What's it like to live with bees?
November 14, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

What's it like to live with bees?

I have a fairly large yard. Some people are now offering urban bee services. We also have a dog and a small child, so if wondering if anyone has any experience living with bees.
posted by up in the old hotel to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Whats fairly large? I'd want 10 acres if i was gonna keep bees. Bees can be cool & are vital to our very existence. Are they gonna give you free honey?
posted by patnok at 7:29 PM on November 14, 2008

Response by poster: I live in a big city, so large is about a third of an acre. Yes, I think the deal is you get to keep the honey but pay a fee for maintenance.
posted by up in the old hotel at 7:32 PM on November 14, 2008

My uncle kept two stand of bees in his back yard when I was a kid. This was in a residential neighborhood, and he had neighbors to the left, right, and rear. The yard was not huge, maybe a 1/3 of an acre? Me, my sister, cousin (who was a baby/toddler at the time) and the dog played in the back yard all the time, and never had an issue. He kept the bees in a garden plot, so there was a bit of a natural border around them, but not a fence or anything. We routinely got within 10 feet of the stands, but unless you disturb the hive somehow, the bees aren't very aggressive.

The only thing I can recall causing a problem was when the hive swarmed into the tree of a next door neighbor. The neighbors weren't very happy, and my uncle had to climb a tree in his bee gear to try to find the queen. We watched from the porch. Only my uncle got stung.
posted by kimdog at 7:33 PM on November 14, 2008

I have family that keep two hives within 50 feet or so of their front door, though the hives are kind of secluded by trees. They wore protective gear exactly one time while handling the bees, and collectively have gotten only a few stings. Since they've set up the hives I've gotten as close as a foot or less, alone without smoke or gear, to the hives and the bees gave no indication that they'd even noticed me.

I'm not a beekeeper, but from what I've read and heard as long as normal bees have a safe and stable place to live, a food source (flowers in the wide area), and a water source, and are not being antagonized by people or animals they're pretty calm.
posted by Science! at 7:51 PM on November 14, 2008

Whoops, too soon. Read, research, get an opinion on your local, state, etc regulations. You wouldn't want to risk a picturesque honeybee hive, full of delicious honey, to be an attractive nuisance.
posted by Science! at 7:53 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in listening to this weekly radio show by Radio New Zealand about setting up a backyard beehive. Only two shows up so far, but the first (from memory) covers ideal placement of the hive for sun/shelter, how the bees have a 'flight path', and how to work with that, etc.
posted by Catch at 7:58 PM on November 14, 2008

You seem to be in San Diego. One thing I would worry about is the hive becoming Africanized (even if it isn't when originally put in place). San Diego is within the zone of invasion.
posted by Class Goat at 8:08 PM on November 14, 2008

The guy who's yard backs up to mine has several boxes - about 30 feet from my pool and back door. No problems at all.
posted by bradth27 at 8:42 PM on November 14, 2008

Best answer: I do not 'keep' bees, but hundreds and hundreds of them live in the spiced apple 5 feet from my back door. Never had a problem.

I have yard parties all the time and all the guests have to walk up the stairs right between the bees. Dogs come visit, cats roam, never had a single problem. There is definitely a hive in my yard, I just don't know how to find it.

And I get to walk through my bee garden pretending I am the Bee Whisperer. Very satisfying. They are my friends.
posted by Vaike at 8:57 PM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Also, the mention of African Bees above led me to the Wikipedia link which states:

The Florida African Bee Action Plan states, "News reports of mass stinging attacks will promote concern and in some cases panic and anxiety, and cause citizens to demand responsible agencies and organizations to take action to help insure their safety. We anticipate increased pressure from the public to ban beekeeping in urban and suburban areas. This action would be counter-productive. Beekeepers maintaining managed colonies of domestic European bees are our best defense against an area becoming saturated with AHB. These managed bees are filling an ecological niche that would soon be occupied by less desirable colonies if it were vacant."

So it sounds like you would be doing a secondary good thing by keeping bees.
posted by Vaike at 9:09 PM on November 14, 2008

There was (and apparently still is) a series of posts over at kuro5hin about one user's experience beekeeping. It's a pretty amazing read, and I really recommend it to anyone interested in bees. I haven't read it in years, and there's a ton more posts than I remember, but if you want to start at the beginning you'll need to go here and work your way forward, the tags don't cover everything.

Only thing I remember is that as long as you point the hive's flight path away from a peopled area you should be okay on safety.
posted by soma lkzx at 10:02 PM on November 14, 2008

Yeah it's totally fine. We had a dog and there were 3 of us kids. There were 2 or 3 hives in the corner of the front yard. We only got rid of them because I am (freakishly!) allergic but I pleaded with mum not to make them go. Especially as I'd never been stung by any of our bees...
Oh and the funny thing was - we still always had bees (and stupid lorikeets!! ) in our yard. But no more delicious honey.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:05 AM on November 15, 2008

Best answer: My Dad keeps bees in the backyard of my parents' house about 25 miles north of Boston. He had kept them in the 1970s for a number of years, but stopped when mites moved in and started killing off his colonies. He picked it up again about 4-5 years ago. Their house (where I grew up) is in a thickly-settled suburban neighborhood of a city with a population of about 120,000, and though I'm not sure of the entire acreage of the lot, its no more than half an acre, and probably about a third of an acre. He's been stung a few times while taking care of the bees, but its rare, and only if he's rooting around in the hives. At this point, he wears a bonnet, but nothing else, and he rarely smokes the hives before going opening them. He has three hives right now, but had four earlier this summer. He's been keeping them at the house for about four years now. There are a ton of kids, families, pets, and other folks in the area, and the bees have never bothered anyone. He had two of his hives split off and swarm this summer. The first split swarmed in a nearby tree in a next-door neighbor's back yard, and he got them down and into a hive easily. The second swarm were spotted by the workers fixing my parents' porch flying over the house and into the great beyond, never to be seen again. I've mowed the lawn, turned the garden, and done general yard work within an arms-length of the hives since my dad got them (I moved out of the area in August 2007, but was home for about a month this summer), and I've never been stung. In fact, if I wasn't able to see the hives, I would have no idea he was keeping bees in the backyard. The bees are very unintrusive, and its true what they say - they won't bother you if you don't bother them.

We had a dog for a while, and the bees never bothered him. Small children in our family and my parents' neighbors' kids come around, and they've never been bothered, either. My uncle and his wife, who live about 5 miles away from my parents, also keep about 3-4 hives. They have two golden retrievers and three cats, and as far as I know, they have never been stung. The dogs walk all around the hives, and they've never been bothered. I've taken care of the dogs, and hung out in my uncle's backyard, and on numerous occasions, I've forgotten that the hives were there. My uncle and his wife also got married in their backyard, and the bees never bothered anyone at the party (about 50-75 people).

I would say that as a courtesy, it would be nice to at least inform your neighbors about the possibility of you acquiring bees. Some people are (irrationally, in my opinion) afraid of bees. Well, I guess its not irrational if they are deathly allergic to bee stings, and the sudden appearance of bee hives in the vicinity might be useful information to someone who could die from a sting.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: the honey! It is amazing. If you're only used to store-bought honey (as I was, and I never even liked honey before my dad started keeping bees again), you are in for a real treat. The floral taste is amazing. I will never go back to store-bought honey after having tasted the stuff from my parents' backyard. The bees are also very good for your home garden, and your neighbors' gardens, too. They get the benefit of having their flowering plants pollinated, and you get the benefit of the honey the bees produce in the course of the pollination.

Good luck, and go for it! You won't regret it. If you have any further questions, feel free to MeFi-mail me.
posted by diggerroo at 11:23 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've never lived with bees, but I've been reading Birdchick's blog posts about bees, and that's been making me long to keep a hive or two. (That link goes to the most recent bee post; there's a bee tag that lets you read them all, but it'll load up a big huge long page.)

Birdchick's partner in beekeeping is the wonderful Neil Gaiman.
posted by kristi at 12:46 PM on November 15, 2008

We have a beekeeper friend who leaves a hive at our house every year from the spring to the fall, so they can pollinate our trees and what have you. They stay on the side of our garage. If you're nice to them, they're nice to you.

The honey is wonderful, but it's also a treat to get to see them swarm. That's when the hive splits in two - the old queen stays in the hive that's already there, and a new queen takes off with half of the bees. They form a huge cloud around the area of the old hive, and eventually the new queen lands - when it happened at our house it she landed on an apple tree. Her half of the hive forms a lump of bees around her that's almost as big as a soccer ball. It's great to watch because the bees are climbing all over each other and flying off and landing all at once. At this stage the bees are very docile because they don't have a hive to defend - you can get really close and they won't sting you. I had my nose less then three inches away from the huge ball of bees, watching them climb all over each other, and didn't get stung at all. If they were wild bees, one of the new hive would find a suitable location and the queen would move in. At this point, however, our beekeeper friend arrived with an empty hive for them to move into. He took a box, put it under the mass of bees, and shook the branch. He then poured the whole mass into the empty hive. Poured.

Anyway, having bees around is great. Just keep an epipen, in case someone allergic gets stung.
posted by Rinku at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2008

the old queen stays in the hive that's already there, and a new queen takes off with half of the bees.

I think you have that backwards. It's the old queen who leaves.
posted by Class Goat at 4:26 PM on November 17, 2008

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