The Thing About Urban Beekeeping

Beekeeping in the city is just like beekeeping in the country—except when it's not.

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
PHOTO: Twobears2/Flickr

Beekeepers across the world face many of the same universal issues, including how to care for their bees in extreme weather, how much honey to harvest—if any—and how to deal with varroa mites. In most ways, beekeepers are united under similar needs and goals. While individual beekeepers may bicker about how to tackle a certain issue, you can be certain they’re all in the same beekeeping boat.

Until it comes to where you keep your bees, that is.

Given the additional hurdles to clear, city dwellers are unique among beekeepers. While similar to their country counterparts, urban apiarists must also tackle the following issues.

City Regulations

Wannabe urban beekeepers must first determine if beekeeping is legal within their municipality. If it is, there are other regulations you must follow, including how many hives are allowed and restrictions on hive location. The wisest course of action is to know those rules very well before bringing home any buzzing compadres.


Whether curious and well-meaning or nosy and nit-picky, relationships with neighbors are waters that every urban beekeeper must navigate. Just about any exchange can be sweetened with honey, but it’s best to have everything in order before you bring bees home. It’s also helpful to be well-versed on the ins and outs of beekeeping and honeybee behavior, so you’re able to quell any fears and discuss any concerns your neighbors may have.

Uncontrollable Bee Diets

Bees that forage in the city are subject to whatever is in or near those city limits. Remember that honeybees forage in a 3 mile radius around their hive—and up to 6 miles in dire conditions—and urbanites with small plots of land are never truly equipped to plant enough forage for bees to consume exclusively. Just check out the mystery of the red honey from the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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Limited Space

This one goes without saying, right? You’re a city dweller, so your bathroom likely doubles as storage for your kitchen gadget and your craft room. Well, you and your honeybees have something in common: Apis mellifera doesn’t need a lot of space. They even live vertically, just like you do, plus their housing is rather compact.


Unfortunately, urban apiaries are more likely to be vandalized, damaged or stolen. This isn’t to say honeybees are explicitly safe in rural areas, but this should factor in as you consider spacing and location for your hives.

Despite the hurdles, keeping bees in the city has its perks. For one, forage can be really unusual and varied, giving your bees quite a range of plants to visit and giving you a most unusual honey varietal. You’re also likely to have really amazing beekeeping clubs, and as such, you’ll be able to get to know many beekeepers who run the gamut of experience and opinion. (The latter being something we beekeepers have no shortage of.) It’ll also be quite easy to source beekeeping equipment, nucs, and packages for sale in the spring. If you can be creative and make it work for you, urban beekeeping has no less thrills than the country kind—and maybe even more.

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