Backyard Beekeeping in Denver
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 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:
- The Barefoot Beekeeper by P.J. Chandler
- Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad
- Bees and Beekeeping : Science, Practice, and World Resources by Eva Crane
- Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann with Banning Repplier
- Sister Bee (DVD) by Laura Tyler
- See more....
The Central Library will close early at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 10 to prepare for the Booklovers Ball. More...