Have you ever wondered if you’d be able to raise honeybees in your own backyard? The answer, most likely, is yes.
When I lived in Queens, NY, I was looking for ways I could learn more farming and homesteading skills while living in the city. On a trip to the Netherlands to see my family, I had a conversation with someone that told me all about the beehives he kept in his backyard. My mind started spinning, would I be able to keep bees in a busy Queens neighborhood?
As it turned out, I could. I found a local beekeeper that mentored me for the first year, purchased bees and hives, found a little spot of green on biking distance and got permission to put a couple of beehive there. I had so much to learn, and definitely didn’t make all the right decisions from the start, but I was officially a beekeeper and loved every minute of it.
Now, what do you really need to know before starting your own beehive in your backyard?
NYC only legalized beekeeping since 2010. Before you commit and buy some hives, make sure to check your city or town’s legislation, if there is any. A good source of information is your state apiary inspector. Give them a call, and ask them if there are any laws around keeping bees in your area.
You only need a tiny bit of space to be able to keep your bees, and it doesn’t need to be a flower paradise. Bees fly out in about a 3 mile radius to forage. That means that they will find those pastures at the other end of town, or those linden trees planted througout your city. I’m delighted to live in a place now where our bees have access to acres and acres of sustainably managed pastureland instead of having to cross the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but the neighborhood was full of flowering trees and flower gardens, and forage was never an issue for them.
If you have a small backyard, it is great if you can make sure your hive catches the morning sun, so that it warms up earlier in the day and the bees can fly out sooner to forage. Beehives do best with at least 6hrs of sunlight each day.
If you have a large open space, make sure there is some kind of wind barrier; trees, tall scrubs, a wall, anything. Otherwise you’ll be able to create a barrier in late fall, it really helps your bees in wintertime.
If you live in a busy neighborhood, or are otherwise concerned about your nearby neighbors, it usually helps to be considerate, kind and open. A jar of your own honey and some information about honeybees might do a lot of good when explaining to your neigbors why there is a bit more bee activity than usual around their yard.
It also helps if you place your hive with the entrance towards where you want them to fly out, so that their typical flight path isn’t straight over your neighbors porch.
Honestly, I did have a few instances where people would walk by my very, very visable hives and worry about their safety. It was a worry completely based on not understanding the natural behavior of bees, but nonetheless it was stressful for both them and myself, I’m sure. Not having your hives in sight of the whole world keeps them safe and keeps things uncomplicated.
Nowadays our neighbors love our bees. They love having them show up in their gardens, and are the best customers of our hyperlocal honey.
It’s a fine balance of avoiding over exposure, and informing and sharing the joy!
I’ve so often heard people say they don’t have space to keep bees, but with a bit of creativity you can get a lot done.
We’ve kept bees on rooftops in the city. As long as there is some sort of wind barrier and you have pretty easy access to the roof (climbing off a ladder with boxes full of honey is no joke..), it can be done!
Check in with neighbors with more yard space or local farms. If we wouldn’t be beekeepers ourselves, we would have been delighted with a beekeeper starting some hives at our place! In the city private companies might enjoy you keeping bees on their rooftop or terras. Look at local beautification projects or community gardens.
If you truly have no idea where to start, shoot us a message, we’re always happy to help you think of a place to start!
Be mindful of predators
The potential dangers to your hives can be a bit different in the countryside than they are in the city.
My hives in Queens were protected by a metal fence, and I’m glad they were somewhat inaccessable since they were so much in sight. A garden gate or anything else that keeps your hives out of sight in a busy spot are helpful to avoid problems.
Here at the farm we deal with a much more real and common problem; bears. We use something like this to keep bears and other critters from reaching our hives. Bears can completely destroy an apiary, and will keep coming back once they had a good taste. We bait our fencing with pieces of bacon so that a first encounter is very uncomfortable for a bear’s sensitive snout, and so far haven’t had any problems while we regularly have bear sightings around the farm.
Find a mentor
The biggest step you can take to get started in your own backyard is to find a mentor. Whether you sign up for a beekeeping course, join a local beekeeping association or befriend a neighborhood beekeeper, it’s wonderful to have someone with much more experience to help you get started.
Have some more questions about your own set up or location? Go to our contact page and send us a message, we’re happy to take a peek at your situation!