Urban beekeeping

The bees are dying

By now, you’ve probably heard that honeybees are in trouble. Every year, beekeepers around the globe face colonies dying from all sorts of things: Varroa Mites, Small Hive Beetles, Neonicotinoids, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), diseases, etc. There are many people spending their days pointing fingers and placing blame on a variety of different things/people/climates/gremlins who are responsible for bee deaths. However, we need to turn our attention to a much simpler solution: start allowing urban beekeeping… everywhere.

Why should we be so concerned with honeybee deaths? Well – quite frankly – we need honeybees for our own survival. This problem goes way beyond jars of honey and beeswax candles. 33% of the food that we consume as humans is on our table because of honeybee pollination. If the bees are at risk, we are at risk.

The problem

I’ve avoided this touchy subject for a while, and I’m sure to ruffle a few feathers with this article, but large-scale commercial beekeeping practices are hugely problematic and it is not a coincidence that commercial beekeepers are making the biggest stink about honeybee die-off and Colony Collapse. Over the last century, we have drastically changed the way we keep bees. Large-scale commercial beekeepers now transport honeybees across the country for pollination services, literally moving beehives by truck to California to pollinate the almond orchards and then up to Maine to pollinate blueberries, and then back down to Florida to pollinate oranges. Along the way, new honeybee queens are produced in masses and then artificially inseminated, colonies are forcefully combined, sharing diseases and pests, hives are fed high-fructose corn syrup instead of honey, and the bees are generally made weaker and weaker along the way.

Urban beekeeping

Urban beekeeping (i.e. keeping honeybees in a residential area) is generally frowned upon – and prohibited – in most towns and cities. Laws and bylaws are driven by a lack of understanding and overall fear of stinging insects. It is time to change this type of thinking and stop prosecuting people who are keeping bees in their backyards or on rooftops. It is the urban and hobbyist beekeepers who are driven by a genuine interest for keeping bees. Urban beekeeping may be the honeybee’s only longterm survival plan.

Pesticides

One of the biggest concerns and hot-topic issues right now is the use of systemic pesticides such as Neonicontinoids (AKA “Neonics”) in rural and agricultural areas. There is clear evidence that the use of Neonics is directly linked to bee deaths. The battles being fought to have Neonicontinoids banned are ongoing and may last for years. However, there is a much simpler solution already available and it doesn’t involve huge corporations or decade-long studies: allow beekeeping in cities. The use of pesticides in residential areas is practically nonexistent when compared to farms and agricultural areas, especially when talking about systemic pesticides which are part of the plant itself. Instead of being forced to forage on poison plants, bees would be free to forage from flowers without becoming sick, weak or dying. Along with this, will come stronger honeybee colonies and bees would be much more likely to be able to fight off pests and diseases.

Forage

On the topic of foraging from flowers, consider this analogy: Imagine you were treated like a honeybee in an agricultural area. Instead of a stocked refrigerator and a grocery store around the corner, you are placed into a gigantic warehouse in which every shelf is lined with apples. (An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?) You are now free to feast on apples; as many as you’d like, whenever you’d like. Yay! There are just two catches:

  1. You cannot eat any other foods. Only apples.
  2. In three weeks, every single apple will be removed from the warehouse and you’ll be left with nothing.

Sound great? I didn’t think so. But this is exactly what happens to bees in agricultural areas. They are placed in middle of monocrops that stretch for Kilometres. Massive fields planted with a single plant: corn, soy, almonds, blueberries or similar crop. This provides a single source of food for the bees, and only for a short period of time. After pollination occurs, the monocrops become an empty warehouse of food for the bees. There is nothing left. This is precisely the reason why bees need to be trucked across the country instead of being left to establish themselves in almond orchards or blueberry fields. They would literally starve to death.

Now consider an urban area – such as a city – where flowers are planted to bloom from the very first sign of spring until the last day in fall. Bees would have an amazing amount of variety in their diet and they could gather pollen and nectar from flowers throughout the entire year. Bees in urban areas would have a more complete diet and they would be able to build up their honey stores nearly every day that there is no snow on the ground.

How to help

Even if you’re not a beekeeper, you need to participate and push to have bylaws changed locally and provincially. In my city, Melissa Krone has recently been forced to move her bees and she’s started a petition to have the bylaws lifted for honeybees kept in the city of Kitchener. Sign the petition right now.

I encourage you to start similar petitions in your city. Contact your city councillors and your local MPP or MP and make it known that we need bees in urban areas. Honeybees are essential for our survival as humans and we need to act now.

Article photo by “edibleoffice” used under Creative Commons license.