Buzzing bees aren’t just a semi-annoying part of the soundtrack at your summer picnic; they’re also responsible for helping create the smorgasbord. The insects pollinate $200 billion worth of crops each year—roughly a quarter of the American diet. Sadly, these six-legged sous chefs are being threatened by colony collapse disorder, a poorly understood epidemic that has wiped out more than 30 percent of U.S. hives. Now, thanks to Denver-based Open Source Beehives (OSBH), you can help save these creatures by giving them a home. In partnership with Spain’s Fab Lab Barcelona, OSBH offers free blueprints for two beehives online. Interested beekeepers take the designs, along with a four-foot-by-eight-foot slab of CARB Phase 2–certified plywood, to a CNC (computer-controlled) router; try Club Workshop in Denver. Forty minutes and about $50 later, they can slot the resulting pieces together—think Ikea furniture without the missing screws—into a pollinator penthouse. OSBH eventually will help backyard beekeepers monitor their colony populations with sensors (currently in the beta stage). People can then upload the information to a global database—while collecting their own honey stash (if they have honeybees). Now that’s a sweet deal. Exclusive: Some guidance on where to find bees to stock your new hive.

So you’ve built your beehive and now you need the bees to populate it. First step: Check your county’s municipal code to make sure it allows urban beekeeping. Once you verify that you’re within the law, Open Source Beehives’ co-founder Tristan Copley Smith says locating bees can be as easy as doing a Google search online for bees for sale. If you want a more reliable option, call the folks at the Colorado State Beekeeper’s Association. They’ll have tips on how to sign up for swarm lists. A swarm takes place when a colony gets too large, and the old queen and about a third of the hive leave to find a new home. If you’re at the top of the list, you can connect with a beekeeper looking to sell his or her backyard pollinators. Denver Urban Homesteading (DUH) also helps keep people informed about local swarms, so you can stock your hive and support Colorado beekeepers. It’s too late this year, but you can pre-order through the organization for bee pick-up in late April or early May.

Bonus: DUH hosts beekeeping classes from January through April. As of last month, the public can now watch bees in action through a glass-walled observation area at DUH’s facility at 200 Santa Fe Drive.

This article was originally published in 5280 June 2014.
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at