A beekeeper in Akron, Ohio wrote and asked about our business model and said that he was interested in doing something similar in his city. I realized as I wrote my reply that my husband and I had learned a lot about city beekeeping in the few years that we have been involved. My reply to that beekeeper is below.
I am glad to hear that you are interested in city beekeeping. We have 35 hives in about 10 locations including 2 nearby farms. We have found that the amount of driving involved really cuts into our profits. It is difficult to break even. I would suggest that you concentrate on one area of your city for beehives. It also helps if you can keep 4 to 10 hives in any one location. Check with city ordinances for the number of hives that can be kept in any single location.
Security is a prime concern on vacant lots. You will need some kind of protection from vandalism like a big cyclone fence or video surveillance. Swarms are a neighborhood event and can be very scary for those who do not know what is happening. Neighborhood education can really help with that.
Be really careful about selecting a queen breeder. Aggressiveness in bees is a genetic issue and the queen source can make a big difference. Don't get bees from Texas. Use a trusted source. You want gentle bees in the city. Re-queen any hives that show highly aggressive tendencies.
Before you get lots of hives, consider how you will market your honey. When we got 4 hives, we suddenly had far more honey than we knew what to do with. At that point, we started selling honey once a week at a local farmers' market. You could do that or you could sell from your front yard if the city allows it or you could market to local organic type groceries. We like the direct contact with customers and the profits we can get from direct sales. All our honey sells rapidly and we usually sell out before Christmas.
We use a 6 frame radial extractor from Maxant (based in Massachusetts) with a motor drive. This small extractor keeps up ok for now. We use a hot knife to uncap the frames. We bottle by hand from food grade plastic buckets with a honey gate. If you do not have an extractor, check with your local beekeeping club. They may have one you can rent.
We have kept bees for about 6 years. We started when our daughter studied bees for a college course and she thought we might like the hobby. We started selling honey 5 years ago. Our business really started taking off last summer when we found people coming to our small farmers' market just for our honey. We do not make a whole lot of money at this because the expenses are too great but we have a whole lot of fun and meet some great people.