Despite the seemingly problematic combination of live beehives and densely populated municipal areas, the advent of urban beekeeping has taken the world by storm. In London, the number of active apiaries has more than doubled in the last five years. Last year, officials in Melbourne, Australia, approved a $28,000 grant for a local company to install rooftop hives throughout the city. Other cities to recently embrace the practice of beekeeping include Seoul, Paris, New York and Chicago. But despite the activity’s surging popularity, some environmental experts have also noted the downsides of urban beekeeping.
Pro: Human health benefits
Any health expert will tell you that raw honey is one of the most nutritious foods a human can consume. It contains Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and C, as well as numerous antioxidants to build healthy enzymes and Rifidobacteria to aid with digestion. One tablespoon of raw honey has up to 17 grams of carbohydrates, making it a good alternative to sports gels. In addition, honey has been known to stave off allergies, ease morning sickness, increase good cholesterol, and act as a kid-friendly sedative.
Pro: Economic boost
Considering the various health benefits of raw honey (not to mention its undeniable deliciousness), it’s not surprising that beekeeping turns a sweet profit. U.S. beekeepers generate roughly $332 million in revenue every year. In Australia, honey is a $116 million a year industry. Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, entrepreneurial beekeepers are working with government agencies and volunteer organizations to create lucrative apiary faclities that funnel money back into national treasuries. And as more apiaries pop up in urban settings, economists predict the sale of honey harvested within city limits will greatly stimulate localized markets.
Pro: Healthier bees
Studies have shown that urban bee populations are tougher than their rurally based counterparts. The primary reason for this is diet. Each species of pollen provides a different assortment of nutrients and health benefits for bees. Since pollen diversity is much higher in cities than it is out in the sticks, bees that pollinate in the former tend to be much healthier than those who reside in the latter.
Building off the last ‘pro’, the growing number of urban hives means that swarms are competing for pollen and airspace. Also at risk are bumblebees, butterflies, and other insects that pollinate flowers. “If the problem is not enough flowers, increasing the number of hives risks making that problem worse,” said Francis Ratnieks, a professor at the Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects at Sussex. ““If a game park was short of food for elephants, you wouldn’t introduce more, so why should we take this approach with bees?” If urban beekeepers want to help mitigate this problem, there is a relatively simple solution: plant more wildflowers. “Marjoram, borage, lavender, catmint, and Bowle’s Mauve all attract bees, are easy to grow, and are beautiful as well,” the professor said.
Probably the most obvious downside to urban beekeeping is the threat of bee stings to the greater population, but proper hive placement nips that problem in the bud. Apiaries should be installed in quiet areas (preferably mid-level rooftops) that are not directly adjacent to any neighboring properties, sidewalks, or roads. Beekeepers should ensure the property has abundant pollen to prevent the swarm from migrating, as well as a generous water source (bees consume a lot of water). And by placing hives in areas where the impact of high winds is minimal. Lastly, all apiaries should be well-signed; intrusions could potentially agitate the hive, and this may lead to disastrous ― and deadly ― results.
If you’re interested in urban beekeeping and have researched your city’s regulations to ensure the practice is legal where you live, there are tons of online resources to get you started. Visit these pages for more information:
- ‘DIY Backyard Beekeeping: A Guide for Beginners‘ by The Daily Green
- ‘Built It Yourself: Plans for Building Hives, Frames, and More‘ by BeeSource Beekeeping
- ‘Beekeeping Basics‘ by the College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State University