#32 Beekeeping

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Bees are considered an indicator of environmental health. Honey bee populations in the last decade have severely declined, partly due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This phenomenon is due to a hive’s inability to sustain itself after a sudden loss in colony worker bee population. While causes, aftermaths, and prevention of CCD are still being studied, some urban dwellers have decided to take matters into their own hands by relocating beehives to urban rooftops and balconies. Cities across the U.S. are beginning to allow urban beekeeping, though there are special considerations to take when setting up hives.

City Ordinances

As beekeeping is a relatively new desire of city dwellers, there are relatively few municipalities that prohibit beekeeping, though most do enforce “nuisance laws” that regulate conditions that people might find objectionable, such as excessive noise or odors. As such, some municipalities put constraints on urban beekeeping activities, such as limiting the number of hives that can be kept and requiring beekeepers to register their hives, as is the case in New York City.
However, there are some municipalities that prohibit beekeeping altogether in New York State, such as Ithaca and Geneva. Several other ordinances make no explicit mention of beekeeping.  Before beginning any urban beekeeping project, contact your city hall or a local beekeeping association to clarify any relevant regulations.
New York City Ordinances
It is legal to keep bees in New York City, but beekeepers are required to register their hives with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene within 30 days of hive establishment and renew their registration annually. Registration and renewal forms are available at https://beekeepers.agriculture.ny.gov/registration.
New York State Law
Under New York State law, Department of Agriculture and Markets, Article 15, all beekeepers regardless of municipality must report outbreaks of bee disease and pests.

Tips for Keeping Bees in Urban Environments

When keeping bees in cities, certain best practices are recommended to minimize disturbance to neighbors and to prevent “nuisance conditions.” The New York City Beekeepers Association (NYCBA) suggests the following:

  • Hives should be kept as far away as possible from roads, sidewalks, and rights of way;
  • Hives should not be placed directly against a neighboring property unless a solid fence or dense plant barrier of six feet or higher forms the property boundary;
  • Hives should be situated so that bees’ flight paths do not intersect human rights of way. In some cases, this might require erecting a fence or other barrier to redirect bees’ flight;
  • Bees should be provided with a consistent source of fresh water to prevent them from seeking water from other sources where bees might be considered a nuisance;
  • Swarming should be prevented or minimized, and any hive with unusually defensive behavior or excessive swarming tendencies should be re-queened; and
  • Signs should be posted to alert passersby to the presence of hives.

To download the NYCBA’s Best Practices for Bee Keeping and for more information about urban beekeeping, visit http://www.bees.nyc/nycbas-best-practices-for-beekeeping/.

Resources for Urban Beekeepers

New York State Beekeepers Associations
Beekeepers associations and groups often provide educational resources, including classes, to interested beekeepers, are familiar with beekeeping ordinances, can refer beekeepers to trustworthy supply companies, and offer apiary services such as hive health diagnosis and swarm collecting.  Below is a listing of New York State beekeeper’s associations specializing in urban beekeeping.

  • The Finger Lakes Beekeeping Club (flbeeclub.com/)

Beekeeping Classes and Workshops
In addition to classes offered by the beekeepers associations mentioned above, other organizations and groups offering beekeeping classes and workshops in New York State include:

  • HoneybeeLives (http://honeybeelives.org/) in New Paltz and Brooklyn offers organic beekeeping classes and apiary services throughout Hudson Valley and in New York City.  Class schedules and registration information are available online, or you can email HoneybeeLives@yahoo.com or call (845) 255-6113. 
  • Urban Roots Community Garden Center (http://www.urbanroots.org/) in Buffalo hosts occasional urban beekeeping classes.  Visit their website, email info@urbanroots.org or call (716) 362-8982 for more information.

Beekeeping and Urban Beekeeping Books
The NYCBA recommends the following texts as good resources for beginning beekeepers:

  • The Beekeeper’s Handbook by Alphonse Avitabile and Diana Sammataro, Cornell University Press, 2006
  • The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden by Kim Flottum, Quarry Books, 2010
  • Beekeeping: A Practical Guide by Richard E. Bonney, Storey Publishing, LLC, 1993
  • Other recommended texts are listed in the NYCBA Best Practices guide

More urban beekeeping books include:

  • Urban Beekeeping: A Guide to Keeping Bees in the City by Craig Hughes, Good Life Press, 2010
  • Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers’ Handbook by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, Guardian Books, 2011

Additionally, with the rise in interest in beekeeping, there are organizations throughout cities in the US that offer to set-up and manage beehives on other people’s land. In Washington, DC the DC HoneyBees provide this service (https://dchoneybees.blogspot.com/. Another is Honey Love (http://honeylove.org/ in Los Angelos, CA.
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Tara Hammonds

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  1. Avatar of Jackie Lusk Jackie Lusk on July 2, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Do bee keepers that rent hives to farmers have to supply water for them? I am asking because there are several boxes maybe 200ft outback and no one seems to tend them.My small garden pond is swarming with them and yesterday they found my small swimming pool. I am trying peppermint oil to keep them from pool.

    • klr235 on July 3, 2018 at 9:10 am

      Hi Jackie,
      I would recommend reaching out to a Cornell Cooperative Extension contact, Shona Ort, whom is a contact for beekeeping resources. She can be reached at sbo6@cornell.edu or (607) 734-4453×227. -Kelsie

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