The Buzz on Beekeeping

January 6th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

As urban beekeeping becomes legalized, a honeybee shortage persists.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If you wondered what trend you’re missing out on in the New Year, perhaps it’s because you’re not producing honey from your own rooftop hives.

Urban beekeeping has been increasingly making news now that New York and other cities have legalized the practice. In March 2010, a article reported “sweet relief for untold numbers of outlaw New York City beekeepers” as the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene passed a law that honeybees may now be kept legally in the five boroughs.

Prior to the vote, noted the article, bees had been classified as a prohibited “wild animal” under Title IV of the Health Code, in the company of such animals as polar and grizzly bears, squirrels, bats, snapping turtles and condors. The penalty for keeping them in New York varies from $200 to $2,000, and some beekeepers had received the maximum penalty.

But it’s not just individuals who are minding the trend. For their part, hotels have gotten into the act in the last couple of years, extending the trend of green rooftops toward beekeeping (and using hotel-produced honey in hotel soaps, candles and ice creams, among other items). The Fairmont in Washington, D.C., for instance, is raising 105,000 Italian honeybees on its rooftop, and these bees produce the honey used in soups, salad dressings, pastries and ice creams in Juniper, the hotel’s restaurant. The hotel is also using the bees to make soap, lotion and lip balm, and has also established a guest program for hotel patrons to visit the hives. Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York and Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront also keep bees in their rooftop gardens (one staff member at the Royal York is becoming a certified beekeeper). And the new Montage Deer Valley, which opened just prior to the holidays in Utah (the Beehive State), will keep hives of its own, according to its PR director, Dan Howard.

And while the legalization issue has brought attention to private beekeeping, so have reports on a massive honeybee shortage in the U.S.  A mysterious illness called Colony Collapse Disorder has, according to a Daily Green article, cost U.S. beekeepers as much as 40 percent of their bees, “and caused widespread concern about the future of roughly one-third of food crops that need pollination.”

As The Guardian reported, the honeybee shortage began threatening crops in 2006: “Since then more than three million colonies in the U.S. and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.” The article notes that the collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to food crops, since “It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute some [$40 billion] to the global economy.”

In the name of helping out with the global shortage, would you turn to beekeeping? Would you have reservations about your apartment building or next-door neighbors getting into the trend? Share your buzz on beekeeping here.