Are you bee-curious? Maybe you’ve been thinking about starting to keep bees in your backyard? There are likely many questions on your mind, but certainly if you have neighbors close-by, you may be wondering how to broach the topic with them. Based on comments I’ve received and the Home Owner’s Association dispute I dealt with, I’m suggest you having answers ready for the following questions:
1. Will the bees bother their children or pets?
In my experience of keeping bees in my quarter acre fenced in yard, the bees tend to mind their own business. They have lots of work to do and have a flight pattern that generally carries them out of my yard (which keeps them from flying around neighbors yard) unless they are strictly gathering pollen or nectar or water (often in the drain spouts). The more flowering plants you have, the more likely you will see them, but otherwise, many people aren’t even aware that I have bees.
2. How will you keep the bees out of their yard?
Similar to the previous question, unless the bees have a good reason to be there, it’s more than likely that will not be hanging out at your neighbors house. I would suggest not attracting them with large containers of sugary water or fruit. But also one thing beekeepers can do is to ensure that the bees have access to clean water in their own backyard. Another thing I’ve noticed is that bees are attracted to light when it’s dark out. I’ve had a few honeybees tapping at my bathroom window in the summer. It’s possible they could be attracted to a porch light left on in the warmer summer months. Often, neighbors are excited to hear there are bees nearby to help boost their garden yield.
3. How much do you sell your honey for?
Some people like to get right down to business. It’s a good idea to do some local research and see what local beekeepers are selling their honey for so you can be in the ballpark. I’d suggest any where from $5-$10 a pound would be reasonable, depending on what type of honey you end up selling. It’s also worth getting clear about the decision to sell honey at all. Some beekeepers only keep bees for pollination and do not have the hive types that encourage honey production.
4. Is beekeeping legal within your city ordinances?
This is important to know the answer to before you get too far into the process of getting started. It was interesting for me to find out that in Greensboro, NC a relatively new ordinance had been passed that permitted honey bees to be kept within the city limits. You need a minimum amount of land and there is a maximum number of hives allowed based on the size. Also they needed to be set back from your neighbor’s property at a certain distance. However, I was still challenged by my homeowner’s association that I was out of compliance. As it turned out, they were not up to date with the most recent beekeeping ordinance and I was allowed to keep my hives. If you find out your city doesn’t allow urban beekeeping, an alternative would be to keep bees on another property outside of town.
5. Do you have permission from the home owner’s association?
Even if the city ordinance permits the keeping of bees, it may be a different story within your homeowners association. Although most associations tend to side with the local ordinances, I wouldn’t take it for granted that just because it’s ok with the city, then it’s ok in your neighborhood. I was lucky to find out I could keep my bees, but it could have been a different story. It would be worth doing a little research to find out how flexible your association has been in the past. Bring relevant facts with you about bee behavior if you are submitting a proposal to keep bees in your yard.
6. What happens if the bees swarm out of the hive?
Typically this happens in the late spring and early summer, when bees are looking to expand beyond their current hive. They send out a few scout bees then a whirring buzz can be heard as the bees leave the hive and momentarily settle upon a branch, tree or fence in a ball. They can stay here for 30 minutes, or 3 hours, or more if you’re lucky (you may be able to catch them again) and then they will likely fly off to their new home they’ve picked out. It’s likely you won’t see them again. In a swarm, interesting the bees are quite calm and not likely to sting at all. Though the sound may have you thinking differently! When I had a hive swarm, they went 60 feet up into the neighbors tree and were gone before I could do anything about it. Most people are worried that a swarm means the bees are on “attack mode” and will be dangerous, but actually completely the opposite.
7. What got you interested in beekeeping?
Probably one of the most common questions I get is “how did you get into this?” And it’s worth having a good story to talk about. I like to cite my great grandfather who was a Maple Sugarer in Vermont and that harvesting nature’s sweetness is in my genes. But generally I talk about my fascination with nature mixed with some curiosity and adventurousness and love for learning about nature- you’ll always be learning about bees no matter how many years you’ve been doing it!
8. How much does it cost to get started?
A package of bees can cost between $80-$100 and the equipment for a hive can run around $100 as well. More equipment, such as protective clothing, smoker, tools, books and classes, can run another hundred, so around $300 is a good ballpark. I luckily received a scholarship through my local agricultural extension office after completing a weekend course and passing the beekeepers examination, so I was able to get started for just over $100. You may be able to find decent equipment from other local beekeepers, and possibly some bees they are splitting from their hives. It’s always worth asking around!
9. Do you ever get stung?
Ever- yes. Frequently, no. If you are properly dressed and wearing sturdy gloves and veil, it’s actually pretty difficult to get stung. Depending on how much work you plan to do in the hives, some days it’s not necessary to wear so much protection, because the bees generally have a pleasant nature about them- especially on sunny days! I get stung because I prefer to work in thin cotton gloves so I can move the frames around easily (but don’t want to get my bare hands all sticky) and the bees can get me through the gloves. Although, a neat trick I use is to buy the gloves with latex coating on the palms and then wear them on opposite hands, so the outside of my hands are more protected. That’s where stings most often occur for me. I generally wear a veil and now have a jacket-veil combination and it allows me to relax a bit more when I’m working in the hives. The most I was ever stung in a season was 7 times, and I think 3 of those happened at the same time. This summer it’s only been twice, and again, cotton gloves aren’t adequate protection, but it’s what I prefer. Thick rubber gloves work well for protection.
So whether you’ve made a decision about whether or not to get into beekeeping, hopefully this post has shed a bit more light on the subject from the perspective of the beekeeper. I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have, if you’d like to leave a comment below. If you’re already keeping bees, what’s the number one question you get?