The beginner’s guide to urban beekeeping

Urban beekeeper controling hive

Urban beekeeping has been democratized in recent years with the growing greening of urban spaces and is becoming more and more requested and practiced.
The few extra degrees of temperature offered by the city as well as the absence (not yet total) of chemical pesticides in public gardens are undeniable assets to allow bees to evolve more serenely in an urban environment than in the countryside as it is today.

Let’s get started?

Whether in the city or in the country, it is important to remember that starting beekeeping with the objective of installing your own hives is a real project. It will require time and financial means. So ask yourself about your motivation and the time you can and/or want to devote to it.

If you don’t have a garden but you absolutely want to install your own beehives, don’t hesitate to go and knock on the door of your town hall. They often have many green spaces or roofs to put at disposal for this kind of project. (On this subject, we will soon have a nice platform to propose you, stay tuned)…

First step: a little theory point

Urban Beekeeper use smokes to keep bees calm during hive inspections

Before launching yourself, it is essential to train yourself. Going on an adventure alone with your hives would be very risky for the bees, but also for you!
Start by buying some books on classical beekeeping and/or specifically on urban beekeeping.

Une ruche en ville : C’est possible ! by Gaelle Broissia and Clément Desodt, Editions Rustica, 2017
L’apiculture naturelle pour les débutants by Diane Jos and Olivier Duprez, Editions Eugen Ulmer, 2017
L’apiculture mois par mois by Jean Riondet, Editions Eugen Ulmer, 2018
Reading will allow you to acquire the theoretical basis of beekeeping. Don’t go too fast, give yourself time to infuse all this new knowledge, to discover and to question yourself.

Second step : then, the application

The next natural step is to put the knowledge into practice. We strongly recommend that you follow a training course in parallel with your theoretical learning. Numerous structures, associative or private, offer training courses for beginners or more advanced, if you have the project to make beekeeping a full-time job. You will find them in all the big cities of France (even in the small ones!).

They can be short: from one to two days for the discovery, or more complete: on 1 beekeeping season, which will allow you to improve. (Some trainings can even be spread over 2 beekeeping seasons, as we propose with the Happyculteur School).
Our advice is to register very early because the number of beekeepers in training fills up quickly!

Another option not to be neglected is to be accompanied by an experienced beekeeper! Ask around, do some research on the internet or even talk to beekeepers you might meet on the market.
The idea is to find the beekeeper who is willing to help you in your project (and to pass on all his knowledge). There is nothing better to learn than to practice with passionate professionals… and exciting.

Introduction​ to Learning Beekeeping

Third step: the right timing

Now you are probably wondering when to start this practice?
Well, you can start beekeeping as soon as you finish reading this article. There is no date to start learning the theory.
However, to install your hives, we recommend that you do so at the end of winter, the month of March is ideal.
Spring is just around the corner, temperatures are rising, flowers and trees will soon start to bloom. It’s the perfect time to get your new tenants settled in comfortably.

Step four: Make sure everything is in order

But be careful! Before setting up your beehives in your garden or other place, several criteria must be studied and respected.

Find out about the regulations in your city,
choose the right place for your hives,
inform your neighbors…
Our advice is to have the location you have chosen validated by an experienced beekeeper.

Last step: plan the budget

Choosing the right bee colony

When it comes to the cost of a hive installation project, think big.
A swarm will cost you between 150 and 180$. They should be reserved well in advance of your installation. Start your research with beekeepers in your city around October-November.
A hive, depending on the model, will cost you between 80 and 150$.
For the rest of the equipment, count on a budget of about 150$ (excluding the purchase of the honey extractor).

For this operation, you can find a collaborative honey house that will provide you with the necessary equipment. This is the least expensive and least cumbersome option.

Choosing the right bee colony: Where do I get it?

Where do I get my bee colony? Should I buy a swarm, offspring or a commercial colony? Does the breed of bee matter? – If you want to get honey bees, you will be confronted with many questions at the beginning. We provide an overview of how to choose the right bee colony.

Beekeepers with swarms in the vicinity

Local beekeepers’ association/local beekeepers: The first and best place to get your own bee colony is the local beekeepers’ association. Asking helps: Often scions, spontaneously also natural swarms, can be given away.

Swarm exchange: Beekeepers with swarms in the vicinity can also be found online on the swarm exchange website: The platform offers a way to get hold of natural and artificial swarms. To do this, you have to register online, enter yourself as a swarm seeker and specify the maximum price and the maximum distance of the swarm. As soon as a swarm that meets the specifications is reported, your contact details are forwarded to the provider. The provider will then contact you by telephone.

Online purchase and shipping: There are also commercial marketplaces for bees, which, in addition to artificial swarms, also ship or offer for pick-up scions and economic colonies. Caution is advised here, especially with parcel bees from abroad: They carry the risk of imported diseases and parasites.

The import of parcel bees from Italy is under discussion: the small hive beetle was introduced here a few years ago. In order for the bees to be shipped, they always need a certificate of disease-free status, which is also supposed to rule out beetle infestation. However, it is often unclear how reliable such certificates are.

Masterless swarm:

Urban beekeeping is simply the practice of keeping bees in an urban environment

The probability of a masterless swarm suddenly appearing in the immediate vicinity is relatively low. Whoever nevertheless gets into the situation and finds a swarm may catch it and keep it

Choosing the right colony: swarm, offshoot or commercial colony?

Natural swarm:

In a natural swarm or pre-swarm, the old queen leaves the hive together with about 10,000 to 20,000 worker bees. They usually settle in the immediate vicinity. Beekeepers can capture the swarm by spraying it with water and knocking it into a box.

Advantage: A swarm serves to regenerate the colony – so one advantage is that diseases, especially brood diseases, are thinned out by swarming. In addition, a swarm builds combs very eagerly and fits into any hive system. In addition, the queen – if it is a pre-swarm – is already mated and can immediately go into egg production.

Disadvantage: A big disadvantage of a swarm is that you don’t know anything about its peacefulness – at least if you don’t know the original owner and his bees.

Artificial swarm:

beekeepers controlling hive swarming

Artificial swarms are anticipated swarms. For sale, bees are often sent from different colonies together with queens, which in turn come from other colonies. Some see this as a disadvantage.

The choice usually falls on offspring

Hive: Brood hives are made from one or more brood combs. The combs are sold with the resident bees and the queen (unmatted or already in egg layer) as well as with food or honey combs. Many beekeepers form such young colonies to prevent swarms.

Advantage: The offspring has a young queen: This usually builds strong colonies and swarms less often. The first year of a offspring will certainly not swarm. The honey yield is also limited, which is why there is no harvest. This is a relief, especially in the first year of beekeeping.

Disadvantage: With unmatted queens there is a risk that they will be lost after the mating flight. For young beekeepers, it is therefore recommended to start with two layers.

Economic colony:

Finding bee queen

One year after their formation, offshoots are considered economic colonies from which honey can be harvested.

Advantage: The economic colony is obtained in spring, often in April. This gives you the opportunity to experience the development of the colony from the beginning.

Disadvantage: From April onwards, the economic colony becomes stronger and stronger and brings in new nectar: Honey harvesting in early summer and summer becomes inevitable. Many young beekeepers, however, do not want to do this in the first year – for example, because the ejector set must first be purchased or the introduction to beekeeping should be slow. Also, the hive system has to be taken over by the seller – there is little room for manoeuvre here.

Queen: Individual queens are obtained from the breeder. The queens are usually sent with a handful of companion bees. However, the number of worker bees is not sufficient to form a colony. Queen and companion bees are too weak to survive. They can be ordered, however, if a colony has become queenless or is to be transferred to another colony.

What should be considered when choosing a suitable colony?

Health certificate (disease-free certificate): Every sale of bee colonies must be accompanied by a health certificate. You should also pay attention to this when buying colonies as gifts. If no certificate is available – for example in the case of a self-caught swarm – an AFB examination should be carried out afterwards. For this purpose, a forage rim sample must be taken from the colony – by an official veterinarian or bee expert; in some places the beekeeper may also take the sample himself. The sample is then sent to the laboratory and analysed.

An exception is when the colony is moved within the jurisdiction of a veterinary office – in this case, a disease-free certificate is often not required.


When you pick up the bees from the beekeeper, you can get an idea of their peacefulness on the spot: Are they particularly aggressive and prone to stinging? Do they flare up quickly when the hive lid is opened? If not, the chances of a docile colony are good. In the case of swarms, it may be necessary to re-pollinate later, as nothing is known in advance about their gentleness.

Bee breed:

The Carnica bee (Apis mellifers carnica) is widespread, closely followed by the Buckfast bee. Some beekeepers also use the dark bee (Apis mellifera mellifera). When choosing a bee breed, one should opt for the bee that is common in the region.

Hive system:

If the choice falls on a scion, one should pay attention to the frame size. Does the seller’s frame size match mine? Natural and artificial swarms are more flexible, as they are available without combs: they can be placed in any hive.


Choosing a bee colony from the region has advantages: The bees are adapted to the local environment and transport distances are shortened.

The right time:

Beekeepers usually sell commercial colonies in spring, offspring a little later from May to July. Swarms can also be expected from May to July – depending on regional climatic conditions, the period may vary.

Choosing a colony: What are the costs?

Costs also play a role in the choice of a bee colony. Some young beekeepers are lucky – and get their first colony as a gift from the beekeepers’ association. But that is not the rule. The cost of a bee colony depends on supply and demand – the price is also a matter of negotiation. Horst Schäfer, chairman of a beekeepers’ association, charges at least 120 $ for a commercial colony; at least 70 $ for a scion that is given away in summer. On a marketplace for bees, the price range for a scion goes from 60 to 220 $. On the non-commercial swarm exchange, only an expense allowance of a maximum of 80 $ is due.