What if Kingston…

urban bee keeping, backyard gardening, Kingston, OntarioLast Spring, the City of Kingston was faced with an interesting proposal from the grass roots level, specifically whether or not to allow backyard chicken coops.  Since writing about this initiative, I’ve met a few local pioneers who have taken it upon themselves to forge ahead, and harvest very their very own, homegrown eggs.  As we first reported, the benefits of urban chicken keeping range far beyond providing sustenance, as they deter factory farming, improve the connection between consumers and their food source, and generate fertilizer.  While some are quick to judge backyard chicken coops as an eco-fad, others are eager to commence laying their very own, golden eggs.  In fact, council moved one step closer to making backyard coops a reality last night, which got us thinking about other means of urban food production.  Specifically, what if Kingston embraced backyard beekeeping?

Urban apiaries are on the rise, and while beekeeping has many benefits, the main reason so many people have been talking about it lately centres around conservation.  Believe it or not, the honeybee population has been fighting a massive decline in recent years, thanks to pesticides, viruses, mites, breeding practices and perhaps even cell phones.  Since an overwhelming percentage of the crops we consume require pollination, which is traditionally carried out by bees, threats to honey bee population also represent a threat to our way of living.  Hence, more and more urban honeybee hobbyists have started to manage hives on roof tops, gardens and backyards.

Aside from conservation and pollination, the most renowned benefits of bee keeping are honey and beeswax production, the latter  being used to create everything candles, soap and various skin and hair products.  As stated by the Canadian Honey Council bees and their liquid gold are fascinating.

  • a colony of honey bees in summer has 50-60,000 bees
  • a single bee colony can produce more than 100 pounds (45 kg) of extra honey
  • honey is one of the safest foods – most harmful bacteria cannot live in honey for any length of time
  • it takes one colony of honey bees (around 30,000 bees) to pollinate an acre of fruit trees

As we saw in the early days of the movement behind bringing chicken coops into the backyards of Kingstonians, public education was key.  Locally, groups such as Seldom Fools Apiculture have setup workshops to educate residents about the benefits and work that goes into honeybee keeping.  Further, they’ve even got a few hives for sale, to help enthusiasts get their colonies buzzing.  These resources will help demystify what urban beekeeping is all about, and demonstrate that it is a sustainable practice that can safely integrated into urban areas (check out this video).

So what do you think?  Should we be encouraging more Kingstonians to setup rooftop and backyard hives as a means of conservation and to assist with pollination?  Would you be okay if you’re neighbour setup a hive near your house?

Thanks to Don Hankins for today’s photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

7 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • I would love for this to happen. I've always been very interested in beekeeping, and this would give me even more incentive to take it up. Who doesn't love honey and beeswax?

  • Thanks for the plug, Harvey! Bees are a sticky issue (HA!) in urban areas. No matter how much educating we do, no matter how much folks know about bees and the plight that they face, the assumption is always going to be that your neighbour's backyard hive is going to pursue and kill you.

    Beekeeping in Ontario is provincially regulated and the Ontario Bees Act requires that all hives be located 20m from any property lines. Given the size of urban lots, you can't keep hives in the City legally. That said, the previous Provincial Apiarist told me once that that particular regulation is only enforced upon complaint. "Keep your neighbours happy and we don't care where they are".

    I actually prefer the provincial regulations, anyway. The rules are uniform across the province, so there's no guesswork involved. Besides, if I had to get my neighbours' permission, I'd never have been able to keep two hives that I've had in my yard off and on for the part two years. Nobody's nervous, I'm the only one who's been stung, and the gardens are thriving.

    I'm afraid that urban beekeeping is destined to remain a guerrilla activity. But, that's ok. A certain amount of civil disobedience is a good thing. :-)

    • I can only imagine that anyone with a backyard garden, for fruit trees or anything else of the like would be encouraged by the idea of beekeeping in "urban" spaces. Even I think that it's a great idea – and I'm allergic to 'em (but I also know that they don't live to sting).

      With the problems that bees have been facing lately I think that the efforts of beekeepers in urban spaces – or wherever – to provide a decent home for the animals would be welcome and to the benefit of everyone.

    • I wouldn't characterize it as "legislation that gets in the way", Dude. It lays out a number of important things that municipalities would have limited, if any, jurisdiction over. Outlawing the use of pesticides on fruit crops while flowering, for instance. Specifying that I have the legal right to enter private property retrieve swarms from my hives without interference is another one.

      Urban apiculture is a tough one. The bees do very well in suburban areas, but they're also exposed to a lot of toxic crap that rural hives are not. As long as the province maintains the "keep your neighbours happy" approach, municipalities don't need to do anything. Quite frankly, the less meddling the better.

  • Honeybees are non-agressive and will not “attack” unless the hive is threatened. We already have many wild bees such as hornets, yellowjackets and bumblebees in our city environment. Adding honeybees can only be an asset to the plants within the city.

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