Urban beekeeping 101: Why we need bees

TORONTO – As the world’s bee population continues to decline, many are looking to urban beekeeping as a way of helping to save the honey-making insects.

A U.N. report last year estimates that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, more than 70 are pollinated by bees and that a deteriorating bee population could soon hit food supplies.

London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Detroit and Chicago are among the international cities embracing urban beekeeping and while some North American cities, such as Montreal and Vancouver allow the practice of cultivating bees in an urban setting, other cities have bylaws that restrict or ban the activity.

In 2010, Vancouver announced it was moving ahead with plans to make the city greener by installing beehives on the roof of city hall after the city overturned a beekeeping ban in 2003 in order to allow the insects to pollinate trees and urban gardens. In Ontario, provincial regulation states that beehives are prohibited within 30 metres of a property line separating the land on which the hives are placed-thus making it more difficult for beekeepers to have a bee hive in their urban backyards.

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INTERACTIVE MAP: Bees buzzing in Toronto backyards 

The “buzz” around beekeeping has even made its way to the White House. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a beehive would be added to the South Lawn. In 2011, the hive reportedly produced 243 pounds of honey and serves as an education for the importance of urban farming on tours of the site.

Why we need bees
According to the Canadian Honey Council (CHC), a national, not-for-profit association of beekeepers representing 7,000 apiculturists across Canada, the value of honeybees to the pollination of our crops is estimated at $1.3 billion to $1.7 billion annually.

Besides making honey, bees pollinate our food and help produce apples, oranges, broccoli, onions, blueberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes and carrots. It is estimated that one-third of human crop growth and our food supply is based on insect pollination.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the major honey producers in Canada. CHC states approximately 475,000 colonies are located in the prairie provinces and that they produce about 80 per cent of Canada’s crops. In the past three years alone, Canada has lost approximately 35 per cent of its honey bee colonies.

While most Canadian cities have bylaws that prohibit livestock in urban settings-including rabbits, goats, sheep and llamas-Vancouver changed its city bylaws to legalize the keeping of chickens in 2010, joining New York City, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Victoria, Burnaby and Richmond.

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To date, backyard chickens and hens are still illegal in Calgary, Toronto and Winnipeg. In the UK, approximately 200,000 households keep chickens in an urban setting.

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