Pollination Urban Gardening

Urban Bee Overload

Beekeeper on a rooftop beehive.

There are more and more beehives in urban centers. Photo: Manoushka Larouche, mielmontreal.com

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?

Bees visiting a gaillardia flower.
To really help bees, plant flowers! Photo: Mihael simonič, Wikimedia Commons

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!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

3 comments on “Urban Bee Overload

  1. joel o LeGrand

    Honey bees are not native to North America.North America has over 4.400 described species of native bees that pollinate wildflowers and crops. I like honeybee for honey & wax, but we need to spot using insect sprays, so our native bees can do their job. Many of the bumble bees work well when the spray is not used.

  2. Well, honeybees are not native anyway, and even without a population explosion, they displace native species.

  3. I’m also going to add– leave some weeds growing too. Urban parks (and cemeteries) should be left a little wild.

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