How to Start an Urban Beehive

Here's how to make your first urban beehive a success.

by Lesley WardJanuary 18, 2016
PHOTO: Penn State/Flickr

Have the rows of golden honey jars of at the farmers market tempted you into considering starting your own beehive? If you live in an urban area, you might believe that starting a beehive is impossible. But it’s not. Urban rooftops and suburban backyards can be suitable sites for beehives. That said, do some research and planning before ordering your bees. Read on for information on how to get a good start.

Wayne Warren, of Lexington, Kentucky, has kept bees since he was a little boy.

“I was a country boy, and I was always into something,” he remembers. “I was interested in bees, and I ordered my first swarm and a hive from a Sears catalog. I started with about 20,000 bees, and they just kept multiplying.”

More than 40 years later, Warren is still raising bees in his backyard. However, he’s traded his country home for an urban setup, including bees in his backyard. He lives in the middle of Lexington—population 280,000.

His backyard measures approximately 40 feet by 60 feet. There he keeps five full-size beehives. Each hive houses 50,000 to 70,000 honeybees. With neighbors in every direction, Warren has to manage his bees carefully.

“There are no problems with my bees,” Warren explains. “My neighbors know all about them. In 12 years in this house, I’ve never had a problem. Of course, to be neighborly, I give them all honey.”

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However, neighbors in your area might have their reservations of your enthusiasm for beekeeping. Warren offers some tips to help you get your urban beehive started on the right foot:

1. Research Local Beekeeping Regulations

You need to make sure you can legally keep bees in your backyard.

“In my county, there are no ordinances regulating bees,” Warren says. Your local county extension office should be able to help you research local beekeeping laws.

2. Join a Beekeeping Club

Warren is a member of the Bluegrass Beekeepers.

“It doesn’t cost much to join a club,” he says. “You’ll meet people who have had bees for years and you’ll get lots of valuable information from them.”

3. Buy Gentle Bees

Warren’s favorite bees are Buckfast bees, and he recommends them for budding beekeepers.

“They are great bees to start off with, and they are good pollinators,” Warren says. “Hostile bees will cause problems with the neighbors and the law!”

4. Fence in Your Backyard

Build your fence before you buy your bees. The fence should be made of wood, and it should stand approximately 8 feet tall.

“The bees need to fly in over people’s heads,” Warren explains. “If the fences are low, the bees will bump into people and sting them.”

5. Start With 2 Bee Swarms

If something happens to one of the swarms, you can use the second swarm to raise new bees to replace the first. Warren says to start out small by ordering 3 to 5 pounds of bees. The bees should be mailed to you in a screened-in box.

6. Look for Used Beehives

Browse ads in local-beekeeping-club newsletters and on Craigslist for people selling their used hives. Warren uses hives made of wood or Styrofoam. He prefers Styrofoam because it keeps the bees warm in winter and cool in summer.

7. Wait to Invest in a Honey Extractor

Warren says you can probably borrow or rent one from the local beekeeping club.

8. Purchase Safety Clothing

And wear it.

“Sometimes new beekeepers are a bit scared of the bees, and the bees can sense it,” Warren says. “I’m old school. I don’t wear anything now, but my bees are very gentle.”

9. Consult Your Neighbors Beforehand

Most people will be fine with you raising bees as long as they realize that there’s little risk of them being stung. And take a cue from Warren by offering them free honey. It couldn’t hurt!

10. Don’t Expect to Make Lots of Money Selling Honey

“There’s very little profit in it,” Warren says. “I just about cover my equipment. I raise the bees mainly to produce honey for myself, friends and relatives. Beekeeping is just a hobby for me.”

11. Check Your Hives Regularly

Although raising bees doesn’t take a lot of work, performing regular checks helps ensure that your bees are healthy and working.

“I open up the hives at least once a week to check that a queen is available and that the bees are laying eggs,” Warren says.

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