Urban beekeeping is the practice of keeping bee colonies in urban areas. It may also be referred to as hobby beekeeping or backyard beekeeping. Bees from city apiaries are said to be "healthier and more productive than their country cousins". Their presence also provides cities with environmental and economic benefits.
Most cities in North America at one time prohibited the keeping of bees, but in recent years beekeepers have had success in overturning bee bans. Bees pollinate a wide variety of plants, and the honey they produce is often sold to local restaurants and in local shops. Many urban areas now regulate beekeeping, and while registering beehives is often mandatory, a high proportion of urban beekeepers fail to inform the city.
The popularity of urban beekeeping was growing rapidly c. 2012 perhaps due to its inclusion in the local food movement. Between 1999 and 2012, London saw a 220% increase in beekeepers. The number of urban beehives varies greatly from city to city, and official counts may be inaccurate as hives are often not registered. As cities have limited greenspaces, the increasing popularity of the hobby may lead to lower honey yields as has been reported in London and New York City. According to a 2015 research study, urban environments favor viability and transmission of some disease agents that affect honey bees and may be a contributing factor to their diseases.
Urban beekeeping cities
Some cities are veritable hives of beekeeping activity while others offer plentiful green space but harbor few apiaries.
In 2016, Detroit natives: Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey founded Detroit Hives, a 501C(3) Michigan non-profit organization who's mission is to help spread bee awareness, support the conservation of honey bees and educate communities, schools and businesses about bees and their importance to our environment. Detroit Hives was the first to practice honey bee conservation from empty vacant lots in Detroit. Their motto "Work Hard, Stay Bumble" resonates the embodiment of Detroit.
In 2003, Richard M. Daley, then Mayor of Chicago, had two beehives placed atop City Hall. Michael S. Thompson was put in charge of their care. Subsequently, the bee population in the city has grown.
Johannesburg has over 6 million trees and on satellite pictures looks like a rain forest. This environment is highly beneficial for urban beekeepers, who often have higher honey yields per hive than other Highveld beekeepers. In South Africa, anyone who handles bees must be registered as a beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (South Africa).
Beekeeping in London has become increasingly popular. The number of beekeepers rose 220% between 1999 and 2012 with other figures showing a 200% increase between 2008 and 2013. As of 2012, an estimated 3,200 apiaries exist in London, and while registration is mandatory, 75% were thought to operate without license. The density of hives in London is much greater than in other areas of the UK, and this has led to concerns that city greenspace may not provide sufficient forage to sustain burgeoning bee populations.
The UK government has aided the rise of keeping bees in cities by releasing a plastic beehive purpose-built for urban beekeeping. Called Beehaus, it is supported by quango Natural England. Organizations supporting best practices for urban beekeeping in London include The London Beekeeper's Association, which holds monthly meetings, provides mentoring to new beekeepers, and lends out beekeeping supplies.
In London, bees are kept at department store Fortnum & Mason, Lambeth Palace, Buckingham Palace, the London Stock Exchange, the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, and at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, etc. Hives once stood atop the Bank of England as well.
In 2010, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, passed a beekeeping ordinance allowing individuals to practice beekeeping in the urban center of the city. Since the ordinance was passed, a variety of urban beekeepers have started taking part in Milwaukee's Community Pollinator Initiative.
Montreal's beehives are regulated by a governmental agency called MAPAQ, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Quebec). This agency enforces a set of regulations surrounding the installation of a beehive in order to protect the health of colonies, but these rules are rarely restrictive enough to deter or discourage committed hobbyists.
The Westmount Library, a locus of learning and community, has a public honeybee hive on its roof featuring live inspections every two weeks during the summer months for kids, parents, and the elderly. Montreal Botanical Gardens hosts honeybees as a part of their summer expositions with introductory workshops and daily tour groups.
In the summer of 2014, the Accueil Bonneau homeless facility launched a pilot project introducing their itinerant community to the art of beekeeping as a means of re-engaging them in a fulfilling and meaningful hobby.
Most of the public beekeeping initiatives stem from companies offering beekeeping services that make it more accessible to urban dwellers, such as Alveole, Apiguru, or Miel Montreal. The move towards a comprehensive approach to producing local produce is part of why beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular in this metropolitan city.
Until 2010, beekeeping was illegal in New York City, but this had little effect on the many New Yorkers who built and maintained hives. Prior to being recognized by the city, urban beekeeping had become an established hobby, and a support network of organizations, blogs, and supply stores was already in place. When the ban was lifted, only the non-aggressive Apis Mellifera species was allowed to be kept. While registering beehives is required, as of 2012 only half of the 400 bee colonies thought to be situated on New York rooftops had been reported to the city.
In New York, there are beehives at InterContinental The Barclay Hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the York Prep School, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the Bank of America Tower (New York City).
While urban beekeeping is touted as a new trend, hives have been kept discreetly in Toronto for many years. Several beekeepers kept around fifty hives each along the Don River in the beginning of the 20th century, and there was a beekeeping co-op near the Don Valley Brick Works into the late 1950s. Mayor William Dennison kept nineteen colonies in his Jarvis Street backyard in the 70s. In the 1970s, beekeeping equipment could be bought downtown’s Little Italy / Little Portugal area.
C. 2015, Toronto does not have a bylaw governing beekeeping, so the Ontario Bees Act applies. The Act does not address urban beekeeping but contains a 30-meter set back requirement for property lines, and a 10-meter set back requirement for highways; however the rule has gone largely unenforced as few urban lots are spacious enough to meet requirements concerning proximity to property lines, dwellings, and highways. In 2011, there were 107 registered hives in Toronto.
Some of the many Toronto landmarks host to honeybee hives include: the Fort York historic site, the rooftop of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the University of Toronto, the roof of Amsterdam Brewing Company, and the Fairmont Royal York hotel.
Often regarded as a green and sustainable city, the City of Vancouver has recognized hobby beekeeping in residential areas by issuing guidelines and requiring hives to be registered.
One hotel chain that uses beekeeping as a point of differentiation in Vancouver is Fairmont. In 2008, Fairmont started placing beehives on hotel rooftop gardens. Today the hotel franchise operates global beekeeping initiatives at over 20 properties. Both Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver and Fairmont Vancouver Airport have hives either attached to the hotel or residing nearby. At Fairmont Waterfront, hotel guests are treated to a guided tour of the hives and gardens. Currently, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport houses “one million honey bees [...] who produce about 2,400 pounds of honey.” At the Fairmont Waterfront, 500,000 bees work together to “produce 600-800 pounds of honey per year.” The honey from the hives is then used by hotel chefs.
In 2014, Fairmont started building empty nesting sites, so-called "bee hotels," to help attract wild mason bees. In 2015 Fairmont Waterfront partnered with Hives For Humanity to create a bee pollinator hotel. The practice may not be entirely beneficial as one biologist suggests bee hotels “favor non-native species of bees and wasps over our native species".
The number of beekeepers in the city is growing rapidly: 300 in 2010, there are today more than 1000. Young people are more and more interested in the hobby, book beginner courses at the beekeepers and share photos of their work on internet. Beekeeper associations are speaking of a boom.
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