden, lobby your council to help the bees, and get involved with other local movements.

7. Which leads to the next point:  what kind of provision is there for the bees, in terms of flora?

Traditional single-petal flowers, herbs, and nectar-rich flowering shrubs and trees are better (such as hawthorne, berberis etc).  They’ll need food from early spring to autumn.  Also, don’t forget about your own contribution: if all you have is a balcony, do your bit with hanging baskets, window boxes and planters.

Quality is important, not merely quantity.  Rows of highly cultivated, brightly coloured annual flowers will be of little benefit.

8. Pollution is another important factor.  If chemicals are used in the local park next door (sprays, lawn treatments, and even insecticides applied to the soil), that you identified as the primary area where your bees might forage, then this may put your bees at risk. 

9. Also, think again about urban beekeeping if all you can provide is a tiny front yard facing a very busy road with the bees on the same level as all the petrol and diesel fumes, or next door to a factory churning out noxious fumes. In such a circumstance, again, you may be better off finding an alternative location to keep your bees. 

10. A roof top can be ideal, but remember the hive will need protection from wind, and you will need good, safe access to the hive, and it will need to be stable – or in the event that the hive did topple, where would it land? 

11. Swarming could cause problems if you are asked to remove a swarm from a tricky spot, such as some-ones vent or heating system. 

12. Storage is another issue.  Do you have enough space for storing any beekeeping equipment you may need?

In summary, take a good look around first, consider your skills, the assistance available to you from other beekeepers, and any risks.  Urban beekeeping may be rewarding, but is not something to rush into.


Beekeeping tips from experienced beekeepers

How to start beekeeping

Gardening for bees

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