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Urban Apiary Overview

Urban Apiary Overview

An urban apiary is a fancy name for bee colonies maintained in city environments. It is also known as urban beekeeping or backyard beekeeping. Interestingly enough, bees raised in cities have been shown to be healthier and more productive because of the wide variety of plant life. They are also able to filter out city pollution, such as car exhaust, making the environment healthier for humans as well. Because they pollinate a diverse array of plants, bees support the health of the ecosystem and ensure the success of food crops. As the local food movement increases in popularity, so does urban beekeeping. Local honey can also be sold to local restaurants and shops, helping support community resilience.

At one point, most North American cities prohibited urban beekeeping, but recently many cities are realizing the benefits they have and permit urban apiaries. There is now a formal process of registering beehives and regulating them at the local level. Concerns about urban beekeeping include swarming, which occurs when the queen bee leaves her overcrowded colony to restart a new one. In New York City, this is proving to be an issue as bees swarm and use light poles and fire hydrants as their temporary hives. While bees naturally swarm, the process is exacerbated when the hive suffers from disease, neglect, or overcrowding.

The phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is contributing to a dramatic decline in bee populations. This occurs when a hive suddenly loses its worker bee population and is no longer able to support itself. CCD is caused by pathogens, parasites, management stressors (ex. overcrowding), and environmental stressors (ex. pesticides). Without bees, we lose pollination, an essential component in our food production system. In order to ensure food security and sustainability, we must maintain the health of our bees. Urban beekeeping is a way to help support a healthy bee population, which in turn promotes a healthy environment.

To better understand how urban beekeeping works, we go to London where Steve Benbow maintains several successful rooftop hives, including one on top of a luxury department store. During their peak in summertime, his hives will be home to 50,000 bees and he adds more layers and frames to give them enough space to make honey. The amount of honey he produces varies per year and based on the weather. During cold wet Spring seasons, he yields about 430 jars, but can reach 850 jars during better weather, with each costing 25 pounds ($41.25), clearly showing how urban beekeeping can be profitable. Benbow is becoming and urban beekeeping star due to his great success with his bees, leading him to write a book, “The Urban Beekeeper: A Year of Bees in the City.”

In summary, here are some pros and cons of urban beekeeping:

1. Overcrowding — bees that are overcrowded are more prone to swarming due to increased competition. To overcome this competition, beekeepers can plant more wildflowers.
2. Stings — because of greater bee population, there is an increased likelihood of being stung. But, urban beekeepers can combat this by placing apiaries in quiet less windy areas, ensure that the property has lots of pollen, and a provide generous water source.

1. Human health benefits — raw honey is a super food, containing essential B vitamins and antioxidants
2. Economic vitality — selling honey generates revenue, and bees pollinate our food crops
3. Healthier bees — high pollen diversity in cities leads to urban bees being healthier and more productive

Overall, urban apiaries are a crucial part of urban food ecosystems, helping ensure that food crops are pollinated.

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