When I asked Central Indiana Beekeepers Association member Tim Caldwell what special considerations urban beekeepers have to take into account while maintaining healthy hives, his answer made for a great mental image.
In urban areas, your neighbors are much closer, he said. So you have to take into consideration bee flight path and watering for the bees – so that they're not filling up your neighbors hot tub.
Although a hot tub full of bees makes for a great punchline to a joke, it wouldn't be very funny in real life. And neither, for that matter, is the current state of the worlds bees, whose populations are rapidly declining thanks to a mysterious set of circumstances referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. Bees play an incredibly important role in our food systems; they pollinate a huge number of our most important crops. Beekeepers say its the pesticides (specifically neonicotinoids) that coat our farmlands and our lawns in an attempt to make large amounts of crops more viable that are causing this mass death of pollinators.
Its a dire situation, and groups like the CIBA want to do everything they can to change the future for our buzzing friends. Its more of an education thing with your neighbors that makes urban beekeeping different, Caldwell said. Educating the people around you that the bees are not going to attack them, that they're just going to be in the backyard [is a big part].
The CIBA falls under the umbrella of the Indiana Beekeepers Association, a nonprofit that connects beekeepers statewide and fosters the creation and support of local beekeeping groups (and of which Caldwell is a director-at-large). Indianapolis group, the CIBA, is one of 15 or so smaller groups that exist around the state. The CIBAs meetings are free and open to the public; they offer a mentoring program for newbie beekeepers. Their volunteer swarm catchers will chase down a colony that needs to be re-hived, perhaps after taking up residence in a tree, attic or other various inconvenient spots.
Caldwell swiftly debunks anyone who thinks beekeeping is a farm-only hobby. Theres still plenty of flowering things for the bees, he said. Bees in the city seem to do great.
Even if you're not able to set up your own hive, Caldwell has some simple advice for Hoosiers looking to contribute to the health of bees.
Back off on the herbicides, fungicides and insecticides that they're spraying all over their yard. Those get transferred to all insects, not just the [pests], he says.