BCBA's Being a Good Neighbor: Best Practices Guide
Best Management Practices for Beekeeping
The following is an original January 2010 publication. It has been updated for 2020.
The Barnstable County Beekeeper’s Association would like to thank the Connecticut Backyard Beekeepers Association, the Maine State Beekeepers, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in particular, and the many other keeping associations and agricultural organizations while work and effort formed the foundation of this document.
Beekeeping has become increasingly popular. The BCBA has currently over 400 members. The number of beekeepers who are not members of BCBA is not known since there is no mandatory registration of beehives in Massachusetts.
These Best Management Practices (BMP) are an attempt to outline guidelines for responsible management to avoid creating problems for neighbors.
This document is intended as a reference and standard for honeybee management in Barnstable County located on Cape Cod.
It may serve as:
· A resource for information to enhance community confidence in the safety of our beekeeping activities.
· A Standard reference for avoiding potential complains or conflicts about beekeeping activities
· A compendium of best management practices that all BCBA members are encouraged to follow.
Most beekeepers are hobbyists. We have bees for many reasons, ie. We like to use or sell honey, we want our vegetable plants and fruit trees pollinated or we simply like insects. Whatever the reason, we are and want to be good neighbors. Like most hobbyists, we learn mostly from people who are already keeping bees. BCBA was formed to facilitate the exchange of experience and to stay informed of recommended changes in beekeeping practices, including the use of pesticides and treatments, integrated pest management, net threats to honeybee health, and government regulations.
BCBA is a non-profit association that organizes an annual beginner’s course (bee school) and holds regular monthly meetings.
Considerate Hive Management
Before setting up your hives, it is a good idea to inform your neighbors where you intend to place the hives. Respond and discuss their concerns. An informed neighbor is more likely to be an understanding neighbor. 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 neighbor’s activities. Smoke or sugar syrup should be used when working bees. Hive entrances should be smoked before mowing and trimming in the hive area. Clippings and exhaust should be directed away from the hive entrances.
Correct placement of the hives is a very important consideration for responsible beekeeping in urban and suburban settings. Whenever possible it is recommend that hive openings face toward the southeast. It is best to place the hive in a sunny area, not on the top of a hill, nor at the bottom of a hollow.
Hives must be placed in a quiet area of the lot and not directly against a neighboring property unless a solid fence or dense plan barrier of six feet or high 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 should remain within the owner’s lot. Barrier, including solid fencing, hedges, and shrubs more than six feet high maybe use to redirect the bees’ flight pattern. Beekeepers are encouraged to post signs at byways near the apiary to alert neighbors and passersby to the presence of hives in the area.
Beekeepers are advised to closely observe their apiary locations to determine the carrying capacity of the area and to limit the number of hives accordingly. Signs of over-saturation include slow colony growth, poor honey productions and excessively defensive behavior. The following hive density guidelines are recommended where hives are within 200 feet of the property boundary.
# of Hives
Up to ¼ acre
Between ¼ acre and ½ acre
Between ½ and 1 acre
1 to 3 acres
No limits are set for the density of apiaries situated more than 200 feet from the property boundary. However, hive health will require regular monitoring for saturation.
Colony Temperament and Behavior
While generally docile, honeybees can sting. A colony’s temperament is determined by its queen’s characteristics. Its behavior is affected by temperament, health and environmental factors such as 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 consequences follows. BCBa is engaged in an effort to develop methods for its members to raise native queens that are capable of withstanding our severe winters and ones that result in gentle behavior.
While swarming is natural honeybee behavior, it is one that should be prevented or minimized, especially in urban and suburban settings. Two primary causes of swarming are congestion and poor ventilation in the hive. To avoid these conditions beekeepers should consider:
· Brood chamber manipulation
· Colony Division
· Addition of supers for brood rearing and honey storage
· Replacement of old or failing queens
These and other swarm management practices are explained in detain in most good beekeeping textbooks.
When a swarm occurs, efforts should be made to collect the swarm. Captured swarms in locations where the origin of the bees is questionable should be monitor frequently for abnormal defensiveness. The names of individuals willing and capable of collecting swarms can be obtained from the BCBA.
Provision of Water
Water sources should be considered in determining hive placement. Bees prefer a sunny place with surface moisture- wet sand or gravel on the edge of a birdbath. For example, beekeepers should establish such water sources near the apiary to encourage bees to forage for moisture near the hive and to discourage visits to neighbor’s swimming pools and hot tubs. Remember during hot weather, honeybees use large amounts of water to control temperature and humidity within the hive.
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 from only short periods of time and only if really necessary. Exposing honey can encourage robbing. Reducing the width of the entrance will protect weak hives from becoming victims of robbing. All honey and syrup spills should be cleaned up immediately. Buildings and trailers used for honey extraction should be bee-proofed.
There are a number of honeybee diseases and pests for beekeepers to be concerned with. Some, like American Foulbrood, are extremely contagious. Beekeepers should be extremely cautious about mixing hive equipment and purchasing used equipment. If there is any doubt about the condition of used equipment beekeepers should contact BCBA to have equipment inspected before incorporating it into the apiary. Contact information for BCBA is provided at www.barnstablebeekeepers.org. It is incumbent on beekeepers to manage all disease and pests, including parasitic mites, to ensure colony health and honey quality.
Massachusetts does have an inspection program through the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Please contact their office for any questions or to schedule a hive inspection.
The Africanized honeybee (AHB) was introduced to Brazil in 1957 and accidentally escaped from confinement colonies. While maintaining its genetic identity, this race of bees has expanded its range to South and Central America and arrived in the United States around 1990. Since that time, AHB has colonized Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida. AHB has gotten widespread attention by the press and the general public.
Due to defensive behaviors and difficulties managing AHB using European honeybee keeping methods, the AHB population has disrupted agriculture, beekeeping, tourism, recreation and public life in general as it spreads. It is not known, but unlikely, whether AHB will be able to establish itself in cooler climates. However, northern states rely on southern states, particularly Georgia and Florida, as a source of package colonies and queens, and commercial beekeepers routinely transport colonies to over-winter in southern states.
If and when there is information that AHB are becoming established in or near Massachusetts, BCBA will develop or adopt a suitable action plan.