Bee options for all


Making honey – total involvement
Beekeeping is all the rage these days, and my friend Pam (PamJ when she comments here) is one of the many who’s become “Hooked on bees in suburbia.”  That’s my story of her first year of beekeeping, including the highs, the lows, and the enormous worries that go along with it.  I’m calling this the “total involvement” option because that’s what it seems to demand.  I say, better Pam than me!

Making honey, with help
But for people who don’t have the time or cojones to deal with bees themselves, there are people who’ll come and tend their hive for them, for a modest fee or for just the honey.  But why would you have bees if you don’t get to keep the honey?  To pollinate your garden, and for the fun of having a hive without all the responsibility.

CSAs for the Honey
Taking beekeeping seriously on a community level are organizations like Baltimore Honey, which residents think of as a CSA for honey.  For $45 a year, members support hives that are stratetically placed throughout the city, and receive at least a pound of micro-local honey in return.  Members may or may not have a hive placed in their own yard, though – only if it’s deemed appropriate and the neighbors agree. (More about Baltimore Honey in this news article.)

Honey-less native bees are easy-peasy
And then there’s the option a D.C. gardener wrote to me about, after reading my article about honeybees:

If you’re interested in bees and helping your garden and the planet in general, and don’t want all the work of trying to raise honey bees, you can raise native  pollinator bees (orchard mason bees) – all they do is look cute, pollinate, and they don’t sting! I have recently put out my cocoons and am waiting for the happy day when they peek their fuzzy little faces out from their milk carton and begin to buzz around and do their job of pollinating.Beehouse
She went on to recommend Our Native Bees for supplies, and information via their  e-newsletter or by chatting with the owner.  Homemade bee houses are also an option, for the handier-than-me.
Me, I bought this orchard bee-house from Gardeners Supply and am hoping the bees find it this year (last year, no such luck).
So, what are YOU folks doing, bee-wise?


  1. One problem that concerns suburbanites and exurbanites who have neighbors living close by is the fear that if I have bees will they sting my neighbors? The answer if the hives are on the ground is maybe. The solution is to put the hives above ground on a high deck or on a flat roofed garage. When the bees launch from the raised hive they spread out so fast that no one can even detect that there is a bee hive nearby. Then to seal the deal of course is to give the close by neighbors honey each year. Works like a charm.

  2. We have honeybees in semi-hollow trees, bumble bees (I have no idea where they live, but they come in droves to my lavender garden) and carpenter bees — in the house, of course. I’m sure there must be Mason bees as well, but I don’t recognize them. Serious beekeepers may want to experiment with bee coolers for happier bees and higher yield. My article on this topic is at

  3. I bought a mason bee tube last week and need to buy a couple of conduit brackets to mount it. The day after I bought it my next door neighbor announced that they’re setting up a hive! Yay! Very exciting.

  4. I had a feral honeybee hive in my oak tree up until this year, so I’m crying over the loss of pollinators. Even though I am huge supporter of native bees it was nice having the extra honeybees working the garden. I would gladly allow a local beekeeper the space to set up a hive or two on my property but somebody told them this was a great way to make extra money and they charge way too much.

    When I was growing up my dad had beehives and would work them in short sleeves and maybe a veil along with a smoker – he never got stung. Me, I could be acres away on the opposite side of the house washing the car and I would get stung.

  5. The resource bees need most is nectar- I have made sure to plant plenty of composite flowers and mint relatives so my bees (homeless, natives) have plenty to eat.

  6. There’s a museum in my city that used to have a bee hive with clear sides so that visitors could watch the activities. Then, one year, they hired an exterminator to spray the museum for roaches and the accidentally “did in” all the bees.
    I’ve always wanted to set up a hive but I’ve been concerned. If my neighbour sprays for bugs regularly, will that be close enough to be potentially lethal to my hive?

  7. Susan, please report back on whether or not your orchard bee-house is successful this year. I’ve seen those advertised and always figured that they didn’t work. I’d like to be proved wrong!

  8. I’ve always had mason bees and honeybees on my suburban property, and I love the mason bees! Miniature bumblebees minus the aggressive tendencies. And they’re so funny – if I’m working in a particular flowerbed and a mason bee is there as well, it’s fine. Unless you get too close. Then all they do is hum a bit louder. If you don’t get the message, they keep ratcheting up the hum, much like you or I would clear our throat to get someone’s attention! I put up a house for them last year, and intend to keep doing so. Fortunately, the honeybee population around here seems to be doing OK. I do my best to feed the bees well all season.

  9. I desperately want bees. My city even “allows” them. The quotes are there because, while the ordinance does not actually outlaw bees, it is set up in such a way that no resident could keep bees. Five hundred feet from hive to any structure ? I live in suburbia, with houses as close as 12 feet. There is no private property in the city that affords 500′ clearance to any structure ! I’ve asked the neighbors what they think of having a bee hive next door & received a resounding “NO !” I’d do it anyway except that our 2-story homes look down into each others’ yards, and their kids are often over at my house. They’d know in an instant & report me. Apparently sharing my backyard bounty doesn’t help them overcome their fear of bees.

  10. I’m about to inherit a few hives and some beekeeping equipment, so I went to my first local beekeepers’ society meeting last week. Coincidentally, the speaker’s topic was how to attract native bees to your garden, and there was a good bit of tension between the hardcore honeybee folks and the gardener/permaculture types that welcome natives. One of the honeybee guys was openly scoffing and calling for extermination of native bees! Personally, I’d like some honey as well as some native pollinators.

    Great, now I have to navigate the tricky political landscape of my local apiculture scene.

  11. My experience is a little different because I’ve been a commercial orchardist for 20 years, and used to pay to bring hives in during bloom time every Spring. After doing this for a few years, we wondered how much more effective it was than letting natural pollinators in. Our orchard happens to be surrounded on 3 sides by “wild” land (ie. 2nd-growth forest and undeveloped meadow), and we have softened our spray programs considerably over the years(which were always cognizant of bee-time anyway) and “naturalized” our borders. Long story short, we don’t pay to bring bees in any more, and I have seen many different types of bees and pollinating insects (not to mention the hummingbirds). I think it’s important that there is a year-round supply of nectar plants to support the local natives, and inter-planting the orchard with flowering grasses, clover etc helps keep them interested in my orchard.

    I’ve noticed that some years are better for certain types of wildflowers and other wild bloomers than others, and it does seem to affect the bee population. “Anti-invasive” folks will hate to hear me say it, but when we had a “bad” knapweed year,the bees were in heaven–a copious source of pollen right during the Summer when most flowers around here have dried and shriveled up, and the next Spring the bee population was very healthy.
    Anyway, I’d just like to say that I think any efforts by people to raise and maintain bees is great, especially in the city where there is likely to be a “bee desert”. But it’s not a simple hobby, that’s for sure!

  12. I saw a mason bee in my garden last summer, pretty neat. This is reminding me I want to install a house–can anyone tell me if I have to move it in the fall, or can I leave it in a protected southern spot year round? My research only made me confused.

  13. Val – I found info re: making mason bee homes on this page of the National Wildlife Federation site. It doesn’t say it there, but you need to make sure the scrap lumber you use is untreated & unpainted.

  14. Joined the local bee co-op last week. Next month, they’ll install the hive and do the heavy work. They’ll teach me how to care for the hive on a daily basis. They collect the honey and I get half. It’s pricey – $150 per year, but I think it’s worth it for them to do all the hard work and supply everything. Putting up mason bee tubes has been on my to-do list for four years. Maybe if an elf came over and installed one for me it would actually get done.

  15. We had a hive for a couple years, not too successfully I might add. I finally decided it was one more thing I did not want to care for and donated the set-up to the bee club at the local University.

  16. Aunt Ida, I think what you’re doing is great, as long as you consider that $150/year as a) tuition for a course on bees, and b) payment for whatever honey you get. But keep in mind that if putting up mason bee tubes was hard to get done, the daily hive care will be more work. Nevertheless, well done!

  17. I’m doing a bit of spring feeding, and wondering where the heck they’re finding the little bits of pollen that they do manage to bring back. Check today’s blog post for my story.

  18. Thanks for the link to the blog, it’s great reading. (I especially like the mouse guard idea.) I just set my hive out, my package of bees should be here this coming week. My biggest worry so far is keeping my hens away from the hive. I’ve got the hive on an old granite tread and I put some rickety fencing around it to sell the hens the idea that it’s out of reach. (The ladies like to eat bees.) A few Poncirus trimmings are around the entrance, hopefully enough to give the skunks second thoughts. If nothing else, my Delft blue-with-white-polka dots hive gives me cheer when I’m out in the garden.

  19. Last fall when I reseeded the front lawn I mixed Dutch white clover seed in with the grass seed I hope the blooms will help feed the bees and lure them into the backyard to pollinate the veggie garden.

  20. National Polinator week is June 19-25. (Or somewhere abouts there, I don’t have my calendar on me.) The garden I work at is host polinator hikes, workshops and displays. The local Bee Keepers association will be there. I’m hoping we get a good turn out.

    In my garden I’m planting lots of borage and other nectar sources plus not using chemicals.

  21. Raising native pollinator bees that don’t sting sounds like a wonderful idea, especially since Colony Collapse Disorder has killed off so many of the pollinating honey bees that are responsible for so much of our food supply! Also – did you know that consumption of local, raw honey is supposed to be a great way to fight seasonal allergies?

  22. I ate to be a pooh bear, but I hate my neighbors bees. I live in typical urban southern city with small residential lots. My neighbor has 6 active hives in his backyard. We have bees everywhere! My kids are constantly getting stung to the point they are afraid to go out. If the door is left open, bees swarm inside looking for water. I thought I would love them but, I now I just want his hives gone.

  23. Mahony:
    As a beekeeper, I feel I must apologize for your problems with your neighbor’s bees. You have described precisely why I’m so conflicted about beekeeping. My single hive is placed far away from my three other neighbors — the only neighbors whose property abuts mine. There are no small children among the families but that could change any time. And one neighbor a few houses away has a pool — something bees just love. I would be furious in your situation. I would probably try to see if the county had any restrictions about keeping hives. In my 11+ months of beekeeping the most important thing I’ve learned is that bees are livestock. They aren’t romantic little creatures, they don’t follow the rules as outlined in the thousands of books on bees, and it’s really impossible to feel that you’re doing the right thing, especially at this time of the year when you can’t inspect the hive. As much as I love this bee business, I’m not at all sure I’m going to keep at it. I hope your neighbor donates his bees to someone with a LOT of space.

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