Urban Beekeeping

Glancing out the window of a downtown high-rise, a city dweller expects to see skyscrapers and rushing traffic. A person in a white suit complete with mesh headgear examining a beehive? Not so much. Honey bees in the metro may seem a little out of place, but urban beekeeping is not only becoming more common in the Midwest, it’s also helping rebuild the dwindling bee population.

For many years, several major cities listed bees as “venomous objects,” charging hefty fines for those hosting bees in urban areas. As the bee population began rapidly declining around 2008, several locations decided to lift their bans. New York City became the test subject, inviting hives to flat rooftops in hopes of pollinating an endangered food supply. It wasn’t long before hobbyists in other American cities wanted to get involved.

In rural communities, hives are placed in frame-filled boxes where bees can build their honeycomb. The same structure has moved to the city, settling in backyards, community garden sites, and even rooftop gardens. Raising bees in the city might seem counterintuitive, but the urban environment has surprising benefits. “In the country, bees are surrounded mainly by one or two kinds of crops. Their diet can become very restricted,” says Julie McGuire, founder of the Des Moines Honey Group. “In cities, they can fly from garden to garden in a mere matter of a few city blocks.” Aside from a diverse assortment of plants, city living also offers less exposure to pesticides.

Raising bees in an urban location helps more than just the insects. City gardeners are also seeing benefits— the added pollination is increasing their yield. “Bees are truly the difference between having a successful garden and a mediocre garden,” McGuire says. “This produces a more diverse garden and adds a lot to the community itself.”

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