Keeping Bees in a Suburban Area

If you want to keep bees in a populated area, you will need to know the basics of bee biology, property rights, and human psychology.  It can be done with very few problems.  Even in a city it is possible for bees to find enough pollen to feed them and produce a honey crop at harvest.

Beekeepers in the suburbs and cities need to manage their bees so they do not create a problem for the neighbors.  Measures can be takes to alter the keep the bees from becoming a nuisance to other people.  To do this we need to understand the circumstances, which cause bees to bother other people.

The bees flight pattern is one of the ways bees can be a problem for other people.  When the bees leave their hives to gather food, they will fly 3-4 feet off the ground.  You can prevent them from crossing paths of people walking in their flight path by planting a hedge or building a fence at least 6 feet tall.  This forces the bees to fly above the fence.  The hives can also be placed on the rooftop, which starts them out flying at a higher level than most people walk.

Fence, hedges, and rooftops also provide seclusion, which is very important.  By keeping bees out of sight they will not be the target of vandalism or theft, also keeping bees out of sight will alleviate worried neighbors.

To keep the bees happy it is important for their hives have to be in a certain condition.  A good location is for the hive to be in full sun all day, shaded bees will be more aggressive.  The hives should be dry and the bottom boards angled so that water runs out of the hives.  The hives need to be elevated with hive stands to keep the bees off the ground and to allow for airflow to keep the bottom board dry.   Also with the hives 4 to 6 inches off the ground will make it less likely for grass and weeds to obstruct the view.

If you live in a congested area, a top entrance is probably not a good idea, especially during the summer. When ever a hive with a top entrance is opened and hive bodies moved, hundreds of confused bees will be fling around because their entrance is gone.  This will probably worry you and your neighbors.  By providing only a bottom entrance, and working from the side or from behind the hive, the bees are not impeded from flying home even when all the upper boxes are removed.  Always keep the equipment in good repair. You don’t want the cracks or chips in the hives providing extra holes for flight.

A bee only stings as a defense against intruders that might want to cause harm to the hive.   Whenever a hive is open, the bees are in their most dangerous state.

During a nectar flow, many of the older workers will be in the field hunting for food.  This is the best time to examine the colony.   During the summer more bees will be in the hive and the situation can change, especially between the nectar flows.  There can be some robbing going on at this time, which will make the bees even more defensive at any intrusion to their hive.  Leaving the colony open for more than a few minutes can accelerate a robbing as can leaving cappings or honey exposed.  It will become a necessity to reduce the entrance of a weak colony to prevent stronger hives attempt to rob from it.  A honey flow will reduce the likelihood of robbing.

The mood of the bees can have a lot to do with the weather or the time of day.  On the days of rainy weather, cool temperatures, early in the morning or late in the afternoon will be more likely to make them angry and they will attack.   Always inspect them on warm, sunny days in the middle of the day when most of the bees are foraging.

Keep a constant warm water supply for the bees to cool the hive and dilute honey to feed t heir young.  They will collect water from the closest water source.  If you do not have a constant supply of shallow water for the bees, they will look for it somewhere else, like the neighbor’s pool, birdbath or wading ponds.  The bees are more likely to drown in those sources.  If you have a water supply for them when they first fly out in spring, they will not go anywhere else for water.  Once they find a water source, it is hard to keep them from going back to it.

 A beekeeper must keep the bees in control every time the hive is open.  A typical hive can house thousands of workers all capable of stinging.  There are measures a beekeeper can take in the open that he can not take in the city because of the closeness of other people.

Smoke is the most important tool for the beekeeper opening a hive.  Smoke should be used in moderation, but the smoker should be capable of producing large volumes of smoke on short notice.  The beekeeper must smoke the entrance of the hive, under the cover, and periodically smoke the frames while the hive is open.  Try not to jar the hive or the frames as that may anger the bees, which will make it hard for a beekeeper to do his work.  The beekeeper must work quickly and carefully.  By going through the frames several times a year, the beekeeper keeps the frames movable.  Remove any excess combs.

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