neighbors urban beekeeping

Out of sight, out of mind

My recent post about a beekeeper with neighbor problems generated a lot of mail about beehive placement in urban and suburban areas. With few exceptions, the mail was in favor of keeping bees out of sight and out of mind.

As I see it, there are two ways to handle the beehive/neighbor problem. Either you inform neighbors in advance of getting your hive and hope for their blessing, or you acquire bees on the quiet, say nothing, and hope for the best. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Your choice of a method will depend on your individual situation.

However, I feel strongly that no matter which approach you take, out of sight and out of mind is the best practice. In-your-face beekeeping is bad form and a first step to getting beekeeping banned in the future. If you have a choice, I believe beehives should be kept as far as possible from property lines, sidewalks, playgrounds, bikeways, trails, and crosswalks—or any place where a person could be startled into sustaining an injury. And yes, I think startling is the real risk, not stinging.

If someone is startled by a bee they could crash their bicycle, step into a dangerous road, fall off a ladder, or trip over a rock. Even traffic accidents have been caused when bees have entered vehicles and startled the driver. The fact that these are often wasps or hornets is irrelevant because the victim doesn’t know the difference. To those afraid of stinging insects, they are all bees and all bad—and if you have a visible hive, it is your fault.

You have a psychological advantage—as well as a mathematical one—if you can tuck your bees behind your house or behind a hedge or fence. Psychologically, people tend not to worry about what they can’t see. Mathematically, the further the bees get from the hive, the more spread out they become. Even when I had fourteen hives within 200 feet of my house, I hardly ever saw bees in the yard. They fan out, they go up, they disappear into the environment. But when you stand right next to the hives, it can be intimidating.

One person wrote that, “Hiding bees in the backyard only reinforces the notion they are dangerous.” I don’t really believe that. I think seeing others acting fearful is apt to instill fear. As beekeepers we can’t expect to retrain everyone. We have to make prudent choices based on the way most people react to bees. If we don’t bend a little, make some concessions, beekeeping will be forced out of urban and suburban areas once again.

Remember, too, that by tucking your bees away you are also protecting them from the neighbors. I once had three hives poisoned—as far as I can tell—by a neighbor of an out apiary. The hives were in view of the neighboring house and the neighbor’s dogs got stung repeatedly. The fact that the dogs were trespassing and pestering the hives when they got stung didn’t matter to the neighbor. When next I checked the bees, they were all dead in massive piles around the hives. It was heartbreaking.

Now, even though I live in a rural area with plenty of space around my hives, I still keep them out of view. They are surrounded by trees, they are painted dark green, they are away from easements, property lines, and public lands. I strive to keep bees without controversy because the other route—courts, lawyers, lawsuits, depositions, citations, appearances, mediations—is no fun at all.



  • Agreed on your recommendations. I fretted a long time about placement of my hives, and even contacted each abutting neighbor to get their OK. In the end, I placed them about 25 ft from a road people often walk on, but there is also a row of bushes and a fence between the hive and road. This “barrier wall”, as you noted, is more psychological than anything, but as Frost said – “good walls make good neighbors”.

  • Very much agree with you, Rusty. I recommend to all new beekeepers to only say something to their neighbors after they figure out if the neighbors are “killer bee” types or if they know the difference between passive and hostile. Bees only live a short period of time and they instictually know this, therefore it is in the colony’s and the individual bee’s best interest to stay alive and only protect the colony against invasions or self defense. Stinging is a last resort. I also agree that the bees dont hang out around the apiary, the bees fly out on missions away from the general area looking for forage

  • I agree with Bill on this: “I recommend to all new beekeepers to only say something to their neighbors after they figure out if the neighbors are ‘killer bee’ types or if they know the difference between passive and hostile.”

    Absolutely. If you suspect your neighbours aren’t exactly rational, then it may be wiser not to tell them anything and do your best to hide your hives. I had to move my bees from my urban backyard because my neighbours called the fire dept. complaining about killer bees. Had I taken steps from the beginning to hide my hives from said neighbours (I knew they weren’t nice people), and had I not told them about the bees, I think my bees would still be on my property in the city today. If I could do it over again, I’d probably move my hives further from their backdoor, too, at last 50 or so feet away, but I definitely would have kept the bees of sight and out of mind from the beginning.

    I’ve recently taken steps to bring a couple hives back to the city because I just can’t take it anymore not seeing the bees everyday. I don’t think I’d keep bees if I couldn’t see them everyday. At any rate, I put a lot of thought into it because I want avoid the stress of dealing with crazy neighbours again, and for me, it breaks down like this (number 4 is the big one):

    1) Don’t tell the neighbours unless you know they’re kind and open-minded people.
    2) Hide and camouflage the hives, so they’re out sight, out of mind.
    3) Keep the hives at least 50 feet from the neighbour’s back door, so if the bees ever get riled up for some reason, they’re less likely to get in your neighbour’s face.
    4) Look around within a 100-foot radius of the hives and realize that some day the bees are going to swarm and land somewhere along that perimeter. Where are they going to land? What are you doing to do when they land on your neighbour’s swing set a couple houses down the block?

    • Phillip,

      I totally agree. Have you considered putting a bait hive on your property with a lot of bee-friendly odors coming out of it? It’s not a sure thing, of course, but a swarm might consider using it and therefore decrease the probability of them landing on the neighbor’s swing set.

      • I’m working on setting up a bait hive or two in the area for next year. I don’t want to draw too much attention to them, so I plan to paint them green and make a few tweaks to the design so that, from a glace, they’ll look more like deluxe bird houses than bait hives.

        Now I only wish I could find a bee suit or jacket that isn’t white and has a more causal appearance. Maybe something in plaid. (I’m serious.)

        • I saw a bee suit in an ad recently that looked like it was pre-stained with propolis. Very classy and quite the fashion statement.

        • Phillip,

          For cold weather, I’ve been using a light-blue hoodie – Tar Heels, if you want the exact shade – and the bees don’t seem to mind it. For summer (having started on a shoestring) I got a $10 man’s shirt, XL, in a blue and white pinstripe. Gloves pull up over the cuffs and then I slip a rubber band down over them. The drawstring veil goes right over the hood or the collar, then the cords wrap around and tie below the waist. And a pair of old but sturdy light khaki pants – although I have checked hives wearing blue jeans. Never been stung checking hives (well, yet.)
          Without the veil, the effect is totally thrift-store old lady gardener.

          And I couldn’t agree more about seeing the bees every day! Best of luck!

          Shady Grove Farm
          Corinth, KY

          • Phillip needs a camouflage bee suit. That way the neighbors won’t see him standing there and neither will the bees.

  • Blue Sky has suits of different colors: had two different types of camo bee suits. For some reason their site isn’t responding, their domain name is valid but their name servers aren’t responding but most likely will be resolved soon. They are selling on Ebay too:

  • I knew better than to tell anyone, but I told my neighbor next door. Well-intentioned, peer over the fence sort of neighbor that she is, we got along well for years. We talked about the hives over the years (I’ve had hives for a decade) and I told her that if anyone gets stung they will blame my girls despite the fact that we have a very diverse pollinating population (mason, wasp, ground, etc). Sure enough, this year she and her husband both have been stung multiple times. I offered to move the hive and they said no, they were just letting me know. Fast forward 2 months and they were stung again and wanted me to move the hive in midsummer (just the best time when they’re already pissed about the weather). It’s been a nightmare to the point I’m ready to give up beekeeping. Even nice, friendly, bee-friendly neighbors can become quite intolerant. It’s a hard lesson to learn especially after successfully keeping them this long.

    • Denise,

      Really sad; I’ve never heard of that happening. Don’t give it up, though. It sounds as though you are being more than accommodating.

  • Has anyone ever thought about placing their hive in a dog house (entrance dimensions match end of hive) with a removable roof, or either painting their hive to look like a small dog house as a means of disguising it? Just wondering……

  • We have awful neighbours who have forced previous tenants out one after the other. My husband is a beekeeper and had caught a swarm in the garden and was moving it slowly, daily to put on our landlord’s multiple acres of land, as they are keen to keep the honey bee producing!! However, she phoned the landlord up, and said they were a nuisance drinking from her pond, to save hassle we explained we were moving them but she began to swat them and use pesticide spray to kill them while screeching ‘eww, horrible thing’s’.My husband shut them in after dark and moved them 10 miles away to the farmland he keeps other hives at. She is now known as ‘Asian hornet’.I wish people were less ignorant about wildlife, and done their homework, I mean if I swatted her with a spade and sprayed her way toxic substance I would be arrested!!? Happy beekeeping all!!

  • To be fair Kim,

    Imagine yourself on your property and see a swarm of Wasps or a pack of dogs. What would your first reaction be?
    It’s not your neighbors’ fault that they have to accommodate you. You moved into their neighborhood. Be respectful. I think it’s possible to work with them and not against them but sometimes you can’t but don’t assume people have to do research and accommodate you and your business.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.