As beekeeping has become increasingly popular, responsible hive management is necessary to avoid creating problems for neighbors and apprehension on the part of the public. This document is intended as a guide for beekeepers in managing their hives responsibly in the close confines of Chicago neighborhoods.
Anyone considering taking up beekeeping should first educate themselves about what they are getting into. A basic understanding of honey bee biology, foraging habits and hive management is essential.
- Take a class.
- There are many available from organizations in Chicago.
- Chicago Honey Co-op
- Garfield Park Conservatory
- Angelic Organics Learning Center
Read at least one, preferably more, beekeeping books.
You can find these books at Amazon.
- The Beekeeper’s Handbook by Alphonse Avitabile & Diana Sammataro (2006)
- First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane (2007)
- Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad (2007)
- The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia Pertaining to the Scientific and Practical Culture of Honey Bees
- The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide by Kim Flottum (2010)
- Beekeeping: A Practical Guide by Richard E. Bonney (1993)
- The Hive and the Honey Bee by L.L. Langstroth (1853)
- Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark L. Winston (1991)
- Honey Plants of North America by John H. Lovell (1926)
Ask Your Neighbors First
You are planning to bring several thousand stinging insects into close proximity of your neighbors backyards. Common courtesy dictates that you ask their permission first. It may take some explaining and education but once people understand more about honey bees, their minds can be changed. Conflicts with neighbors are not good for you or other beekeepers and could result in strict regulation or prohibition in more confined locations.
(The following was taken almost directly from the New York City Beekeepers association guide to beekeeping, Many thanks to them.)
Hives should be placed in a quiet area and not 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 kept as far away as possible from roads, sidewalks, and rights of way. Flight paths into the hive (generally ten feet in front of the hive entrance) should remain within the owner’s lot, although barriers (e.g., fencing and tall shrubs) can sometimes be used to redirect the bees’ flight pattern.
Hive Densities in an Urban Setting
Beekeepers are advised to closely observe their apiary locations to determine the carrying capacity of the area—both the immediate area and roughly three miles in all directions—and to limit the number of hives accordingly. Signs of over-saturation in an area include slow colony growth, poor honey production, and excessively defensive behavior.
Water on Site
Bees use large amounts of water to control temperature and humidity within the hive. They prefer a sunny place with surface moisture—such as gravel / a sponge set in a dog water bowl or the edge of a bird bath—where they will not drown. The water should be kept fresh and clean so as not to become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Beekeepers should establish such water sources near the apiary to encourage bees to forage for moisture near the hive. In hot weather, honeybees use large amounts of water to control temperature and humidity within the hive. It is particularly important in an urban environment like New York City to provide a source of fresh and consistent water for the honeybees, to prevent them from seeking water from sources such as air conditioners or other such locations where the honeybee would be perceived as a nuisance.
Register Your Hive
The State of Illinois requires that all beekeepers register their hives.
A colony’s temperament is determined by its queen’s characteristics, its health, environmental factors (e.g., weather), and proximate activities. Every effort should be made to maintain a docile and non-defensive colony. Guidance on selecting queens, maintaining hive health, and mitigating environmental impact follows.
Considerate Hive Management
Beekeepers should take into account that weather conditions influence bee behavior and plan to work bees when conditions are favorable. Beekeepers should make sure that neighbors are not working or relaxing outdoors when they open hives and should perform hive manipulations as quickly as possible with minimum disturbance to the bees. Extended hive manipulations, particularly when removing honey, should be carefully planned to accommodate neighbors’ activities. Smoke should be used when working bees. Hive entrances should be smoked before mowing or trimming in the hive area. Clippings and exhaust should be directed away from hive entrances. Consider using a manipulation cloth (to cover the top of the open hive) in extreme heat or to otherwise minimize hive disruption.
Swarming is natural honeybee behavior, but it should be prevented or minimized (especially in urban settings). Two primary causes of swarming are congestion and poor ventilation in the hive. To avoid these conditions, beekeepers should consider:
- Appropriately timed addition of supers for brood rearing and honey storage
- Use of screened bottom board
- Brood chamber manipulation and/or colony division
- Replacement of old or failing queens
These and other swarm management practices are explained in detail in most good beekeeping textbooks.When a swarm occurs, efforts should be made to collect the swarm. Swarms captured from areas of interstate transportation or heavily populated areas or other locations where the origin of the bees may be questionable should be monitored frequently for abnormal defensiveness. Recommendations for dealing with a defensive colony are covered in the final (Africanized Honeybee) section of this document.
Queens should only be obtained from the most reliable sources. Local sources, where available, are preferred to reduce the chances of introducing Africanized honeybees and to ensure that the queen is well suited to the climate. Illinois bred queens can be obtained from breeders who are part of the Illinois Queen Initiative Beekeepers should ensure that their queens are young and vigorous layers. A queen of less than two years old is recommended. Nevertheless, each beekeeper must evaluate their queens on a regular basis for performance and hive gentleness. Desirable characteristics for a queen include:
- gentle disposition
- brood viability
- low swarming instinct
- colony build up
- disease and pest resistance
- pollen hoarding
Any colony exhibiting unusually defensive behavior or an excessive swarming tendency should be re-queened as soon as possible.
When nectar is scarce, honeybees may rob from other hives. When they do, they tend to appear more defensive. Under such conditions, beekeepers should work hives for only short periods of time and only if really necessary. Exposing honey can encourage robbing. (For this reason, we do not recommend the use of hive-front Boardman feeders except for watering in the summer months.) All honey and syrup spills should be cleaned up immediately. Areas used for honey extraction should be bee-proofed to prevent robbing situations.
There are a number of honeybee diseases and pests for beekeepers to be concerned with. It is critical that beekeepers be educated to recognize and respond to disease. Some diseases, like American Foulbrood, are extremely contagious. Beekeepers should be extremely cautious about mixing hive equipment and purchasing used equipment for this reason. It is incumbent on beekeepers to manage all disease and pests, including parasitic mites, to ensure colony health and honey quality.
Good recordkeeping should be a priority for all beekeepers. A written record of colony manipulation and observation should be maintained for each hive. Your colony management log should include a catalog of the equipment used, a record of inspections and findings therein, and a history of actions (e.g., adding / removing honey supers), and any relevant observations regarding the hive.