Bee-hosting in Your Yard

May 14, 2014 10:37pm


Reasons to Welcome a Bee Hive in your Garden

  •      You want to help reverse dangerously declining bee populations worldwide
  •      You want to boost pollination rates in your garden of your flowers, veggies and fruits
  •      You want to see science up close
  •      Honey = Yummmm

If you are bee-curious, but are wondering about the work load, how the neighbors might react, how high you’ll jump if stung, etc., we have some answers.

Our Bee Journal

We have hosted a hive in our front yard since July 2012, and while we are still waiting on honey, we have done zero work, have never been stung, and have had only positive comments from neighbors. Our only compromises have been giving over a 2-foot square space to the apiary, and reminding our children’s friends not to run by there (no one has needed a reminder).

Our hive found us by luck. I posted in the Puget Sound Beekeepers’ Association online board that I had a largish garden that would welcome an apiary. Being quite ignorant, I had written well into the season, when most hives had been sited, so received no responses for months. Then in July I heard from an amateur beekeeper that had a surprise swarm on his hands. A swarm is sort of a splinter faction that leaves to form a new colony when the queen feels crowded. They needed to be rehomed immediately, so the beekeeper, Bob Margulis, came out to meet us.

The plan was that Bob would do all the maintenance, and we could learn as much as we liked, and eventually hope for some honey. Lucky for me, Bob is a generous instructor who doesn’t mind being pestered by neophyte questions.

Bees let the sun determine their activity, so the first places he suggested to place the hive were south-facing and backed by a fence. We had to veto those, because the first spot was the kids’ designated soccer/baseball lawn area, and the second was next to the basketball hoop. Nobody wanted to see what would happen if a stray ball hit the hive at full speed. So we went with the front of the house still facing south, about five feet from our side fence.

The bees had been living in a cardboard box, and had wasted no time, covering one side with honeycomb in three days.

Bob explained that after transferring to the apiary, the bees vote on their new home in a way that made me wish for a hive-cam: they dance. The scouts check out the nabe, and return with a pro or con dance. If the others agree, they join in the pro dance until it becomes one big flash mob. This Slovenian species of bee, Carniolan, are some of the most gentle, least aggressive around, he said. This has proven true so far – since our hive is right next to our veggie garden, I weed there all the time, and the bees have always ignored my pollen-less self. Carniolans are also known for being prolific gatherers, quick starters, and adaptive to changing conditions. Their one downside is they’re kind of swarm-happy, which unfortunately, has also proven true.

Sadly, the colony didn’t make it that winter. Bob theorized the original swarm happened too late to let them build enough numbers and food. Last April he brought in a new colony and queen from California. The process was fascinating. The queen is housed in a little tube, stopped up with a marshmallow. She’s never met the colony before. She is installed in the apiary, and begins to eat her way out over a few days, all the while bewitching the colony with potent pheromones that make its members her adoring slaves. If only someone would market a human version for parents of tweens and teens.


The mail-order bees did so well they swarmed in July, leaving another half-colony here. The bees had prepared several new queens for the remaining colony (because bees are all about the collective), but this time Bob brought in a new locally raised queen, hoping some native adaptation would give the bees an advantage.

The first sunny days in February saw the workers out buzzing around, and we just had our first checkup this week. Bob wore a beekeeper coat, hat and gloves, but I was a couple of feet away unprotected and unmolested even though they were getting “worked up,” what with their house being dismantled. The winter was a pretty easy one, Bob pointed out, and the unseasonably warm temperatures this spring likely jump-started the bees’ activity.

“They’re going gangbusters,” he said, pointing out lots of egg-laying evidence as well as honey (!!) and pollen storage. To help give the queen some more elbow room, he added an extra floor, called a “super” in beekeep, to the apiary, which may prevent her from swarming like her predecessor.

Here’s hoping her highness finds her new accommodations suitable.

If you’re not ready to commit to hosting, but still want to ensure the world’s food crop survival, here are some ways PSBA says you can help in your yard by:

  • Avoid using pesticides – insecticides don’t discriminate between insects.
  • Plant pollinator-friendly plants, especially local native ones to provide good sources of nectar and pollen.
  • Create a water source in your yard for pollinators.
  • Encourage others to plant bee-friendly gardens and to avoid pesticides.

To learn more:

Puget Sound Beekeepers’ Association offers classes, volunteer opportunities, and community

Seattle Tilth offers classes  and hosts and annual tour of urban farms around town

Urban Bee ( – takes new hosts for a $100 fee, which includes

  • Two to four hives of honey bees on your property
  • Pollination for your garden (and neighborhood)
  • Free admission to one of our beekeeping-in-the-field classes, held regularly throughout the summer.
  • Between one and four pounds of honey per hive (depending on productivity), at the end of the summer. We separate harvests by neighborhood, and when possible will supply you with honey from your yard.

Here’s the city code on beekeeping:

Bees are allowed outright when registered with the State Department of Agriculture. No more than four hives, each with only one swarm, are allowed on lots less than 10,000 sf. ft. Hives may not be located within 25 feet of any lot line, except when hives are 8 feet or more above or below the grade immediately adjacent to the lot on which they are located.