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.

History

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. 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 2012 perhaps due to its inclusion in the local food movement.Between 1999 and 2012, London saw a 220% increase in beekeepers.

Challenges and Concerns

One problem created by a surfeit of bees is swarming.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 have active beekeeping communities, while others offer plentiful green space but harbor few apiaries.

North America

Detroit

Detroit is not only home to a burgeoning population of native bees, but also hosts several “urban farms” (not all of which maintain hives), including the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. the Hantz Farm, D-Town Farm, Recovery Park Farms, and Earthworks Urban Farms. A 2017 newcomer is Detroit Hives, a non-profit dedicated to acquiring vacant lots and setting them up with bee hives, along with community education and outreach. 

Chicago

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.

In 2013, a ban on beekeeping was defeated in the Chicago suburb of Skokie. The village may regulate backyard beekeeping in the future.

Milwaukee

A Beepod Vented-Top-Bar Hive on the roof of a non-profit, CORE/El Centro, overlooks downtown Milwaukee and serves as an education location to teach new beekeepers.

In 2010, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, passed a beekeeping ordinance allowing individuals to practice beekeeping in the urban center of the city. Urban beekeepers take part in Milwaukee’s Community Pollinator Initiative.

Montreal

Montreal’s beehives are regulated by the governmental agency MAPQ. 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 committed hobbyists.

The Westmount Library has a public honeybee hive on its roof featuring live inspections every two weeks during the summer months for kids, parents, and the elderly.

As part of their 135th anniversary, Birks Group installed three honeybee hives on the roof of their downtown headquarters in Montreal.

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 movement towards generating local produce is part of why beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular in this metropolitan city.

New York

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.

Western honey bee

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).

Toronto

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 during the 1970s. During this time, beekeeping equipment could be bought in the downtown’s Little Italy / Little Portugal area.

As of 2015, Toronto does not have any bylaws 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.

Vancouver

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.

Bees are kept at Vancouver Convention Centre and Vancouver City Hall.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles has a long history of beekeeping. The first two honeybee colonies arrived, by way of the Isthmus, in California in 1853. Imported by Christopher H. Shelton, they were the only survivors of the long trip from New York to San Francisco. Bees were purchased on the docks of San Francisco for $150 then brought south to Los Angeles. The bees arrived in Los Angeles on September 4th, 1854. In April of 1855, the colonies cast out 2 swarms which were sold for another $150. At this time, the honey generated by the bees was sold for $1.50/lbs. Italian bees, considered superior to the German variety, were introduced in January of 1855.

By the 1860s, beekeeping was common in Los Angeles with some owning 25 hives. Wild honey was collected in significant quantities throughout the foothills. The honey was sent to San Francisco for sale. A large colony was found in the San Fernando Valley, some estimate it contained 8 to 10 tons of honey:

“The hive is located in a rift which penetrates the rock to a depth of probably one hundred and sixty feet. The orifice is thirty feet long and seventeen feet wide with four passages. This rift was discovered to be the abiding place of a swarm of bees that is seen to come out in a nearly solid column, one foot in diameter. Certain parties have endeavored to descend to the immense store of honey collected by the bees, but were invariably driven back, and one man lost his life in the effort.” (ibid.)

In 1873, the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association was founded.

In 1879, Los Angeles lawmakers banned beekeeping within city limits based on the false belief that honeybees damaged the citrus crop (one of the largest industries in the Los Angeles area). By 1917, there were calls to repeal the “ancient ordinance,” many were illegally keeping hives anyway, however lawmakers did not act.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the 136 year old ordinance was repealed by the city council.

Europe

London

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% are 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.

İstanbul

Urban beekeeping is a growing hobby and industry in İstanbul and beehives can be found from city parks to high rise buildings’ terraces.Beekeeping in the city, especially at its outer districts, is supported by the municipal government, İBB. Hotels like The Ritz-Carlton in İstanbul also reportedly have urban beehives for their restaurant’s honey needs. Urban beekeeping has been described as difficult hobby in İstanbul, which has fewer green spaces compared to other cities in Turkey. Unregistered beehives can be spotted in some parks in downtown districts of İstanbul.

Hasan Efe from the Apiculture Research Institute stated that beekeeping in İstanbul’s city center could harm the insects’ physiology, adding that gas from vehicles and environmental conditions can contaminate urban honey with heavy metals. Yet these claims were challenged as some research centers did not find significantly elevated levels of heavy metals in urban honey samples.

Local and international conferences and seminars about urban beekeeping are being held in the city.İstanbul has also hosted the 45th edition of Apimondia from October 29  through November 4, 2017.

Africa

Johannesburg

Johannesburg has over 6 million trees.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.

Other cities

Urban beekeeping exists in many major cities and has been reported in: Berlin, Hamburg, Hong Kong,Melbourne, Sydney, and Tokyo, amongst others.

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