With beekeeping becoming more and more popular, it’s not uncommon to hear about backyard beekeepers almost everywhere.
You might be surprised to learn that people can even keep honey bees within city limits all over the world. It’s known as urban beekeeping, and it’s a great way to feel more connected to nature.
Read all about urban beekeeping to see if it’s right for you!
What Is Urban Beekeeping?
Simply put, urban beekeeping is the practice of raising honey bees in a city.
This is possible because the footprint required for hives is very small, and bees are able to fly up to five miles from their hive to forage for pollen and nectar. As long as there are enough of the right flowers nearby, honey bees will find them.
Honey bees can be kept on rooftops and decks or in small city yards. If you have room for the hive itself and enough space to move comfortably around the hive, that’s plenty.
History of Urban Beekeeping
Urban beekeeping is believed to have begun in earnest in Paris in the 1980s, though it’s likely that people have kept honey bees within cities for much longer.
Not long after, urban beekeeping was made illegal in most cities as it started to spread. As a result of ecological efforts and legislation, cities began to allow urban beekeeping. New York legalized it in 2010, and it has continued to grow in popularity with cities all around the world regulating the practice.
Cities now recognize the positive environmental impact of raising more pollinators in areas that generally have less biodiversity.
Benefits of Urban Beekeeping
Unlike almost any other kind of livestock, honey bees need very little dedicated space, which allows you to keep them even if you don’t have a large yard or another outdoor area.
If you have a space outside that will fit your hives with enough space for you to move around them, you have room for bees!
The presence of urban bee colonies creates research opportunities to learn more about pollinators, especially within a different ecosystem.
Urban beekeeping also brings pollinators into a new environment, which is beneficial for plant life in the area. Honey bees are some of the most prolific pollinators and can help spread pollen far and wide.
Finally, urban beekeeping connects people living in cities with the natural world in a way they might be lacking. You’ll start to notice more nuanced changes in weather and will likely pay more attention to what grows in your area and when.
What to Know if You’re Interested in Urban Beekeeping
While urban beekeeping is certainly possible, there are still a few things to be aware of before you jump in.
Make sure that in addition to all the usual research around beekeeping, you’re also keeping your environment in mind. Beekeeping is a complex hobby even in ideal conditions, so there will be extra adjustments for urban beekeeping.
It may not be for everyone, and it’s important to know the logistics and potential downsides so you’re as informed as possible.
Local Regulations and Resources
Before you run out and buy all your supplies, make sure you look into local zoning regulations to see if you’re allowed to have honey bees in your city.
If you are, there may be special permits you’ll have to apply for from your local government.
Some areas don’t allow apiaries, and if you decide to go with it anyway or without the proper paperwork you may end up paying fines and having to get rid of your bees. Rehoming a honey bee colony is not easy, and remember that these are intelligent living creatures who rely on you to keep them safe. Bees are not the kind of thing you want to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
If your area doesn’t allow honey bees, you can look into gathering public support to change local laws in favor of urban beekeeping.
Think and learn about nearby resources that your bees will be going to. While they should be able to find flowers to forage from just about anywhere, it would definitely be ideal to know that they have options and spaces to go to.
Neighbors and Public Perception
It’s not unusual for neighbors to find out you have honey bees and decide that it’s a problem for them.
Whether there’s a real issue or not, this is a common problem for any beekeeper and urban beekeepers in particular.
Many people perceive honey bees as aggressive animals that attack and sting unprovoked and will anticipate this happening, even if it never does. Some may be concerned if they or a family member have an allergy to bee stings. If they do happen to get stung, they’ll assume it was your bees even if it wasn’t a honey bee at all.
To avoid this frustrating problem, you can either check around with your neighbors first to get their blessing or make sure your hives are out of sight (and out of mind).
Offering free honey is always a great way to smooth over any potential conflicts as well. Who doesn’t love hyper-local products?
Indoor Space You’ll Need
You might be surprised at how much indoor space you might need for urban beekeeping.
While you don’t have to have a huge amount of space, there’s plenty of equipment and other supplies that need somewhere to go when they’re not in use.
If you’re harvesting your own honey, that will also require some room to work. It’s possible to extract honey outdoors, but it will definitely attract bees and often isn’t ideal. Honey extraction can get very sticky and messy, so it’s not something you’ll want to do in your small studio apartment if you can avoid it.
Any beekeeper will tell you that this is not a cheap hobby.
Regardless of your environment, you need to be realistic and prepared for the financial commitment of keeping honey bees.
Challenges of Urban Beekeeping
Beekeeping has many hurdles, but urban beekeeping certainly has unique challenges of its own.
If you’re comfortable with typical apiary requirements, definitely familiarize yourself with the extra level of urban beekeeping.
All of these challenges can be overcome as long as you’re prepared and aware beforehand, so research is very important.
Urban Beekeeping Accommodations
Any type of hive will work in an urban setting, but there will be a few things that need adjusting from apiaries in suburban or rural areas.
Of course you need to have an appropriate space for your apiary, but this can be fairly minimal.
Consider which direction you orient the entrances to the hives, being mindful of your surroundings. You want to avoid directing your foragers toward someone else’s outdoor space or anywhere that will cause issues for you.
Unfortunately, many people only see bees as mean, stinging bugs and would be very unhappy to know they have a colony living right nearby.
It’s important to know before you get started if you might run into problems with neighbors and at the very least have a backup plan in place.
Cities will continue to grow, which means less natural environment available for honey bees to forage for what they need to survive.
Look into local initiatives for urban gardening, parks, and cleanups so you can help ensure there are still natural spaces for nature to thrive.
What if Urban Beekeeping Isn’t Possible for Me?
If you live in the city but just don’t have access to what you need for urban beekeeping, there are still ways you can experience raising your own honey bees.
One great way to keep honey bees if you live in a city is to find space out of the city you can use and keep your bees there. Since you don’t need to be present except for regular inspections, it’s okay if they’re not where you live.
This space can be owned by you, rented, or belong to someone you know. It doesn’t have to be way out in the country either. Maybe you have a friend in the suburbs who grows a lush garden at home and would be happy to host your pollinators for you.
Many people will even trade the space they have access to for some of the honey you eventually harvest.
If you have a lot of questions or want to see firsthand what beekeeping is like, find local beekeepers in your area–they’re definitely around!
Many beekeepers would love to let you learn with them and get hands-on experience if you just aren’t able to keep your own bees. Even if they aren’t your own honey bees, it’s still a fun and rewarding experience, and you’ll most likely end up with some honey to take home.
Give Urban Beekeeping a Try
Urban beekeeping is a wonderful way to support pollinator populations and bring nature into the concrete jungle.
You might be surprised that you’re able to keep honey bees in your city. Look into local clubs to find other like-minded people near you who are already keeping bees.
To learn more about beekeeping, visit our honey bee page!