Backyard bees bring greener gardens
By Lara Howsam
By Katie Dangerfield, , and
In the past backyard plum tree yielded only six plums, but last fall the tree produced six one-gallon pails of plums.
The abundance of fruit is just one of many benefits Sims has noticed since she started keeping two beehives in her backyard last June.
“At the moment what the world needs to know is how important the role of the bee is for humanity,” Sims said. “We would have a very bland existence without the work of these magnificent little-winged friends.”
Sims contributes to an initiative currently underway in Vancouver that promotes the spread of pollination through urban beekeeping.
Video: Nao Sims shows one of her beehives in her East Vancouver backyard.
Pushing the green initiative forward
Vancouver legalized domesticated honey bees in 2005.
Plans were announced in March to place two beehives atop City Hall. They are scheduled to be unveiled on May 29, the National Day of the Honey Bee.
A community garden was planted on the lawn of City Hall last June as part of the . City Councillor Andrea Reimer, a member of the Greenest City Action Team, said the bees are intended to stimulate growth of vegetation.
“If there are no pollinators,” Reimer said, “it’s like gardening without water.”
A variety of plant life and the lower use of pesticides, compared to that in rural areas, make the city a hospitable environment for bees.
The decline of honeybees has been widely publicized and people are becoming more aware of their impact on the ecosystem.
Allen Garr takes care of 20 public and private hives in Vancouver, including those on top of the , and the .
“Bees are responsible for pollinating about one-third of everything we put in our mouths,” Garr said. “So it’s an important part of our life on Earth – having pollinators.”
He said placing hives on top of City Hall won’t make a large impact on the bee population of Vancouver, but it will send a message.
“It’s certainly a symbolic gesture,” Garr said. “It’s a political statement to say that we appreciate the value of these insects.”
Registration of hives is encouraged but not enforced; therefore, it’s difficult to determine the exact numbers of beekeepers and their managed beehives.
Reimer said that since the by-law was introduced there has been no spike in emergency visits due to allergic reactions.
“I am allergic to bees,” Reimer said, “but I am also an avid gardener, so I would learn that my interests are better if I learn to like bees.”
Bees in the city
, a biochemist at the University of British Columbia, studies the immune systems and disease resistance in honey bees.
Foster said hives within the city may increase the yield of fruits and vegetables, but that it would only affect the area within a few kilometre radius.
He also said urban beekeeping is a feasible way to contain a large quantity of honey bees in small human-made hives.
An urban beehive could hold 30,000 honey bees in a half-metre by half-metre area, whereas wild bees need several hectares to generate the same population, he said.
Garr said the effort doesn’t require everyone to keep bees.
“It’s a lot of work, money and time,” he said. “The goal is to use this as an educational tool to make people more aware of what it takes to have a healthy environment.”
Urban beekeeper Nao Sims said the decline in the honey bee caused her to take action and begin beekeeping on her own. Sims’ father was a beekeeper and that fostered her passion for bees.
Sims took a course before she installed her hives. She is a member of the , which holds monthly meetings for beekeepers in the area.
“The secret for me has been talking to experienced beekeepers,” Sims said. “They know things that books can’t really teach you. That has been my saving grace.”
Sims takes care of four additional beehives in outside gardens. She said since she has become a more experienced beekeeper her time commitment is a half-hour per hive per week.
“There is a lot of unaccounted time,” Sims said. “But when you love something, who’s counting!”
Urban beekeeping around the world
• The Ginza Honey Bee Project, launched in 2006, keeps hives containing 300,000 honey bees in the upscale Ginza shopping district.
• Honey bees become aggressive when they see black shiny objects, and are said to that have been attacking people in the city.
• rooftop in Washington, DC houses 105,000 Italian honey bees as a way to serve local honey and grow fresh food for hotel customers. In 2009 it harvested 300 pounds of honey.
• The Obamas put lawn as a way to pollinate their garden.
• Urban beehives are famously atop the
• – “Miel recolte sur les toits de l’Opera de Paris” (which translates into honey harvested on the rooftops of the Paris Opera) is sold the opera house gift shop.
• It is said that the Parisian urban honey has a better taste because cities use less pesticides, and the bees have a variety of vegetation to chose from.
• Beehives atop the department store in Piccadilly Circus, and these bees at Buckingham Palace.
• On March 16, 2010, New Yorkurban beekeeping.
• Previously as a dangerous or venomous animal along with animals such as hyenas, tarantulas, cobras and dingoes.