Beehives,  Beekeeping,  Getting Started

Guide to Urban Beekeeping

When you think of beekeeping you may think of the rural countryside, forests, or homesteads. You may even be interested in beekeeping, but think it is not possible because you live in an urban area.  However, that is not true! Urban beekeeping is a rising trend, and with urban beekeeping kits readily available, it’s never been easier to raise bees, no matter where you live.  

What is Urban Beekeeping?

Urban beekeeping is basically what it sounds like – the practice of keeping and raising bees in an urban area.  It is sometimes also called backyard beekeeping, or hobby beekeeping. Beekeeping in a highly populated city may not sound feasible, but urban bees actually have a higher winter survival rate than rural bees. In addition, urban bees produce more honey than rural bees in their first year.  

Benefits of Urban Beekeeping

Just as bees are essential for pollination on farms and agricultural areas, urban areas also depend on bees in order to grow local produce.  In an effort to grow more fruits and vegetables locally, many cities have started to utilize rooftop gardens.

New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology’s building – an iconic building in a densely populated city, features a lush, green rooftop garden, as well as beehives housing colonies of Italian bees. FIT’s rooftop bees have become so popular that they have even installed a camera so curious bee watchers can view the bees online. 

Rooftop gardening would not be possible without bees there to take on the important task of pollination.  With a growing interest in sustainability, urban beekeeping kits are now popping up everywhere.  

In addition, urban beekeeping makes it possible for locals to enjoy fresh, local honey made in their very own city.  Urban bees likely have access to much more diverse plants than rural bees. With many farms resorting to using pesticides on their crops, rural bees unfortunately tend to be exposed to those harmful chemicals.  Since pesticides aren’t usually used in urban areas, it isn’t a problem for urban bees.  

Urban beekeeping isn’t just good for people, it’s beneficial to bees too.  With colony collapse disorder taking a huge toll on the bee population, urban beekeeping is a great way to help bees survive, and help our ecosystem overall. 

How to Start Urban Beekeeping

If you would like to start urban beekeeping, there are a few things to consider.  First, you must check if your city has any rules or regulations regarding beekeeping.  You can do this by checking your city’s zoning ordinances. This information should be available online on your city’s government website.  Some cities have regulations on the size of your lot, the numbers of hives you may keep, and the type of bees you raise.  

See Beekeeping Ordinances By State

Next you must determine the best spot for your urban beekeeping kit.  In an urban setting, location is the main challenge of beekeeping. It is best to be creative and keep an open mind when searching for an area to start your beehive.  Choosing a spot that is easily accessible will aid in doing hive inspections later on. Rooftops are popular areas for urban beekeeping kits to be kept. So if you have access to you rooftop, that may be a good option for you.  

How to Choose the Best Location for Beehives

Types of Urban Beekeeping Kits

Now you need to decide what type of beehive you would like to use.  The 3 most common types are the Langstroth hive, the Warre hive, and the Top Bar hive. 

Langstroth hives are rectangular boxes containing 8 – 10 frames for the bees to build comb on.  As your bee colony grows you stack more boxes onto the hive. The Warre hive looks and similar to the Langstroth hive, but it is smaller.  It also does not use frames like the Langstroth, but instead it uses top bars.

The last type of beehive to consider for your urban beekeeping kit is the Top Bar hive.  Top bar hives consist of a long, rectangular box with bars laying on the top. The bees build comb on these bars.  

Most urban beekeeping kits will feature a Langstroth hive. Langstroth hives are the most commonly used type of beehive today. Therefore, they have the most supplies and information available to new beekeepers. For this reason I would suggest a Langstroth hive for your urban beekeeping kit.

Best Beehive Starter Kits

Best Urban Beekeeping Kits

Mann Lake Basic Beekeeping Starter Kit

The Mann Lake Basic Beekeeping Starter Kit is the perfect starter kit for urban beekeepers. It is constructed well and has a simple, easy to use design. The best thing about this kit is that it comes assembled and painted. That alone saves so much time.

This kit includes 1 box and 10 assembled frames with foundation. You start your bee colony in this box and add more boxes as your colony grows. Another good thing about this kit is that it includes several beekeeping supplies such as a veil, gloves, and hive tool.

A con of this beekeeping kit is that it costs a little more than some other beehives, but I think the price is worth it because it is fully assembled and made in the USA. I’d gladly pay a little extra to save the time and effort of putting together and painting a beehive myself. It also only has one box, so be prepared to buy more boxes when your colony expands.

Hoover Hives Natural Bees Wax Coated 10 Frame Bee Hive

This beehive from Hoover hives is a great option because it comes with 3 boxes – 1 medium and 2 deep. The measurements of the medium box is 16-1/4″ x 19-7/8″ x 6-5/8″, while the deep boxes measure 16-1/4″ x 19-7/8″ x 9-5/8″. The boxes are made of high quality pine and have dovetail joints.

Each box holds 10 frames, so this kit comes with 30 frames, total. Each frame has food grade plastic foundation which is coated with real beeswax. The wax coating ensures quick acceptance by the bees. Other things included are a wax coated solid bottom board, metal telescoping top cover, inner cover, plastic queen excluder, and entrance reducer.

Dovetail joints make assembly quick and easy, and the nails are even included. The boxes are made of high quality fir, which is both strong and attractive. Furthermore, the boxes are all coated with beeswax, which offers great protection to the wood. Because of this, this beehive does not need to be painted.

A benefit of this hive is that it included 3 boxes for an affordable price. I also like that both the foundation and the boxes are coated in beeswax. A con is that if you would prefer to paint your hive, the paint will not stick to the wax. For that reason, I would recommend this hive to someone that does not want to paint their beehive.

Honey Keeper Beehive 20 Frame Complete Box Kit

This Honey Keeper Beehive comes with 2 boxes and 20 frames to fill them. There are 2 different frame sizes- 10 deep and 10 medium. Other things included with this beehive kit are a metal telescoping roof, solid bottom board, entrance reducer, inner cover, and queen excluder.

This beehive kit is a great price for 2 boxes and 20 frames. The wood is premium fir and the pieces have dove tail joints which ensure a tight, secure fit. I like how affordable this hive kit is, and that it comes with 2 boxes instead of 1. That is a really great value!

A con of this kit is that it is not assembled, so you’ll have to spend some time putting it together. Most people spend about 2 hours setting up the hive. It is recommended to use wood glue when assembling the beehive.

The wood is untreated, so you should also plan to paint it. Paint protects the wood from the elements so the hive lasts longer. Paint only the outside of the hive and allow ample time for off-gassing.

Tips for Urban Beekeeping

  1.  Before you get started, research bees.  Knowing more about how and why bees do things will go a long way with urban beekeeping.  Luckily there is an abundance of information out there on different species of bees. Books and websites, such as this one are a great resource for urban beekeeping. 
  2. Make sure your bees have shade.  With many urban beekeepers placing their hives on their rooftops it is important to note that bees need shade.  Place your bees in a shady area near a water source. If your rooftop is very windy you also need to strap your hive down to ensure it isn’t knocked over. 
  3. Plant flowers.  While bees can travel up to 5 miles in search of flowers and nectar, it is helpful to bees if you plant flowers yourself.  Choose varieties that will bloom throughout the year.  Click here to see a list of flowers bees love.
  4. Use one size box for brood and honey. In a Langstroth hive bee boxes come in 3 different sizes.  Beekeepers often use deep boxes for brood and medium boxes for honey. It can be helpful for beginner urban beekeepers to instead use medium boxes for both brood and honey.  Medium boxes are lighter and may be easier to manage than deep boxes.  
  5. Inspect your hive every 7 – 10 days.  Regular inspections are important because you don’t want your colony to run out of space.  You should also look for healthy eggs, larva, and the queen. Because bees are so interesting you may be tempted to check on your bees multiple times a day.  Please resist the urge to do so because checking on them too much will cause the bees unnecessary stress.  

Summary – Beekeeping is For Everyone

If you live in an urban area and would like to try beekeeping, don’t fret!  Beekeeping is entirely possible in an urban environment. It is very beneficial to both bees and people, helping to create a healthy ecosystem. 

Before getting an urban beekeeping kit you should first look up local zoning ordinances. Then, determine the ideal spot for your hive and the best beehive for you.  You will soon find that urban beekeeping is an enjoyable hobby with many rewards.  

Originally posted on July 10th, 2019 and updated on March 13th, 2020.