So many people have told me that they wish they could keep bees, but they don't have the space for them. "So what?", I ask. When I first started keeping bees, I lived in a studio apartment in downtown Philadelphia. I put the hive on the roof of a parking garage and it was great! No neighbors complaining my bees in their pool or stinging their dog.
Urban beekeeping comes with its own set of challenges and a big one is your close proximity to so many people. I strongly recommend to all beginner beekeepers, but those who live in the city especially, to keep their bees somewhere other than their backyard. This is because beekeeping is a liability! If you have kids, there's a chance a friend will come over who doesn't know they're severely allergic to bees or your curious dog will put his nose in the entrance, neighbors complain about bees in their pool or stinging their pet and when you harvest honey or make candles, hundreds of bees from your hive will be at your door.
Everyone in my family except for our 18 month old baby (knock on wood) has been stung many times at the house because of my bees. My husband and dog are used to it, but not everyone will be as understanding.
There are tons of places you can keep bees other than your home. If you're in a city, you'll have even more opportunities. Here's a few that either worked for me or for a beekeeper I know. When I was looking for a home for my bees, I bought a couple cases of 1oz honey jars, wrote a letter explaining that I was a beekeeper looking for a place to keep 20 hives and explained what I was looking for in a place (no spray, access by vehicle whenever I needed), and offered some honey in exchange. Only 2 people contacted me, but one of them ended up working out. Don't be discouraged if someone says no, just keep asking. All you need is one place to work out.
Where To Keep Bees Other Than Your Backyard
I've never met a business that didn't want to boast that they were helping the bees. B Corps are businesses that go through a certification proving that they help the environment. If you have one near you, start with them.
Resorts and Hotels
I keep bees for a hotel near me. They pay for the equipment and pay me a monthly fee. They keep all the honey. It's works out well. They love being able to say that they use their honey in the kitchen and they give away honey to guests. If a hotel doesn't have the outside space for the hives, see if they have a rooftop you can easily access.
Office parks usually have a lot of unused outside space. Just make sure you can access it at night and that they don't spray herbicides.
Botanical Gardens & Parks
I had bees in an ethnobotanical garden. Any kind of garden would be happy to host bees. When I contacted the garden they said they always wanted bees but no one on staff had the time to learn how.
You may be able to get your hives into a park or community garden. However, this can be tricky. Often they're owned by the city or county and they can be difficult to get a hold of.
Cemeteries are a great place to put your bees! I know someone who did this and it was genius. There's hardly any foot traffic and lots of flowers.
I know beekeepers with hives on the roof of a school. Some schools have a campus where you can keep bees. Depending on if you have the extra free time, a school may let you keep bees there in exchange for teaching the students about bees. Another possible option is to have the school pay for the hive and you work with the students to care for the hive. Some schools have a garden program and would love it if a beekeeper was willing to put a hive on their campus.
Photo of my first beehive on the roof of a parking garage.
Any building with a rooftop you can access by stairs is a possible place you can keep bees. There were bees on the roof of Notre Dame cathedral up until their recent fire. The possibilities are endless in the city.
Many zoos have beehives. There is one zoo in New York that has bees by the bird section because the bees are food for the birds! Not exactly what the beekeeper is looking for, but hey, everyone has to eat.
My bees are on farm land. They have the acreage for the hives and it's far enough away from the house that it doesn't bother people. The neighbors are far enough away that they don't even know there are bees nearby. Here in Hawaii, people with ag land will get a tax break if they have at least 5 hives for every acre on their property.
Retreat Centers & B&B's
What's better than having honey from your own yard on the table at your B&B? I almost kept bees at a retreat center outside of Philadelphia. I decided to choose a place closer to my home, but this center would have been a great home for bees. They had a garden where they grew veggies that they used in their meals and even old bee equipment they offered to let me use.
Tips to Finding a Place to Keep Your Bees
Look for places that are a B Corp, member of a sustainable business network are organic or mention that they use produce from local farms. These businesses are already employing environmentally sustainable business practices and are more likely to want bees o their property. The retreat center that wanted bees at their property also had a huge greenhouse where they grew veggies for their kitchen. It's no surprise that they were thrilled about the idea of someone keeping bees on their property.
Places with large, freshly mowed lawns are often not great places for bees. Lawns are food deserts for bees unless you let it grow tall and give the flowers a chance to pop up. They are also often places that have landscaping companies spray herbicides which could poison your bees.
The easiest way to start is with the people you know. Ask friends who work at businesses like the ones above if they would be willing to ask their boss about the possibility in hosting beehives. Once you can say you've been keeping bees for so many years and have years at the following businesses, then finding new locations will get easier. Some of these businesses might even be willing to pay you to care for the bees for them!
Make Some Rules
Before you put bees on someone else's property, make sure everyone is on the same page. This is so important. Avoid headaches later on or someone telling you at 4pm on a Saturday they want your bees gone ASAP. A beehive is very heavy when full.
Step 1 Their Terms
Do they want honey or are they just happy to help the bees and get free pollination? What's in it for them and what do they expect? What do you think is fair? I will give someone 2 - 16oz jars of honey if they ask every year, but I won't share more than that since they are getting a tax break and pollination on their farm. Some people will offer more if places are harder to find. I'm also putting 20 hives on their property so 32oz of honey is no big deal. If there's just one hive, 32oz of honey is a lot more to give away.
Step 2 Your Terms
Usually you will check your bees once a week. However, sometimes you see a problem and have to go back the next day. If you need to move bees, you will do this at sunset. Make sure they're ok with you coming as often as needed and later in the evening occasionally.
I have one customer who makes me call and schedule an appointment with the bees. I really hate doing this, but they pay me, so I put up with it. I would stay away from places that want you to call before you come. Not just because of the extra hassle, but these people usually end up adding more rules later on and I end up just moving the bees to another location so I never have to talk to them ever again.
No spray! You cannot put bees on a property that sprays RoundUp or any other herbicide or pesticide. It doesn't matter if it is organic. I've had quite a few students lose their hive because their neighbors sprayed their garden and it killed the hive.
I hope this helps you to realize that beekeeping is possible no matter where you live! Don't let it stop you from giving it a go.
While you're working on a spot to keep honey bees, make a bee hotel and keep mason bees! You can't harvest honey from solitary bees, but if you want to help the pollinators, a bee hotel is a great place to start and it's easy to do. You can learn how to make a bee hotel and what to plant to help the bees in our blog.
Want to learn more about beekeeping?
Join our newsletter for blog updates, beekeeping videos, sales and contests.