Urban Beekeeping: An Introduction
Just this morning, the YSFP office received a frantic phone call from one of our Connecticut neighbors. He was desperately searching for local honey for the treatment of seasonal allergies (more on that later) and he thought that we might be able to help him out. Although the bees that we installed on the Farm at the beginning of summer are still too young to produce honey, New Haven is home to many local beekeepers dedicated to the sometimes-difficult but always-rewarding task of urban beekeeping. This week on the blog we’ll highlight the benefits of urban beekeeping and introduce some of the local practitioners who have been working here in New Haven since long before it was trendy.
At first, urban beekeeping might seem like a contradiction in terms. It’s difficult to imagine a beehive in the middle of a city, and we might wonder if bees can even survive in an environment so completely altered by humans. And if they can make a home here, is there really any benefit to raising bees in what might sometimes seem like a concrete desert?
In fact, bees are constantly at work in even the most urban locations, affecting the landscape in ways we tend to take for granted. So what are bees good for?
1. Bees are pollinators. In the simplest terms, they take pollen from one flower and bring it to others, allowing for the fertilization that produces more seeds in flowers and fruit, thus ensuring a next generation and producing the parts of plants we like to eat. Without them, farmers would have to spend a lot of time hand-pollinating, and uncultivated crops would disappear almost entirely. Among the surviving plants, genetic diversity would plummet, since bees can carry pollen over many miles— and diversity is crucial to the robustness of any population. So without bees, all the flowers, shrubs and trees in parks and medians all over your city? They would pretty quickly disappear.
2. Urban beekeepers are doing their parts to counter Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In light of the recent and ongoing decline in wild bee populations, domesticated bees are increasingly responsible for the pollination of not just city gardens but also larger scale agricultural crops and uncultivated plants.
3. Perhaps most obviously, bees are the one and only source of honey! Everyone knows that honey is a nutritious and delicious natural sweetener, but some claim that local honey can also serve a medicinal purpose in the treatment and prevention of seasonal allergies. Because local honey is the direct product of region-specific pollen, consuming locally harvested honey is thought to accustom the body to those allergens in small doses, so that when they’re encountered en masse they aren’t seen as a threat.
We reap the many benefits of bees every time we put honey in our tea, slice up a tomato, or enjoy the flowers in our parks and gardens. Later his week we’ll take a more in-depth look at exactly how urban beekeeping works, with a post about the bee boxes Pollen recently installed on our Farm and a post about Vince Kay’s Swords Into Ploughshares, an operation that processes and packs honey just a couple of blocks from the Farm. Hopefully along the way we’ll inspire a few would-be apiarists to start hives of their very own!