This back-to-nature hobby has everyone buzzing

beekeeper holding up hive
CC BY 2.0 IMCBerea College

Once a niche profession or eccentric hobby, beekeeping has made gigantic leaps in the national consciousness as an analog practice worth returning to. It's tough to say what brought beekeeping to the cultural zeitgeist, but with Williams Sonoma selling a Backyard Beehive & Starter Kit for $499.99 and chic farm-to-table restaurants installing hives on their rooftops, the hobby is now firmly entrenched in hipster lexicon. With the mainstreaming of any practice, there are both high-end and DIY options for those wanting to start their own apiary.

What kicked off the return to backyard hives? Beyond the farm-to-table food practices that began trending in the early aughts, it was also sparked by the release of alarming reports detailing colony collapse disorder (CCD) in 2006 and the very real worry that we could lose our precious pollinating bees. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of managed bee hives has been reduced by nearly half since the 1940s, dropping from about 5 million to 2.6 million. These disturbing numbers encouraged both conservationists and "green-goers" to begin setting up hives in urban areas.

Beehive on urban rooftopBradley James/CC BY 4.0
Additionally, many major U.S. cities began lifting their ban on beekeeping in response to the international bee shortage. Toni Burnham has been keeping bees in D.C. since 2005, runs a blog called Citybees, and was a consultant for Michelle Obama's endeavor to add beehives to the White House lawn. Burnham has compared beekeeping's need for controlled movements and quiet behavior to yoga, telling The Christian Science Monitor in 2009:
“I plan my movements, and I do them deliberately. I’m thinking about the effect of my motions on these creatures. I have to be in a different way."
However, Burnham's biggest fear is that newcomers to the practice will fixate on the trendy aspect and accessories, instead of focusing on the real environmental impact of bees and the importance of pollinating food crops. She relayed this thought to The Washingtonian in 2012:
“My nightmare is an urban hipster who just plops a hive down in his backyard and doesn’t know what to do with it."
That fear has led to another new buzzy business: backyard bee consulting and accessories. At Honeybee Keep in Colorado, their practices range from swarm retrieval to wasp removal to a year-round mentoring program for new beekeepers. Also in Colorado is BackyardHive, which sells blueprint plans to build your own beehive, and a range of accessories, including a glass honeycomb display stand and organic propolis tinctures.

When it comes to luxury hives, one ultra-innovative invention has been getting the most buzz: The Flow Hive was invented by an Australian father-and-son team, and claims their patented technology is "the most significant advancement in beekeeping since 1852." Thanks to a record-breaking Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, their gorgeous Western Red Cedar hutch, complete with a gabled roof and observation windows, can be yours for just $699.00.

Finally, if your backyard beehiving is ready for the next level, there's North Carolina-based Hive Tracks. The company offers cloud-based software and data analytics, with tiered monthly plans for the hobbyist, enthusiast, and sideliners. So no matter your level of bee expertise, there's a handcrafted hive, custom bee suit, or tracking software waiting for you and your hive.

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