Tired of irritating your neighbours with your pesky bees? Help is on the way. A very bright professor at Oregon State, Andony Melathopoulos, has co-authored a guide which you should read: Residential Beekeeping: Best-practice guidelines for nuisance-free beekeeping in Oregon. It was written in Oregon for Oregonians but the advice will help urban and suburban beekeepers everywhere.
The manual is a colourful, user-friendly booklet that should keep you from looking like the guy in the picture to the left. The best-practice guidelines begins by describing why beekeeping is important:
“While residential beekeeping can prove extremely rewarding to the beekeeper (a single colony can produce more than 40 pounds of honey, as well as other valuable products such as pollen, propolis, and wax), it also provides considerable benefits to neighbors and the city as a whole.
“Honey bees play an important role in the residential community, providing pollination for the beekeeper’s property and for properties up to two miles away. As cities and towns encourage residential beekeeping and it becomes more established, the benefits increase and become integrated into a number of public services, such as educational projects, income opportunities for under-employed populations, and personal and community-building activities.”
The booklet then gives you the nuts’n’bolts of doing it right. Topics include flight path, water for the bees, swarming, defensive behavior, robbing prevention, locating the apiary, proper number of hives to keep, stings, allergies, good neighbourliness, and lots more. It doesn’t cover a few things which every beekeeper should know (diseases and mites, for example) but that’s not the purpose of this guidebook. Instead, the clear focus is on being a good citizen backyard beekeeper and not a nuisance. There are a few paragraphs about legal stuff, town ordinances, and apiary registration which won’t be completely transferable everywhere, but the rest of the manual generally is applicable for most community beekeepers.
This is a well-organized, well-written, and well-illustrated manual. For example, here’s a simple figure showing how to reduce pedestrian contact with your bees. As most beekeepers know, honey bees very rarely sting when they are away from their hive (unless you bare-footedly step on one or try to pick one off a flower – then, I’m sorry, but I’ll side with the bee on this). Close to their nest, however, bees can become rudely defensive. Foot-traffic along a pathway in front of a hive entrance almost always causes trouble for the bees and for pedestrians. Thus, this simple but appropriate drawing:
There are a few things missing from this 17-page manual (for example: how to stop robbing once it has started; how to carry a hive of bees into your back yard without discommoding the neighbours) but this guidebook doesn’t pretend to cover everything. There’s a lot more you need to know before you start beekeeping – things you should learn at a two-day beginner’s bee course taught by your local bee club. For those extra details, the authors recommend that you participate in a bee course, learn from a good neighbour beekeeper, or at least seek out good practical advice.
Further, the authors suggest, “…the Best Practices are guidelines only, and are not intended nor should they be considered as hard and fast codes, rules or ordinances that must be followed and enforced. Rather, the Best Practices are to be used to foster nuisance-free residential beekeeping.” Fair caveats, but I think that we all should try to follow this manual’s guidelines. They are the closest thing I’ve seen to best practices for backyard beekeepers. This guidebook isn’t just for beginners. Even if you have been keeping bees for a long time, you will pick up a few things and maybe adjust some of your unintentionally mistaken habits.
By the way, some of you will remember meeting the principal author, Andony, on my blog – he hosts a popular bee talk podcast, PolliNation, produced at OSU. I’ve written about it a few times. If you haven’t caught some episodes by now, give it a chance. A lot of good bee science is chatted about on that podcast.
Meanwhile, download your own copy of the best practices guidelines for residential beekeeping at this link. It’s a well-written, practical, helpful manual that will help keep hobby beekeepers from being nuisance beekeepers.