Backyard Beekeeping in Denver

The bad news is that honey bees are suffering from colony collapse disorder, thought to be caused by the combination of viruses, bacteria, parasites and pesticides. The good news is that those of us who live in Denver can actually do something to help our insect girlfriends.
As of 2008, it’s legal to have 2 domestic honey bee hives in your Denver yard… here are the specifics:

  • 2 hives per zone lot
  • Hives must be in rear third of zone lot with a 5 foot setback from side and rear zone lot lines
  • The hives must be screened so that the bees must fly over a 6-foot barrier, which may be vegetative, before leaving the property
  • No outdoor storage of any bee paraphernalia or hive materials not being used as part of a hive
  • See City Council Bill 548

There are many ways to approach beekeeping and many decisions to make in advance:
The bee house – there are 2 popular types of hives, the Langstroth and the top-bar. They both have pros and cons.

The Langstroth Hive
Langstroth hives are the most popular and easy to identify. They’re the tall boxes we’ve all seen sitting alone or in groups out in fields. Langstroth hives are designed to allow the beekeeper access to the hive for welfare checks and honey harvesting without damaging the bees' home. They’re made to come apart and have compartments called “supers” that the queen can’t enter. Supers are used for honey storage by the worker bees. The queen spends her life in another compartment where she lays eggs and where the hive raises its young, also called brood. Langstroth hives have the drawback of being relatively expensive to set up compared to top bar hives. Langstroth hives also constrain the comb-making creativity of bees because of their modular design.

Top-bar Hive
Top-bar hives were designed for use in developing countries using readily available materials, and can be made with leftover lumber by anyone who knows their way around a table saw. I made mine in a free Denver Urban Gardens class with Marty Hardison. It resembles a horse trough in shape. Top-bar hives generally have one compartment and the bees build comb on the top bars, which are narrow wooden slats that are lined up across the top of the hive, under the cover. The bees are their own architects inside a top-bar hive and the brood and honey are together with the brood in the middle and the honey along the outer edges. It’s a little more disruptive to get inside and inspect a top-bar hive. Bees like to glue everything down with propolis so the seals between the comb and the sides of the hive have to be cut.

Getting your bees:
There are several ways to get your bees. Honey bees naturally swarm when their hive gets overcrowded so it’s possible to collect a swarm. Bees can be purchased in what is called a package – this is what I did – or a nuc, short for nucleus. A nuc is the start of a hive that includes comb, a queen, workers, honey and brood.

There are easy ways to support bees even if you aren't ready to become a beekeeper. Avoid using pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides etc. Plant bee plants - bees love borage, sage, mint and thistle to name just a few.

The Denver Public Library has a great collection of materials about bees and beekeeping:

Local resources:

Written by nan on July 28, 2010


Anonymous on July 28, 2010


I love that the Brown Palace is keeping bees now. Maybe the library can start keeping bees on the roof!


I hope the Brown Palace starts a trend in downtown Denver beehives! They're having a contest on Facebook to name the hives.
It would be great to have bees at the library.

Anonymous on July 29, 2010


This is awesome!!!!

Anonymous on July 29, 2010


So many people in Denver are doing what they can to be the best stewards of nature they can be, even in a growing urban environment like ours. I love that the library has materials and programming (and people!) to support Denverites' amazing projects like building up bee populations, community gardens, urban farming, water conservation and such.

Siobhan on August 4, 2010


"Beekeeping for Dummies" is also an excellent reference. It's aimed at Langstroth hive beekeepers, but it's useful for top bar hive beekeepers as well.

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