Pollination Urban Gardening

Urban Bee Overload

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?

Bees visiting a gaillardia flower.
To really help bees, plant flowers! Photo: Mihael simoni?, 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!

And if you do want to try raising bees, here is some information on how to do it right: The Ultimate Guide to Beekeeping.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “Urban Bee Overload

  1. This is one of the most crucial pieces of information for me on a subject I have been researching and find to be highly intriguing. I enjoyed reading your piece, too. Many thanks for sharing.

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

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

  4. 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.

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