Maybe, at this point, you’re starting to get excited about all of the beehives you can have and all that great local honey you’re going to have at your disposal.  Then you remember you live in an area that doesn’t have the rolling hills, lakes, and endless meadows you’ve seen in most beekeeping photos.   

It could be an issue, right?  Nope.  

There’s a misconception out there, and we don’t want to spread it, that beekeeping is only for those open, pretty, rural scenes.  And the best part is that you don’t need all of that open space to have a thriving colony as a beekeeper.   

Urban beekeeping is just a type of backyard beekeeping.  There was a time that many municipals and local governments had strict statutes (but mostly prohibited) that hindered urban beekeeping ability by those that were interested.  That’s not the case anymore (and we’ll get into that in a bit). 

You can do it as a business or a hobby.  In most cases, you’ll be needed to register or proclaim that you are beekeeping in city limits, but other than that it can be pretty simple to get started.   

But, once you’re up and running it can be very beneficial and maybe even a little bit lucrative-there are always people looking for local honey! 

What is Urban Beekeeping? 

Just as the name suggests, urban beekeeping is just the act of keeping bees in an urban rather than a rural environment.  But “urban” and “rural” can have different definitions, so there’s plenty of gray area too.   

But if you live in a semi-compact environment that is more “urban” than other areas around you, then you might be in a location where urban beekeeping makes sense.  Rooftops, side yards, community garden areas”, etc.  Basically, any instance in which you’re keeping bees without access to large backyard or countryside.   

Humans have been keeping bees for thousands of years.  It’s always been a mutually beneficial existence. So, as we learn how important bees are the human race and as it rises in popularity…it’s just natural that many more people are starting right into urban beekeeping. 

What do You Get: 

  • Keep Bees and Provide a Safe Environment for Colonies. 
  • Harvest local, unique honey. 
  • Increase the number of bees (vital world pollinators!!) in your area. 

Know if Urban Beekeeping is EVEN Allowed in Your Local Area 

The United States is kind of weird, in that, there are different laws at different levels.  So, if something is illegal to the US government, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal in the 50 states or in any city or town in those states. 

This is because state and local laws can be different and be written in spite of federal law. (Crazy right?) If you don’t believe how wacky it can be, then think about “dry cities” or “Dry counties” in your area.  Or, local fireworks and marijuana laws.  You can literally buy weed or fireworks in some cities and be illegal with it less than 2 minutes later. 

It’s due to this crazy situation that makes local urban beekeeping laws VERY important to learn about.  If you’re interested in learning your local laws (or interested in getting your local law changed) then you could benefit from this portion of the article. 

Sometimes, you can find information on forums or with a simple search engine check.  If not, here are our 2 tips to check if beekeeping is allowed in your city. 

Tip 1:   

Call the City (City Hall, Town Hall, etc) and just ask.  Be sure not to use emergency services (911, Fire, Police) to ask these types of questions.  Just find a non-emergency contact number and call until you get the right office.  In many cases, the City Clerk acts as a liaison between city and citizen.  Because of this, they almost always have the most knowledgeable staff on duty. 

Tip 2:  

Google search, but do it with knowledge.  Most cities and towns will have their ordnances and laws published online for quick reference by citizens.  Many of them are even in PDF. 

So, use Google to search for you.  Here’s an example of the type of search you’ll want to do: 

Ordnance”  “Beekeeping” “ ”(city/town)”    Here’s an example from Massachusetts.

Just replace the city/town with the name of your actual city or town.  If you’re having trouble try adding the state after the city/town” and you could also replace “ordnance” with “laws”. 

Bee a Good Neighbor! 

Before you start buying bees and all the beekeeping equipment, you should be sure to talk to your neighbors.   

First, you’ll want to tell them that you’ve already looked into it and what you’re doing is within the law. 

Make sure they know how you’ll be keeping your bees safely and that their (your neighbors) and their family’s safety is or paramount importance to you. Most people will be scared of hives and bees because of the bad rap they’ve gotten as “stinging, bloodthirsty pests”.   

If you take a little bit of time to explain the importance of bees and beekeeping to the world and walk your neighbors through some safety steps, it can pay off in the long run! 

Do You Have Space? 

Okay, so you’ve checked the laws and begged your neighbors not to wage an anti-bee protest on your front lawn.  But do you have what it takes to keep bees?  Namely, the space that it’s going to take. 

You need space for hives and since this is an “urban beekeeping” article that you searched for, this may be your number one concern.   

You’ll want your water to have a water source to decrease the amount of time going and looking for water and more time harvesting nectar.  

Rooftop beekeeping has grown in popularity because of the often-unused landscape and square footage that roofs have to offer.  Sometimes, though, the temperature on high roofs will be inadequate. 

Your hive area doesn’t need to be locked off but it shouldn’t easily accessible by children and pets to avoid unnecessary stings and trouble. 

Besides that, enough sun and low wind if great.   

Why Start Urban Beekeeping? 

Pros and Cons of Urban Beekeeping

Pros
Cons
Boost Income:   

If you have urban bills then you could use some of that urban side money.  Rent, electric, water, trash.  It all adds up.  Beekeeping can help assuage some of the pressure on your bank account by opening revenue streams from honey.  If you have a thriving colony, you can get into other products like propolis, pollen, royal jelly and beeswax.  They all have the ability to turn a solid profit. 

Durable and Healthy:  

Since urban bees have to gather pollen from a variety of different sources (basically, they have to harvest the pollen that they find) it results in a more diverse diet that helps defend the bees to sickness and actually can make them more bountiful. 

Better Honey? 

Some argue that since the pollen supplies in urban areas are so wide-ranging that the honey is particularly sweet and nutritious. 

You Help Save the Bees! 

In a world where the honey bee and other pollenators are THE keystone species, you’ll be doing your part to actually save the world.  The population of bees has been in decline for many years now and its of paramount importance for them to survive and flourish. 
Possible Low Honey Yield 

There’s a lot of competition between kept bees and wild honey bees for all of that nectar and flora in urban areas.  The problem is that there is NOT a lot of vegetation and flora in cities, so the that could result in a poor nectar pool and a poor honey harvest.  This has been documented in New York City and London.   

Greater Chance of Disease 

A 2015 study has found that urban beekeeping conditions can promote the flourishing and transmitting of honey bee diseases.  When this happens, beekeepers take a loss.  Urban beekeepers can incur even more loss of colony and money by needing to keep them healthy by paying for medicine and treatment. 

Swarming 

Too many bees in an urban area and the resulting shortage of forage causes a more “anxoius” honey bee.  Swarming becomes common and hives will often invade and rob other colonies.  This results in a serious, sudden impact on bee population in the area as well as the spread of parasites and diseases. 

Urban Could Be Yuck 

Many urban areas are teeming with trash and contaminants.  This results in a “bad honey” sometimes with said contaminants found within the harvest.  You can’t sell bad honey and you take a loss.   

How Important is Beekeeping to the World 

We wrote a whole about the importance of bees in the world.  You can read that article here.  But just in case you need a quick snapshot, then here’s some info:

  • More than 100 agricultural crops are pollinated by the honey bee.
  • 80% of insect pollination is done by the western honey bee.
  • 1 out of 3 bites of food is dependent on the honey bee.
  • 84% of all commercially grown crops are bee-pollinated.

Beekeepers are taking heavy losses in their colony counts for about 20 years now.  Honey bee population peaked in the US during the 1940s at 5 million hives and there remains only half of that today.

Methods of Urban Beekeeping 

Rooftops!  That’s right…

Most beekeepers feel it’s ok to keep bees on the rooftops from one to four stories.  Any higher and you run the risk of high winds and cold temps.

Rooftops are great because they allow the bees to move and from the hives unhindered with little to no human contact. It also saves you from the high cost of having to build a barrier (fence or wall) between your hives and everything else.

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