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Over the past several years, there’s been plenty of bad news about honeybee health. Colonies are collapsing all around the world. But here in Utah, beehives are becoming an increasingly popular backyard fixture. By following proper beekeeping practices, you can be a good neighbor and contribute to the beauty of Utah’s communities.

“Backyard bees are vital to any kind of environment, any kind of setting, including cities, suburbs and rural areas,” said Denise Hunsaker, Public Relations Officer for the Wasatch Beekeeper’s Association. “Even one hive helps provide the environment you want for a healthy atmosphere and healthy living.”

Stephen Stanko, an Apirary Inspector for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food agrees, “Backyard beekeepers are vital. They act as, in some ways, mini laboratories to see what works and what doesn’t work for commercial beekeepers on a larger scale. Not only that, they help our urban ecosystem by pollinating the flowering plants.”

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food does have some guidelines on where to place beehives. “They suggest the hives get warm, direct sun in the morning, then shade in the afternoon,” said Hunsaker. “Sunlight in the morning warms up both the bees and the flowers, so the bees can go out and forage.”

Bees can thrive in relatively small areas, but, because of the flurry of bees around the hive, it is recommended that keepers allow for a five- to ten-foot radius around backyard hives. And during daylight hours, a hive’s entrance will have constant bee traffic, so extra care should be given to the direction the entrance is pointed.

To thrive in backyard hives, bees also need a wide variety of plants, a good water source, and beekeepers need to be careful about the pesticides they’re using.

“Bees can’t thrive on a mono-culture,” said Miriam Valere, a backyard beekeeper for the past four years. “Just like humans, they need a variety of plants.”

“Plant now. Plant often. Plant a lot,” Hunsaker concurs. “We want to feed those bees.”

“If you have a lawn, a nice, beautiful golf course lawn, there’s nothing for a bee to eat,” said Valere. “To feed the bees, you need to plant lots of plants, flowers, herbs, and things like that. Go with a perennial or mintsthey love mintsor old-fashioned flowers like hollyhocks and bachelor buttons. Those are the flowers that bees really love.”

With a little care, anyone can get a hive or two going. And though bees generally keep to themselves, a typical healthy hive contains 40,000 to 70,000 bees, so backyard beekeepers should inform neighbors of their new enterprise.

“The first thing I started to do was let my neighbors know I was keeping bees,” said Valere. “I’d bring them back to see my beehives. We’d sit on the deck and watch the bees, to see that they’re just coming and going and don’t care what we’re doing. I also always give the neighbors a jar of honey. It spreads a lot of good will when you are able to provide fresh honey.”

Caring for bees doesn’t take much more of a commitment than it takes to care for another animal like a cat or a dog, but there are several things to consider before starting a backyard beehive. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to go for information.

“The Wasatch Beekeeper’s Association is a great resource,” Valere said. “They have monthly meetings to go over beekeeping basics and to train new beekeepers. And the association’s website, wasatchbeekepers.com, also has a lot of valuable information.”

New beekeepers should register their beehives with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, the state entity that monitors hives.

“Registration allows us to notify beekeepers when there’s an outbreak of a particular disease or pest issue,” said Stanko. “It also allows beekeepers to call us and request inspections. We’ll come out to beekeepers free of charge and do a health inspection on their hive, which is kind of like a vet visit for the bees.”

“The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food does a great job and the fee to have a beekeeping license is just minimal,” said Valere. “Why anybody would choose not to register is just silly. It’s such a small cost and the benefit is so huge, because I can call them anytime I have questions.”

There are several things those concerned about honeybee health can do to help the bee population, even if they don’t want to become beekeepers.

“The one thing that everybody can do is plant flowers,” said Valere. “Plant the things you normally want in your garden, but plant more of it, because it absolutely helps the bees.”

“I really like hot peppers, so I just plant a garden,” said Stanko. “You can plant whatever vegetables you like, but just by planting a garden, you draw in bees by the thousands.”

Urban beekeeping is not just a fad catching the attention of many homeowners across Utah. It’s an important way to both sustain and boost our environmental health.

Read more from the Utah League of Cities and Towns on DeseretNews.com or visit their website at ulct.org.