The Rise of the Backyard Beekeeper
By Michael Steinkampf
“Backyard beekeeping is nothing new. Until Alexander the Great returned from India with samples of sugar cane, honey was the only sweetener known to Europeans, and it was not uncommon for households to have a hive of honey bees on hand for personal use; a prosperous colony can produce over 100 pounds of honey in a season…
But as city-dwellers have become more interested in connecting with Nature, the renewed interest in small-scale agriculture has been accompanied by a resurgence of backyard beekeeping. Beehives seem to be springing up everywhere: Parisian balconies, the gardens of Buckingham Palace and the White House, and most notably the rooftops of New York City, which lifted its ban on urban beekeeping in 2010. In three years, membership in the British Beekeeping Association doubled to more than 20,000, as young urban dwellers strode to transform a rather staid pastime into a vibrant environmental movement…
Honey bees do particularly well in suburban environments, where the diverse flora give a steady production of pollen throughout the year, and the absence of crowded bee yards and agricultural pesticides provide a healthy environment for honey bee colonies. Some allergy sufferers claim that the ingestion of pollen found in local honey helps relieve their hay fever. Honey obtained locally is more flavorful than most supermarket honey, which is intensely heated and filtered to prolong shelf life…”
“The honey bee is a vital pollinator of important New Jersey crops, such as blueberries, apples, cranberries, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins… Having beehives in an urban setting, such as on the roof of the Hyatt, enhances backyard gardens in the surrounding area and provides honey that can possibly help neighboring allergy sufferers.”-New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher
Six reasons to become an urban beekeeper
1. Healthy bees make a healthy planet
Bees play a crucial role in the Earth’s ecosystem. They are essential for biodiversity, as they have a symbiotic relationship with flowering plants, and they are an important part of the food chain. They pollinate plants and trees, crops that we rely on as food sources, and the cotton we wear against our skins. It’s even thought that they contribute to reducing exhaust fumes in cities by filtering them out of the atmosphere.
2. Bee populations are on the decline
Colony Collapse Disorder has been causing mass bee deaths over recent years and it is a widely-discussed phenomenon today, however most people who are concerned about CCD and bee health feel helpless when it comes to reducing the plight of the bees.
When asked why bees are dying prematurely and in vast numbers, experts point to a combination of the varroa mite and other viruses, however the root of the problem can be attributed to a variety of factors including the way bees are currently ‘farmed’, and the use of pesticides and insecticides used in modern-day agricultural practices, which have inevitably entered the bee food chain..
3. Bees need a break from being farmed like cattle
In modern agricultural practices bees are treated like commodities in the same way that factory farm animals are used for maximum output using minimal resources and space. In many countries today bees are fed sugar-water in place of their own nutrient-rich honey and confined to small, compact hives which are stacked on top of one another and designed to allow constant interference from their farmers. These large-scale bee‘keepers’ use bee colonies to pollinate vast quantities of the same crop in one sitting, for example a single almond plantation, then they package them up again to let loose on the next field. Like cattle, their natural feeding habits and freedoms are restricted, and they succumb to health problems as a consequence of these unnatural practices.
4. Urban beekeeping is necessary for strengthening bee populations
The primary aim of natural beekeeping is not to harvest the products bees create, such as honey and beeswax, but to help colonies to maintain optimum health by giving them a safe, non-invasive space to ‘bee’.
One of the best ways you can do this is by offering a small space in your garden to the bees. Due to the vastly differing plants available within small spaces in urban areas, bees actually thrive in busy cities and towns. According to Parisian bee artist Olivier Darne, in ‘an analysis of the honey we made here in Paris…it contained more than 250 different pollens. In the countryside there can be as few as 15 or 20 pollens’.
A backyard space in a city provides an ideal habitat for a bee colony. Bees can travel large radiuses to access further nutritious plant nectar, and bees kept in urban areas are alsoless likely to encounter large amounts of pesticides and insecticides which are commonly used to treat crops en masse in countryside fields.
5. Backyard beekeeping doesn’t cost you anything
It can cost virtually nothing to provide a rich habitat for a colony of bees, but the value of this colony to our planet is immense. Natural beekeeping does not require the use of the expensive equipment that is used to interfere with bee patterns, such as smoking them out to get to their honey, or donning protective suits to avoid attacks triggered by this honey ‘harvesting’ (stealing). The Top-Bar beehive is designed to minimise how much the bees are disturbed by the keeper, as it allows maximum visibility of bee life without forcing them to evacuate the hive in order to observe them. With a Top-Bar hive you can get to know your bees and even closely study them without ever having to open the hive up completely. You can make your own Top-Bar beehive for free using this guide, thanks to champion bee guardian Phil Chandler.
6. Bees have much to teach us
Chandler wrote The Barefoot Beekeeper as a guide to natural beekeeping without a protective suit. He advocates learning the way of the bees by observing them and literally listening to them to work out their natural patterns, for example when they are most busy and should therefore be left alone, and when they might welcome a visit from the keeper.
Left to themselves, bees are harmless creatures, busy running the hive in their various allocated roles, working all day long, and serving and protecting the queen bee. All they need from you is a safe base to come back to at the end of a working day, and in return for this you get to watch the fascinating way in which these insects work together. The bee dance is simply amazing to witness first-hand.
When you ‘keep’ bees in this manner you come to realise that these humble, hardworking insects keep the natural order of things buzzing in a way that humans can only partially understand, but that we can certainly learn to appreciate more. Have you ever used the phrase ‘the bee’s knees’ to describe something of high quality or excellence? Such is the world of the bees. When you become a backyard beekeeper, you open up a complex, beautiful facet of the natural world. And you’ll never want to look back.
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PHOTOS: Today at the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase Meet & Greet!!
Honey Tasting / Observation Hive / Visit from LA Councilman Bill Rosendahl
COME OUT AND VISIT HONEYLOVE AT THE SHOWCASE CENTRAL NEXT SATURDAY (3635 Grand View Blvd, 90066) for the fourth annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase - a citywide Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 21st, 2012 from 10 am to 4pm. FREE PUBLIC EVENT!!!
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Richard Reynolds shows how to make them at home – and how to use them
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