You may be the new beekeeper on the block, but the reality is your whole neighborhood is getting honey bees. When they forage, worker bees cover major ground — flying up to a three-mile radius from their hive — each with an itinerary that can't be controlled. Because of this, one of the first things you need to do when setting up a hive is decide if you want to let your neighbors know or not.
Honey bees rarely get noticed, so some beekeepers don't feel the need to alert their neighbors. Depending on the proximity of other houses, you may want to go this route. If you do, you still need to check with your local beekeepers association to find out if there are any restrictions in your particular area and whether or not your hives need to be registered. If it's legal for you to set up a hive, you aren't obligated to tell anyone, but Tapcomb® highly recommends telling the people who live near you. It's part of being a responsible beekeeper and the way neighbors respond tends to be quite positive.
Because of the attention given to Colony Collapse Disorder, we all know about the crucial role the honey bee holds in the food chain. People are also more aware of the fact that these industrious insects are docile, not angry little warriors buzzing about looking for someone to sting. Even in urban areas, beekeepers are not getting the kind of pushback they might have gotten before CCD became news.
While it's far from common, it is possible that you run into resistance, however. If you do, the best way to handle it is to determine the actual reason.
If it's #1, like a property line issue that impacts your beehive's location, address it directly and work towards a solution.
If it's #3, we're sorry you have to deal with this. (Likely the way you park your car and the music your kids play is an issue, too!) If setting up a hive is legal, there's nothing stopping you from doing it, but know that this person may dedicate themselves to being a thorn in your side.
And if it's the second option? Well, #2 may seem tricky, but this is where you can shine. Some people who want to keep bees have given neighbors printed information focusing on how docile honey bees are. While this seems proactive, you might want to think twice, as it makes having a hive seem like a bigger deal than it is, and someone who might have had no problem if told casually could start to worry. If you want to provide supporting information, send your neighbor here or to one of the many other sites providing information for beginning beekeepers.
When you do initiate the beekeeping conversation, do it one-on-one, not to a group. Be sure to mention the boost having a squad of pollinators nearby will bring to each neighbor's garden. At this point, however, your main goal isn't selling the value of honey bees. It's to listen to the concerns of the person you're speaking with and address each one directly. (This is why one-on-one is preferable to groups. Thinking about a hive is good, but “hive thinking” isn't.)
For a creative approach that may actually sell the idea of beekeeping without being heavy-handed, invite interested neighbors to come on a “ride along” when you introduce your bees to their new home or do a hive inspection later. People like knowing what goes on inside a hive, and just watching one inspection can make a person feel more in sync with nature.
It's also a good idea to start with one hive, or even two, but not an armada. This not only gives you the time you need to learn beekeeping without the pressure of caring for more bees than you can handle, but gives your neighbors time to adjust, too.
If you're dealing with someone who is allergic to bee stings, you could run into a deeper level of fear. You then have a tough decision to make and there is no best practice for this. It's definitely case-by-case.
It's also a good idea to put your hive in a place that isn't easily seen by neighbors. You have to make sure your bees get the right amount of sun and shade (our blog post can tell you more about planning for this) but we recommend staying away from the front yard. If you have a neighbor who has some level of resistance to you keeping bees, a hive right out front is like waving a red flag at a bull. Your hive is for you and your family to enjoy, so don't call attention to it in ways you don't need to.
Having a fresh water source, like a bird bath, is a way you can help your bees become good neighbors themselves. You don't want your bees going for daily dips in someone else's pool or drinking out of their favorite pet's dish. When you do set up your hive, let your neighbors know you're taking steps to make sure your bees always have their own watering hole.
The good neighbor principle is a two-way street, since what other people do can impact your bees, particularly when it comes to pesticides. If you're on great terms with the people living near you, you may want to ask them to use a bee-friendly product in their gardens, but know that you could be asking them to change a product they're deeply loyal to. (This person is an ideal candidate for the “ride along” we talked about above.)
Lastly, when it's time to harvest your hive's honey, be sure to share some. If you're using a Tapcomb® hive, getting a healthy honey harvest should be easy on both you and your bees. Your neighbors will get to taste honey made from nectar collected in their own yards, and there's no better way to say thank you than that.