Beekeeping Basics

Backyard beekeeping is increasing in popularity, leading to more people having honey bees as their next-door neighbors. According to the 2017 American Housing Survey, about 52 percent of people in the United States describe their neighborhood as suburban, while only 27 percent describe their neighborhood as urban, and 21 percent as rural. This means that new beekeepers are likely to live in a suburban neighborhood. Additionally, since a typical Langstroth hive only requires a few square feet, almost every backyard has more than enough space for a hive, so just about anyone with a yard could potentially keep bees.

To successfully keep bees in suburbia does require more than just the physical space for the hives, as keeping bees in close proximity to people has its own set of guidelines that should be followed. First, before you even purchase bees or equipment, you should check to see if there are any community/city/country/state laws where you live that pertain to keeping bees. The laws may say whether or not you can keep bees, dictate how many hives you are allowed to have, and specify how far away the hives can be placed from property lines. The laws are put into place both to protect the beekeeper and also to protect the public. Familiarizing yourself with the laws makes it easier for you to enjoy your hobby and its sweet rewards.

Build a good relationship with your neighbors

If you’re going to keep bees in your backyard, being a good neighbor is key. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re on good terms with your neighbors before you get bees, then they’ll be just as excited as you are about your new hobby. But, if you’re on bad terms with your neighbor(s), then getting bees is like pouring gasoline on an open fire. The best thing to do is ask yourself, “What do my neighbors think of me?” If you’re honest with yourself and your answer is not positive, then write down a list of things that you can do to be a better neighbor, otherwise it may be a constant struggle for you and your bees.

Establish an open line of communication with your neighbors. Give them your phone number and encourage them to call anytime they have any questions, or if any issues arise, such as concerns about stings or if a swarm of bees bivouacs in their yard. Rather than letting them panic, it’s better if they call so that you can be a good bee neighbor and take care of the situation before it gets out of hand. Whenever you’re speaking with your neighbors, always ask about any concerns they might have and address each one to the best of your ability. If you don’t know the answer to any of their questions, you can always get back to them after you’ve found the answer by asking more experienced beekeepers in your area, or by searching trusted sources such as the Cornell Pollinator Network Resources page. Last, remember that it’s always a good idea to utilize the beekeeper’s irresistible “superpower,” by giving jars of honey to each of your neighbors. Once they taste pure, local honey, they may likely become one of your biggest fans and be sweet on having bees—and free honey—close by.

Educate your neighbors about bees and pollination

Educating people about bees is important, as the non-beekeeping public often thinks that honey bees, yellowjackets, wasps, and hornets are all flying, sting-machines that love to make pincushions out of every human they see. Too often when someone finds out that you keep bees, they’re thinking about the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where all the bees come out of the hive and form a giant mallet to clobber people into the ground. Therefore, it’s a good idea to educate your neighbors about honey bee behavior and explain why they don’t have to worry. Key points that you can mention include the following:

  1. Having bees next door will not increase the number of bees in their yard
  2. Honey bees travel great distances to collect food. They routinely visit flowers up to 3 miles from their hive. Bees also tend to cruise at altitudes of 30 feet and higher, well above the space that people occupy.
  3. One yard does not have nearly enough flowers to support a honey bee colony. Around two million flowers are needed to make a single pound of honey, and colonies can make upwards of 100 pounds when conditions are good.
  4. Flowers have a finite amount of nectar and pollen, so regardless of where a hive is located, bees will only visit someone’s yard when the flowers are inviting them with nectar and pollen.
  5. Bees get all of their food from plants. They are not scavengers or hunters like other insects. Yellowjackets, on the other hand, are attracted to sugary sodas and some picnic foods.
  6. Honey bees are typically gentle insects.
  7. Honey bees only sting when provoked, and most stocks that suburban beekeepers keep have been bred for gentleness.
  8. Honey bees die when they sting, so they only use their stinger when needed. This can happen if they are swatted, stepped on, or if their hive is disturbed.

Since a lot of people call any striped insect that flies a “bee,” it is a good idea to teach people the differences between honey bees and wasps, especially since most people get stung by yellowjackets. The more people know about honey bees, the less likely you and your bees will get blamed any time someone gets stung. Explain that the honey bee’s stinger is barbed like a fishhook, causing bees to die when they sting. A yellowjacket’s stinger, on the other hand, is smooth like a doctor’s syringe, allowing yellowjackets to sting repeatedly and often. It’s also good to point out that honey bees never live in a hole in the ground, or in any paper-looking nest, especially a ball-shaped one hanging from a tree. Another easy way to get people to remember the difference between the two is pointing out that honey bees are fuzzy (covered in hair) and brown, while yellowjackets are practically hairless, look smooth and shiny, and are yellow and black in color.

Additionally, talk with people about all the trees, flowers, fruits, nuts, and vegetables that depend on honey bees for pollination. Explaining to people that having bees around will help their yards to look better and their vegetable gardens grow is the fastest way to get people to welcome your bees to the neighborhood.

Set up your apiary in a location that minimizes complaints

Once you’re on good terms with your neighbors, the next important aspect to backyard beekeeping is to assess your yard as an apiary. The general suggestions of where to place your hives, such as facing hives south and on dry, flat ground, still apply. But if you have neighbors close by, there are additional best practices you must also follow. First, it’s a good idea to think about how non-beekeepers will be using your yard. While a south-facing hive is best, you also have to think about what will be happening 10-15 feet in front of your hives. One way to visualize the bees’ flight path is to stand where you’re thinking of putting your hives and spraying a hose 10 feet, 15 feet, even 20 feet in front of you. What are the chances of someone, or something, getting wet? What kind of foot traffic does that area of the yard get? It is equally as important to think about how your neighbors use their yard, so it is not a good idea to put a hive directly on a property line. Instead, place your hives ten feet or more from the property line. Make sure there is a fence around your hives or yard to keep any inquisitive neighbors from accidently getting too close to your hives or walking  Live Casino into the bees’ flight path. Another way to keep bees and people out of one another’s way is to use a flight barrier: tall bushes, the side of your garage or shed, or anything else that forces the bees to immediately fly up into the air and away from people.

It’s also important to provide your bees with water on your property so they don’t make a neighbor’s pool, dog bowl, air conditioner, birdbath, koi pond, or other water source their own. Keep a water source within fifteen feet of your hive(s) year-round, so that they orient on the source you have provided for them before any scout bees find water sources in a neighbor’s yard.


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