All the Buzz: Backyard Beekeeping Basics

Green LivingHoneybee hives are typically found in the cavities of trees, the crevices of rocks and other mostly inaccessible locations. But, as more people adopt beekeeping as a hobby, hives are increasingly taking shape in boxes lined up neatly on urban rooftops and in suburban backyards.

Here’s what you need to know to decide if backyard beekeeping is a hobby that’s right for you.

Why the Buzz?

You’ve likely heard about “colony collapse disorder,” the mysterious condition that’s resulting in a bee population decline. Well, some people are taking up beekeeping to do their part to save the bees (by adding healthy specimens to the mix).

The delicious honey that bees produce is another motivating factor, as appreciation grows for the taste difference between local honey and what you typically get from that little plastic jar in the store.

And, you get copious amounts of the stuff as a reward for your work: A single hive can produce anywhere from 50 to more than 200 pounds of honey a year, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.

There’s also a celebrity “me too” factor spurring interest in backyard bees. Martha Stewart keeps them. So does the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Even the White House garden has its own hives.

How to Get Started

Whatever your motivation, there are a number of things to consider before you actually get started keeping bees out back.

Check laws. For one, you need to make sure it’s legal. It may surprise you to know that some big cities like Chicago allow them; but others simply don’t. Check local zoning laws, health codes and animal ordinances that might apply. If you’re part of a homeowners association, check the bylaws there, too.

Buy the gear. A veil and a set of gloves are the basic protective gear, according to the American Beekeeping Federation. (If you want to go all out, there are full-body bee suits, too.) You’ll also need a smoker to pacify bees and a hive tool to lift frames inside the hive box. As for the hives themselves, you can buy ready-made kits  or build your own; two is a manageable number for a beginner, the Beekeeping Federation says.

Decide where to place them. Local regulations may dictate the distance your hives need to be from other properties, so start there. Many beekeeping associations also suggest keeping hives off the ground on a stand, away from windy spots, and far from frequently traveled areas on your property.

Make nice with neighbors. Giving neighbors advance notice can help calm any fears. The Beekeeping Federation also suggests keeping hives behind a head-high hedge or fence, which also encourages bees to fly up and out of the path of neighbors or any passersby.

So, what about the most obvious beekeeping question … what about the potential of getting stung? The Beekeeping Federation says stings are simply part of beekeeping, but that you can minimize the dose of venom if you pull the stinger out promptly after you’re stung; the best method, they say, is to scrape off the stinger with a fingernail.

If you can take all that in, and you’re still game, then the rewards of backyard beekeeping are likely to be sweet for you!

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