Thinking about keeping bees in your backyard and wondering how dangerous it might be? You’re most likely concerned about stings. This makes sense, since we are conditioned to pay attention to dangers that affect us. However, when thinking about how safe it is to keep bees in your backyard, you need to think in broader terms.
Whether keeping bees as a business or a hobby, it is not just you that might be affected. Giving bees a home in your backyard has a big effect on your surrounding environment. Nearby flowers, crop fields, other wildlife, and the bees themselves are all affected by your actions. Moreover, your friends, family, and neighbors need to come top of your priority list. Many people are fearful of bees, and some can be fatally allergic. It stands to reason that before you decide to keep bees in your backyard, you consider whether doing so would negatively impact your surroundings and its existing inhabitants. Assuming there are no fatal allergies to worry about, is it otherwise safe to keep bees in your backyard?
- Is beekeeping dangerous?
- Is urban beekeeping dangerous?
- Are bees aggressive to humans?
- How close can a beehive be to a house?
- How do you start a beehive at home?
- Proceed cautiously to ensure it is safe to keep bees in your backyard
Is beekeeping dangerous?
Opening a hive and becoming surrounded by a swarm of bees is nerve-racking for anyone. The good news is that staying safe is a relatively easy task – especially if you are armed with common sense! One of the most important skills to master is how to avoid putting your bees on the defensive. This is easy to say, but remember that the bees have worked hard to make all of that honey. Now someone is coming along and is going to try and steal it from them. It isn’t surprising they get upset!
Beekeeping is dangerous if you do not know what you are doing, are allergic to stings, or do not have the proper equipment. However, if you adhere to safety precautions and fully understand the risks, it becomes far less dangerous to keep bees in your backyard.
Is urban beekeeping dangerous?
When most people think of beekeeping, they think of hives far out in the country with wide-open fields. That may well be the case for many beekeepers, but it is much more commonplace nowadays to find beekeepers living in urban areas, too. If you decide that you want to raise bees in an urban setting, it is not something you want to rush into. It will require plenty of thought and preparation to reduce the risk to yourself and others.
The bottom line is that you absolutely must know what you are doing. If you have no prior experience with beekeeping, you will need to learn from someone who has. Try contacting your local beekeeper’s association. They will be more than happy to put you in touch with instructors or local enthusiasts. If you take the time to learn how to do things properly, you will lower the risk of danger in urban beekeeping, making it safe to keep bees in your backyard.
Urban beekeeping tips
Having the right equipment and clothing are absolute musts. It is also critical that you learn how to keep the bees from becoming nuisances (especially to your neighbors). Some of the things you need to learn about include keeping a fresh supply of water, having a bait hive, and constructing tall fences. Why?
- Supplying fresh water helps to ensure that your bees have no need to leave the immediate area in search of hydration. You can purchase bee waterers or fill a shallow pan with rocks or marbles in various sizes and add water when needed.
- Having tall fences around your yard diverts the bees so that their flight path is above the height of the average human. This is an excellent way to cut down on accidental stings from your bees when they are going about their business.
- Finally, you will want to have a bait hive. A bait hive works to prevent swarming because the bees have another place to go when they are outside of their regular hive. This is especially useful if you are looking to start another colony.
Are bees aggressive to humans?
People commonly wonder whether it is safe to keep bees in their backyard because of fear of aggression. Remember, bees have no innate tendencies to be aggressive. But at certain times you may discover that your bees have thrown their good manners out the window. These shows of aggression always have a cause and thankfully the hostile behavior can be reversed in almost every case once the reason is discovered. When your bees go through periods where they are aggressive, you must isolate the cause and take steps to rectify it. Some of the reasons that bees will become aggressive and agitated are listed below:
- Your colony of bees is growing too quickly
- There is no queen in your beehive
- The hive has a new queen
- Your colony of bees do not feel that they are safe
- There is not enough food for all the bees in the hive
- There is an insufficient supply of nectar
- You are using the smoker incorrectly
- You have the beehive placed in a location that makes it vulnerable
- The weather conditions are bad
- The bees are being bothered excessively
Calm an aggressive hive
If you are experiencing any of the above situations, there are some ways that you can help your colony to calm down and be docile again. Listed below are the top six ways to reverse the aggressiveness of your hive:
- When you are tending to your bees, take your time with them instead of rushing. A frantic human makes frantic bees!
- Ensure that you are operating and using your smoker correctly.
- Stay relaxed when working with your colony.
- White is a non-threatening color to bees. Attempt to always wear a beekeeping suit or other light-colored clothing.
- Open your hives only when completely necessary.
How close can a beehive be to a house?
So, is it safe to keep bees in the backyard near your house? You need to think about not only your own safety, but also the safety of others (and your bees!). There are several variables that you will need to consider.
Choosing where to place your hive is one of the most important decisions that you will make once you decide to keep bees in your backyard. The chosen location needs to be far enough away from your home that the bees will have no difficulty flying in any direction. This means that you are not going to want to place your hive up against the wall of your house or garage. The bees should have a 360-degree range of motion. The hive should also be far enough away from a structure so that they are able to gain the proper amount of flight height without immediately having to fly up and over a building.
The back end of your property is often a good place to position the hive, especially if your garden is in close proximity. For as much work as they do every day, bees are actually quite lazy insects. Why would they travel 1000-feet to search for nectar when everything they need is 10-feet away? They will always choose the path of least resistance, so keep this in mind when choosing the home for your hive. If the design of your yard allows for it, you should also try to give your hive some shelter from bad weather.
How do you start a beehive at home?
Once you have decided it is safe to keep bees in your backyard, you need to check it is legal to keep them, too. Not every area is bee-friendly and you do not want to be breaking any laws, even unknowingly. A call to your local town office or beekeeper’s association should be all you need to determine whether it is okay for you to keep bees in your backyard. Some areas also require that you register your hives. Find this out before you start.
Talk to your neihbors
One question that you will have to answer for yourself is whether or not you are going to tell your neighbors before you set up your hives. There is no law stating that you must give your neighbors advance notice, but you may want to advise them anyway. This way you are not going to have angry neighbors stopping by to complain about an influx of bees into their yard.
If you are properly knowledgeable about beekeeping you should be able to answer all your neighbors’ questions and allay any fears. Many people think that it isn’t safe to keep bees in your backyard, so may need some convincing. Be understanding, and maybe offer to give them fresh honey to sweeten the deal! Just keep in mind that if one of your neighbors is allergic, you may have a harder time gaining their support (and for good reason). Once you’ve got the go-ahead from your neighbours, all you will need to do is purchase all your bees and equipment and you are in business!
Set up the hive correctly
In order to safely keep bees in your backyard, you will need to set up the hive correctly. Follow the steps below and your bees will be producing honey in no time. To extend the life of your hive, consider setting it on a stand that will keep it off the ground. You can purchase a hive stand, or you can use easy to find materials like bricks or pallets. Also, before you put the bees into the hive, there are some installation tools you will want to have handy. These include a smoker and fuel, sugar syrup, a clean spray bottle, duct tape, a bee brush, a hive tool and pocketknife, and a beekeeper suit.
Backyard beekeeping tips
- It can be helpful to spray some sugar syrup on the outside of the transportation box so that the bees remain close. Although your new bees should be docile from being transported, it is a good idea to have your smoker up and running just in case. Using your hive tool, pry open the box containing your bees. If the bees are clumped together, shake the box lightly to dislodge them.
- Find your queen. Most bee suppliers package the queen separately so she should be easy to find. Always put her in the hive last.
- Remove some frames from the hive. The exact number you are going to remove will depend on how large your new colony of bees is. Place your false bar ten bars in from the front. This allows the bees to create their brood nest at the front of the hive rather than the back.
- Empty the box of bees into the hive. Use your bee brush to gently guide any errant bees into their new home. Once all of your colony is in the hive, go ahead and add the queen.
Letting bees settle
At this point, you are going to leave your hive alone for at least a week. This gives the bees time to adjust to their new surroundings and also to accept the queen. Make sure that your feeder is full for this period because the bees are likely to be confused and they need a food source they can rely on. Remember, part of being safe in keeping bees in your backyard is keeping the bees safe, too. You will know that all is well when you see dead bees being removed from the hive and when worker bees are out gathering pollen.
Honeybees are very social, but their society follows a set structure. The most important bee that you have is the queen, but she is unable to do everything by herself. There are three roles within a hive: the queen, the drones, and the workers. Each one plays a very important role for the colony. The queen is the mother to all of the bees. She lays the eggs and is responsible for the genetics of the hive. Drone bees are always male. Their only function is to mate with the queen. Finally, females are the worker bees. They have many tasks to keep them busy, including collecting food, guarding the entrance to the hive, building the honeycomb, and tending to the queen and the eggs.
Take it as a good sign when you see these roles being played out!
Beekeeping equipment list
If you are going to be keeping bees, you are going to need to have some basic equipment. Having the proper tools of the trade is the best way to safely keep bees in your backyard. You can purchase what you need online from apiary suppliers or you may find some items at a farm supply store. The following list will ensure that you have all the main equipment to get your business or hobby off to a good start.
- A good quality hive and frames
- A hive stand (you can make your own)
- A full beekeeping suit, including gloves
- A hive tool
- A beekeeping brush
- A smoker and fuel
- A queen catcher
- A feeder
- A queen marker
- A super
There are many other pieces of equipment that you may need or could use down the road. However, the above list is all that you will need as a beginner beekeeper. Once you have been keeping bees for a while, then you can invest some money in your venture. There is no point in going all out until you know if it is for you.
Where do you get bees to start a hive?
There are several ways that you can get bees to start your hive. However, it is vital that you have your hive already set up and all your equipment purchased before you get bees. The easiest way to get the bees that you need is to purchase them from a reputable apiary. The apiary does not need to be local to you since bees can be shipped by courier or through the regular postal service. Each colony is packaged in a box made specifically for this purpose. These special boxes allow air to flow around the bees during transport. Order your bees in the winter months. Bees are normally shipped to customers beginning in March and April.
You could also potentially purchase bees from a beekeeper in your area whose colonies are growing too large for the hives. These may be cheaper than ordering from an apiary and you will have the advantage of seeing the bees before you receive them. Plus, they will not require anywhere near the amount of travel time.
If you are trying to start your beehive on a budget, you may want to capture a swarm of wild bees. Before you attempt to do this, make sure you know what you are doing. There is plenty of information out there on catching wild bees (check out our article on it here) and you should become familiar with it all. You may be able to get a local beekeeper to help you with your first foray into catching a swarm – their experience will be invaluable.
How much does it cost to start a beehive?
Keeping bees is not free. Once you have made a list of what you need to buy, you are going to want to know how much it costs. Let’s go over the initial costs to get started as a backyard beekeeper!
- Hive kit – anywhere from $150 – $300
- Bees – $100 – $140
- Hive tool $7 – $10
- Smoker and fuel $40 – $50
- Bee brush $6 – $10
- Beekeeping suit $150 – $220
- Sugar $2
- Queen catcher $5 – $10
- Queen marker $5
After looking at the above numbers, you can see that the average cost to start your first hive will hover around the $500 mark. Subsequent hives will be cheaper because you will only need to buy the hive kit and the bees.
Proceed cautiously to ensure it is safe to keep bees in your backyard
Once you have read through all the information and made the proper purchases, you can assume it is safe to keep bees in your backyard. Note that all of the same safety rules apply whether you have one hive or several. Take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of both humans and bees. And above all, have a healthy respect for these important hard-working insects.