Urban Beekeeping Might Save Us

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Bee deathIf there are no bees, there's no food. 


And bees are dying. 


Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is an as yet unexplained phenomenon in which thirty to ninety percent of an active hive's bees just leave and never come back. They abandon the queen. Presumably they go off and die. 


Theories as to why CCD happens:

-epidemic infection rates by the varroa mite parasite

-poor nutrition from low crops with low nutritional value for bees

-heavy use of pesticide on commercial crops

-monocrop diets rather than the more nutritionally varied polycrop diet

-limited access to water, or contaminated water sources

-migratory stress as honeybees are trucked all over rural areas, given that fewer bees are left to do more work


CCD has claimed at least one third of the honeybee population in North America, the UK and Europe to date. 


But it never happens to city bees. 


Why not? 


Some theories:

-earlier blooms means more food for bees (cities are a few degrees warmer than the country, thanks to all of that heat-trapping concrete)

-greater biodiversity

-fewer genetically modified plants

-fewer pesticides


food and the city book coverAll of this is described in Jennifer Cockrall-King's enthralling book Food and the City, which chronicles urban agriculture in London, Paris, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cuba. (Buy the damn book! It's right up there with The Omnivore's Dilemma.)(she blogs too - even about urban beekeeping)


Urban beekeeping was common a century ago. It fell out of fashion. It's making a comeback. 


Paris declared itself a pesticide free zone in 2000. France's National Apiculture Association launched an urban beekeeping program in 2005. There are hives on skyscrapers in the business district, the roof of the Eiffel Park Hotel, and Charles de Gaulle airport. 


Cockrall-King: "The irony that cities like Paris can be refuges for bees tells us about the state that we've created in our rural agricultural lands." 


London has five thousand hives, and a bee to human ratio of thirty to one. 


royal york hotel beekeepingDavid Garcelon keeps bees on the rooftop garden of Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel. 


Commercially produced (rural) honey looks and tastes uniform. Urban honey is "a snapshot of the variety and flowers that the bees have sampled, like a season suspended in liquid sunshine."  


Royal York rooftop honey is "a beautiful translucent colour, tasting a bit like buttery caramel or toffee." 


Versailles honey is thinner and clearer, almost oily, somewhat like clarified butter, with mint and lavender top notes.  


Vancouver honey is "intensely floral and sweet, characteristics that most likely came from the apple blossoms in the nearby herb garden and orchard." 


Our society in general is a swirling mass of modern (Science is mighty! Uniformity is good!) and postmodern (Diversity is wonderful! Traditional wisdom should be embraced!) elements. 


Modernist methods of food production seem to be killing our bees/us. But the postmodern ethos is gaining ground. 

urban beekeeping in London 

Reading Cockrall-King's book, you can't help but wonder why all available rooftops, balconies and apartment windows aren't being used to grow food. 


We should do this. It'd be great if we survived. 


And damn, those honeys sound good. 

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  • Comment Link david jordan Tuesday, 11 December 2012 20:34 posted by david jordan

    The documentary Queen of the Sun really blew me away on this subject. http://www.queenofthesun.com/

  • Comment Link David Wright Wednesday, 02 January 2013 19:00 posted by David Wright

    CCD is the culmination of a myriad of effects from pathogens that bees were previously able to cope with naturally! Filthy food is doing to bees what filthy food is doing to us. The poisons we are putting in our food is killing bees period! Science already knows this but it does not pay money on any level to solve this problem; therefor science will continue to " search for answers" and allow us to eat the foods that are killing bees.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 29 January 2013 19:59 posted by TJ Dawe

    David - I agree, and so does this movement to ban bee-killing pesticides in the EU. Here's a link to the petition: http://www.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_the_bees/?bObNYcb&v=21428

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