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Exploring the phenomenon of urban beekeeping

Urban beekeeping

Humans have interacted with bees since ancient times. The oldest cave painting from Cuevas de la Araña, or Spider Caves in Spain, depicting humans and bees is 8,000 years old. Nowadays we are witnessing a relatively new phenomenon – urban beekeeping. Recently, this activity has been gaining popularity among urban dwellers. This practice of organising mini apiaries in urban environments is due to the benefits for both the environment and the bees themselves.  In a way, this popularity is reflected in the modern generation in the term beekeeping age from the popular TV series Rick and Morty.  At a time when cities are facing the challenges of sustainable development, food security, environmental conservation, urban beekeeping represents an opportunity to make the co-existence of people and small pollinators harmonious.

Advantages of urban beekeeping over rural beekeeping

Urban bees can produce much more honey than their counterparts living outside the city. Many people are surprised by this, but it is explainable.

Firstly, the bees have little or no competition for nectar, as they are, after all, very rarely kept in the city.

Secondly, the honey base may even be larger in the city compared to many fields outside the city. Many cities have a very large number of flowers, bushes, and herbs. Linden trees of different varieties, fruit trees – apples, cherries – are planted. Starting from spring it all blossoms and blooms until late autumn. Outside the city, farmers often plant cereal monocultures in the fields – there are few flowering honey-bearing plants there. The ones that grow on the fields are often not enough for the bees. Even dandelions are cut down as weeds.

Thirdly, due to the abundance of various honey plants, city honey produced from a variety of herbs is tastier and healthier. And by the way, it tastes different every year. Depending on the season, summer is warm and linden trees bloom. Then comes a warm autumn and all kinds of autumn flowers bloom. As a result, the honey even in one frame turned out different in taste and colour: in one half – light, harvested in the first half of summer. In the other half, it was brown and dark, harvested in late summer and autumn.

Fourthly, it is warmer in the city than in the countryside. And when cool and rainy days come, bees in villages sit in their hives and eat the harvested honey, while in the city they actively fly for a honey.

Challenges of urban beekeeping

Despite its many benefits, urban beekeeping has a number of constraints that need to be addressed legally.

Not all cities are allowed to keep bees, and many cities have restrictions that need to be known and respected. For example, the first experimental hives were installed on the roof of the Opera Garnier in Paris in 1980. In the USA, bees were initially banned in cities. Bees were equated with wild animals and by law they could not be kept. But under pressure from activists, cities began to change the law. New York legalised keeping bees in the city in 2010, Boston in 2013, Los Angeles in 2015.

In the city, there is usually not as much space available as there is in the countryside. Beekeepers must therefore consciously choose a hive location that will provide sufficient food for the bees. Rooftops of buildings offer great potential for hive placement in the city. They are isolated from large crowds of people, their height allows bees to fly and not bump into people. Moreover, very often roofs are not economically utilised in any way.

The safety of those around you should also be kept in mind. The presence of bees in densely populated areas can cause concern for people who may be stung and are prone to allergic reactions. Therefore, informing the community and implementing appropriate safety measures are extremely important for urban beekeeping.

Apiary in a rural area
In rural areas there is much more space to set up an apiary.

Impact of urban beekeeping

Urban beekeeping affects the environment, economy and social development.

Bees play an important role in pollinating plants, including those that grow in cities. According to FAO UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 75% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects. By contributing to urban pollination, beekeepers make a significant contribution to biodiversity and the conservation of the urban ecosystem.

Urban beekeeping provides an opportunity for urban dwellers to produce their own honey. This not only ensures self-sufficiency in honey consumption, but also reduces the environmental pollution caused by transporting honey from remote areas.

Urban apiaries serve as a visual educational tool. They help to raise awareness of the importance of pollination and sustainable development practices. Communities are also formed where beekeepers share knowledge and co-operate to support the number of their colonies.

Is city honey harmful to health?

Many people think that honey collected in the city will contain heavy metals. But in fact, it does not contain any heavy metals or harmful substances. The explanation is simple: 20 years ago they stopped adding heavy metals to motor fuels. I will tell you more: by ecological indicators, honey harvested in the city is better than in the countryside. After all, all the fields there are sprinkled with chemicals to increase the harvest.

Chemicals have been the main problem of beekeeping in recent decades. Together with the nectar, the insects carry these substances into the hive. They get into the honey and the bees themselves die from them. Probably, in remote areas there is more wildlife, and bees feel themselves perfectly well there. But very often in places where agriculture is active the ecological value of honey is very bad.

Are bees dangerous in the city?

There are concerns that bees in urban environments can be dangerous to humans. But let’s put that to one side. Humans have interacted with bees for centuries. And humans have received many benefits from this interaction: honey, wax, pollen, propolis, bee venom, royal jelly and, most importantly, plant pollination.

The myth of an evil swarm of bees that chases humans is only a myth. In fact, bees in the swarming state are very peaceful and have only one goal – to find a new hive to live in. They take a supply of honey with them and have no desire to pursue anyone.

In cities, hives are placed where human contact is minimised, such as on building roofs. People may therefore encounter bees as they pollinate plants by flying from one flower to another in a park. People living in rural areas are in the same situation.

Swarm on a tree
Bees in the state of swarming are very peaceful and have only one goal in mind – to find a new hive in which to live.

Advice on sustainable urban beekeeping

Some tips for viable and successful urban beekeeping.

Urban beekeepers should prioritise the health and well-being of the bee colonies. Control the presence of Varoa mite and other diseases by taking timely treatment measures. Avoid excessive honey extraction.

Build mutually beneficial relationships with the local community and authorities to better understand and promote urban beekeeping. Carry out educational activities.

Comply with established regulations and restrictions when keeping bees in the city.

Urban beekeepers should be actively involved in protecting and enhancing various green spaces, promoting biodiversity and limiting the use of pesticides and chemicals that can adversely affect bee populations.

Urban beekeeping is a new practice that is increasing popularity around the world. In many ways, this practice has become possible due to the increasing level of people’s responsibility for the environment and the desire to solve this problem in the most sustainable way. Of course, urban beekeeping is just starting to develop. It is unlikely that we will see a large number of hives in cities, as a balance of practicality is needed in any case. Commercial beekeeping is still the domain of rural areas. But the very fact that it is possible for humans and bees to co-exist in urban areas shows that we are on the right way and have the potential for growth. 

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