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Urban Beekeeping: Bees in the City

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Is urban beekeeping really possible? Can you really keep bees in the middle of a huge metropolis?

Yep, it is possible, and many people do it.

If you’re skeptical about the feasibility of keeping bees in the bustling city, would beehives kept on the roof of the Chicago City Hall convince you?

It’s true.

Since 2000, Chicago has maintained hives on the City Hall rooftop. The honey from these hives is harvested each year and auctioned off, with the proceeds going to charity. Recently, the City of Chicago has expanded their involvement in urban beekeeping by also placing bee hives on the roof of its Cultural Center.

So it is quite feasible to keep bees in an urban environment.

Bees do Great in the City!

Honey bees actually seem to thrive in an urban environment.

And it could even be argued that in some ways, city bees are better off than their country cousins. Bees kept in the country or even in a suburban environment are often at great risk of being poisoned by pesticides.

Whether encountered in a farm field sprayed by a crop duster, or in a homeowner’s back yard sprayed for dandelions, exposure to pesticides is devastating to honey bee colonies. But the risk of bees being exposed to a pesticide is much less in the middle of a city.

You might think that there wouldn’t be an adequate supply of nectar and pollen to support bee hives in a city, but that generally is not true.

A city environment actually offers multiple sources of forage for honeybees. A city park with flowering trees, clover growing in the grass of roadside medians, potted flowers on windowsills and balconies, and many other sources provide an abundance of bee forage.

In fact, there are professional beekeepers that keep their hives on city rooftops and balconies specifically to harvest and sell the honey.
Want to Give it a Try? Make Sure it’s Legal

If you’re a city dweller, and you’re considering becoming involved in urban beekeeping, there are a few things to think about before ordering your hive.

You need to make sure it’s legal in your city.

Most cities nowadays not only permit beekeeping, they even encourage it. But there are a few exceptions. One notable exception is the City of New York, which does not permit ownership of venomous insects. However, there is an effort underway to change that law in New York. (In the meantime, there are a number of residents who keep bees on their rooftop anyway. Not that I’m encouraging anyone to violate the law, of course!)

(Update August 2010: New York beekeepers are no longer criminals. The city has lifted the ban on beekeeping. Hopefully other misguided city governments will soon follow NY’s example.)

Be Careful Where You Place Your Bees

You should also be sure that you have a suitable location for your hive. It should be located where the flight path of the bees will not come close to pedestrians.

A rooftop or balcony will make an excellent location, but be sure that you have control over who has access to the hive.

You don’t want a neighbor’s child, for example, to have unsupervised access to the hive location.

And Exercise Sensible Precautions…

Take care to work your bees when conditions are good, and the bees likely to be gentle and non-aggressive (obviously a good idea no matter where you live!).

Also, be sure there are no pedestrians or bystanders around (other than those who have your permission to watch) when you work your bees. If the bees should become a bit testy, you don’t want anyone getting stung.

So if you’re interested in beekeeping, don’t let the fact that you live in a city keep you from giving it a try. Become an urban beekeeper.

I can’t think of a better way to connect with nature in the middle of the big bad city!


I am so excited to be able to share everything I have learned about bees and beekeeping from 3 generations of beekeepers. We can't have a healthy planet without healthy bees so let's work together and make the world a better place!

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