There are more and more beehives in urban centers. Photo: Manoushka Larouche, mielmontreal.com
By Larry Hodgson
For the last decade or so, keeping bees in an urban setting has become very popular across Europe and North America.
Many businesses (restaurants, hotels and others), cooperatives, schools and individuals have set up beehives on their property, quite often on their roof, where the hives are often associated with increasingly popular rooftop vegetable gardens … and obviously urban vegetable gardens absolutely need bees to ensure the pollination of their crops. It’s well known too that bees are threatened worldwide in various ways—pesticides, parasites, diseases, clearing of natural environments, monocultures on agricultural land, etc. —, so the idea of encouraging the presence of bees in urban settings by installing beehives seems perfectly laudable. The result is that urban beehives are proliferating … to the point where there are now perhaps too many!
That appears to be the case in Montreal which has seen the number of beehives explode: from about 10 in 2010 to almost 1,200 today. This has left the urban beekeeping cooperative Miel Montreal concerned about the proliferation of beehives in the city. And Alvéole, a company that promotes urban beekeeping throughout North America, has stopped offering services to individuals in order to reduce the proliferation of beehives in the city.
In some parts of Montreal, there are now so many bees (and remember that an average hive can easily house over 20,000 honey bees!) that there are not enough flowers left to feed them. This is leading to honey harvests crashing and hive populations dropping. In some places, bees are forced to eat their own larvae in order to survive!
And it’s not just Montreal! There are concerns about the proliferation of urban beehives in various other urban centers, from New York and Colorado to London and Paris.
A logical solution would undoubtedly be some sort of management plan to govern the number of urban beehives in a given territory. True enough, urban beekeeping is beneficial to many urban crops and perhaps even necessary, but how many hives can share the space? And how can they be spaced so that each has enough room to maintain a health colony? Cities may soon have to start regulating the presence of urban beehives on their territory to bring about some sort of balance.
How Can You Help Bees?
As an urban citizen worried about the decline in bees in your area, what should you do to help them? The solution today is probably not so much setting up new beehives, but rather planting more flowers.
This is a point all authorities agree on: biologists, environmentalists, urban planners, beekeepers, etc. The more flowers you grow—and a good diversity of flowers whose blooming seasons overlap from spring to fall—, the better bees will do. And planting a wide range and increased number of flowers not only helps honeybees (the ones that beekeepers raise), but also the many native bee species, which are in much more greatly threatened than honeybees.
Well, that’s easy! If you want to help bees, simply plant more flowers! We can all do that!
And if you do want to try raising bees, here is some information on how to do it right: The Ultimate Guide to Beekeeping.