The Beginner’s Guide to Urban BeekeepingColin Campbell-Preston
From a hay fever cure, to an antiseptic, to a delicious way to top your morning porridge, honey has a variety of amazing uses and no one reaps these benefits quite like a beekeeper. With a growing focus on organic, local foods and a rapidly declining bee population, it’s no wonder that more people are becoming interested in the rewarding hobby of keeping bees.
If you live a busy life in the city, however, you might assume that beekeeping is a hobby that’s off limits. For many people, this assumption is wrong and the rise of urban beekeeping can be seen in cities around the world.
From London’s Fortnum and Masons, to Paris’ Opera Bastille, you may not realise that buildings in your city are host to famous hives. Honey produced in the city is actually purer than its country counterpart, as there are fewer pesticides or GM crops and traffic pollution does not seem to affect bees. They are also more productive, with warmer temperatures leading to as much as three times greater productivity.
City allotments, backyards, and even rooftops can be great places to keep bees, so if you’re interested in starting a hive there’s no reason living in the city should put you off. Our urban beekeeping guide is designed to be a starting point for getting informed on how you can get into beekeeping in the city.
Bees may not be a traditional pet, but just as with a dog, horse, or hamster, the first step to keeping bees should be through research. Keeping bees is a commitment and you need to make sure that you’ll have the space, time, and equipment to look after them properly long term. There are plenty of resources out there, from the British Beekeepers Association to hobby bloggers who started out just like you. Get on the internet, contact experts, and talk to beekeepers in the local area to make sure that beekeeping is for you.
Once you’ve decided that you’d love to get into beekeeping, the next step is to check that you can. In some areas, it is not legal to keep bees or it is subject to a strict set of guidelines. Check out the local bylaws and the rules of the property you’re planning to keep your bees on or you may run the risk of a hefty fine. You will also need to make sure that your bees are located near an appropriate water source and can be easily protected from vandals. You should also talk to your neighbours to make sure they don’t have any objections to you keeping bees nearby.
After making sure that you’ve done the appropriate research and asked for the right permissions to keep bees on your site, you can get around to the fun bit: getting your bees. You’ll need to build or purchase your hives before you get your bees and invest in all the equipment you’ll need to take care of them. You’ll find guidance on the size and setup of your hives online, as well as what equipment you’ll need in the beginning. When choosing your bees, it’s important to bear in mind the impact they will have on the local environment. For beekeeping to be truly sustainable, you should try to use native bees that will not disrupt the local eco structure.
Joining a Society
Joining a beekeeping society, a local beekeeping group, or taking a course are all great ways that you can get access to support and expert advice. Norman Carreck, Science Director at International Bee Research Association, suggests that this is an essential step, advising the urban beekeeper: “Join a local beekeeping association. These provide advice, training, local knowledge and Public Liability Insurance, all of which are essential for urban beekeeping.”
Societies like The British Beekeepers Association not only offer expert advice, but they also offer courses and qualifications to help improve your beekeeping skills. Your local area may also have a beekeeping group you can join to get advice, source bees and equipment, and add a social element to keeping bees.
Managing the Hive
Everyone takes care of their bees in different ways, so you’ll need to work out your own methods for bee care. You will need to figure out how often you want to inspect your bees to ensure they are healthy and free of diseases and pests. These checks should also include an inspection of how your bees are progressing. During swarming and harvesting seasons, your bee care will be more labour intensive so it’s important to be prepared for this. Managing any swarms formed by your bees is especially important in a built-up urban environment, where a swarm of bees looking for a new home can cause significant upset.
In order to take care of your bees effectively you must be conscious of safety considerations. Many new beekeepers like to opt for a fully protective beekeeping suit, although more experienced beekeepers often dispense with gloves and wear just a veil and jacket for protection. You should also be sure to check that neither you nor your family have an allergy to bee stings, which can be serious if you are stung. Be sensible and take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of yourself, your family and pets, your neighbours, and your bees.
Harvesting Your Honey
One of the main rewards of keeping bees is harvesting the delicious honey that your hive produce. A smoker is essential for this process, as the smoke causes bees to try to escape and breaks down the signals in the chemical communication bees use. This means that you can work in peace, as the bees cannot talk to each other or hear, so to speak. You can either buy smoker fuel commercially or use things like pine needles or some types of untreated wood. It is important to remember that you should not harvest the dark honey found in the brood area. You should also leave enough honey for your bees to use to feed the hive, especially during the winter months.
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