A Step-By-Step Guide To Beekeeping In Edmonton
Since 2014, beekeeping has been permitted within the City of Edmonton, and in that short amount of time, the City’s beekeeping community has steadily grown to hundreds of urban hives. If you’re here, there’s a chance that you’re interested in joining that community. Let me be the first to say welcome! Keeping honeybees is challenging yet gratifying, and I love every minute.
You may come across the City of Edmonton’s Urban Beekeeping Page and read the four steps listed to keep bees in Edmonton. Each of these steps has a few layers to unpack, and if you’re like me, you may have left a bit confused or unsure of where to start. To make it easier for beginner beekeepers, I’ve deconstructed the Edmonton beekeeping application process into baby steps. Completing the following checklist will give you everything you need to start beekeeping in Edmonton.
1. Know What You’re Getting Into
Honeybees are living, breathing creatures and require a commitment worth considering. As a beekeeper, expect to inspect your beehives every 7 to 10 days. Why 7 to 10? Honeybees can build up, run out of space, make a new queen, and swarm in about 16 days. If you inspect every week to two weeks, you’ll catch issues sooner. If possible, check your hive every week; checking your hive every week instead of every second week will give you twice as much information and beekeeping experience as checking every second week.
Almost every beekeeper and beekeeping book will tell you to start with two hives. Setting up two hives is twice as expensive but will give you a few more management options. A second hive allows you to transfer honey, pollen, or brood from a stronger to a weaker hive. If one hive goes queenless and does not have eggs, you can supplement it with eggs from a second healthy colony. Two hives are not twice as much work and are considered a best practice. Unfortunately, the City of Edmonton will only license a single hive for new beekeepers. However, beekeepers may apply for a second hive after a few years.
2. Find A Suitable Hive Location
The best place to put a hive is where it’s convenient and safe. This means avoiding high-traffic areas and keeping your bees where you can see and access them. My hives are inspected regularly, but I’ll be the first to tell you that my backyard hives get the most attention. I see them daily and have a pretty good idea of what’s happening inside, even without opening them up.
You’ll want to face the hive’s entrance, away from foot traffic. I like to leave at least 10 feet of room in front of the hive for their flight path. Leave space behind and beside the hive because that’s where you’ll manage the hive. A beehive’s footprint is roughly four square feet (2’x2′), but I like to find a space around sixteen square feet (4’x4′) and put the hive in one corner.
Honeybees are only active when the sun’s out (diurnal) and benefit from some sun exposure. In addition to using the sun as a reference point when communicating directions, direct light hitting the hive will warm the colony each morning and signal that it’s time to start foraging. Southern exposure is great if you can offer it.
Hive Location Criteria
In his book “The Practical Beekeeper,” beekeeper Michael Bush lists eight hive location criteria in order of decreasing importance. The list is as follows:
- Safety – Keep hives away from heavy traffic or folks who are allergic
- Convenient Access – Where are you most likely to access them?
- Good Forage – Food for the bees
- Not in your way – Consider how and when you’ll need to access the space.
- Full sun – South is ideal.
- Not in a low-lying area – Avoid wet spots.
- Out of the wind – Protect the hive from prevailing winds, especially in the winter.
- Access to water – All living things need water.
City of Edmonton Beekeeping Hive Placement Requirments:
In addition to the advice above, the City of Edmonton’s Urban Beekeeping Guidelines require that:
- All hives are in the rear yard of the property.
- Hives are at least 25 meters from public spaces such as schools or playgrounds.
- Hive entrances face away from adjacent properties.
- Hives are located 3 meters from property lines or separated by a 1.5-meter (5-foot) tall solid fence.
3. Create a Sketch Your Hive’s Location
As part of your beekeeping application, the City of Edmonton will want to know where your hive is on the property. The easiest way to do this is to provide them with a simple sketch. Don’t worry if you’re not an artist. If you can draw rectangles, you can sketch your hive location. Draw one rectangle to show your property line, one to show your house, and another to show the beehive relative to everything else. Add measurements to show that you’re at least 3 meters from the property line or separated from your neighbours by a five-foot-tall fence. Include the direction of the entrance and flight path. The City primarily wants to know you’re following their placement guidelines and will ask you to attach a copy of your drawing to your application. What works well is a screenshot of your property on Google Maps indicating where the hive is located.
4. Take an Approved Edmonton Beekeeping Course
Books are a great source of information. I’d recommend Micheal Bush’s “The Practical Beekeeper” and Noah Rich-Wilson’s “The Bee: A Natural History.” But there’s nothing like taking a beekeeping class and interacting with an experienced beekeeper.
The City of Edmonton requires that all new beekeepers take an approved beekeeping course. A complete list of Approved Edmonton Urban Beekeeping Courses is on their website. I taught beekeeping courses for the City of Edmonton at the John Janzen Nature Centre but moved online during the pandemic. My beekeeping certificate course is located at The Bee Community (BeeComm) and consists of pre-recorded lessons with live question-and-answer sessions.
5. Join an Edmonton Beekeeping Community
The City of Edmonton used to require new beekeepers to have a mentor, but it was too difficult to enforce. I still think it’s worth tapping into a beekeeping community and that you’re not going it alone. That’s why I created BeeComm to support backyard and small-scale beekeepers and set up a “Find a Bee Buddy” to match new and experienced beekeepers.
Edmonton Beekeeping Communities:
6. Have A Swarm and Disease Prevention Plan
As part of any reputable beekeeping course, you’ll learn how to prevent, diagnose, and manage honeybee swarming, pests, and diseases; all three will happen in your beekeeping career, and sooner than you think. With regular inspections and an integrated approach to disease management (IPM), you can prevent problems, diagnose them early, and control them with the least invasive treatment or cultural control available.
Join a Swarm Catching List
When a colony runs out of room, it will divide in two, and the older half will leave searching for a new home. I get close to forty swarm calls per year from the City and community members. When I get a call, I send it to a list of Edmonton area beekeepers. Someone can almost always catch the swarm and give it a home (we like free bees).
7. Source Your Beekeeping Equipment
With the advent of the internet, you can order equipment from all over the world, though there’s a good supply of local beekeeping equipment. The largest regional supplier of equipment (hives, smokers, veils, etc.) is Beemaid in Spruce Grove. Peavey Mart and Princess Auto carry beekeeping equipment seasonally, and HiveWorld.ca recently opened a store in the City.
Full disclosure: I design, build and sell Beecentric Hives for the local market. I won’t push you into my design as I’ve written various articles on hive design and my bee-centred approach to beekeeping. Here are a few that are relevant to choosing a hive that will work best for you and your bees:
- Designing a Beecentric Hive
- 5 Common Hive Problems And How To Fix Them
- 11 Beekeeping Tips Every Beginner Should Know
- What Is The Beecentric Hive?
- Natural Beekeeping With Warre Hives
8. Notify Your Neighbours
The City of Edmonton’s Beekeeping Guidelines state that you must notify your adjacent neighbours in writing but that you do not require their permission. In my experience, neighbours have been very supportive, though this will depend on your existing relationship and their risk tolerance to sixty thousand stinging insects. Please make a copy of your notification letter to attach to your Edmonton Beekeeping application. Feel free to reference this post I wrote about neighbourhood hives:
9. Apply for a Premises Identification (PID) Number
All Alberta livestock (including bees) must have a premises identification number (PID). Your PID is part of a traceability program that is crucial in preventing and spreading diseases within the province.
“To create an Alberta PID number, sign in or create a free login on the PID program website. Once logged in, click” Add New Premises” and follow the directions. Create a PID number for each location or bee yard. You do not need a PID number for each hive. A copy of your PID number will be mailed to you and appear online, and this process only needs to be completed once (per bee yard).”To create an Alberta PID number, sign in or create a free login on the PID program website. Once logged in, click “Add New Premises” and follow the directions. Create a PID number for each location or bee yard. You do not need a PID number for each hive. A copy of your PID number will be mailed to you and appear online, and this process only needs to be completed once (per bee yard).
Keep a copy of your PID number handy, as you’ll need to submit it to the City as part of your application. You’ll also need it to purchase medications from suppliers like Beemaid.
10. Register with the Provincial Apiculturalist
The Province of Alberta requires every beekeeper to register with the provincial apiculturalist every year before June 30th. The process is easy, free, and quick. Simply complete the Beekeeper Registration form and mail, email, or fax a copy to the province. This process provides the province with important information, such as the number of hives and winter survival rates.
11. Apply For Your Edmonton Beekeeping License
Once you’ve completed the steps above, you’ll have everything you need to apply for an Edmonton Beekeeping License via the City’s Web Application. Once you submit your application, you’ll receive a notification email. You should receive your beekeeping license in the mail within a few weeks.
12. Order a Honeybee Package or Nuc
Now that you’ve received your licence, it’s time to source some bees. Generally, there are two ways to acquire bees: packages and nucleus colonies (nucs). Both cost around $250 (plus/minus $30) depending on the year. A list of Alberta Honeybee Suppliers can be found at BeeComm.
- Packages – approximately a kilogramme of bees and a mated queen. Order in the new year for mid-April to mid-May pick-up. Alberta Beemaid is the largest supplier of packages in Alberta.
- Nucs – typically five deep frames with bees, eggs, open and closed brood, and a laying queen. Order in the spring for late May or early June pick-up. Supplies and suppliers vary from year to year.
Congratulations! At this point, you’ve taken a beekeeping course, found a location, notified the neighbours, registered with the province and City, and sourced some bees! That’s a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it!