What you need to know before you commit to bringing bees onto your property.
Bees are much more important to our way of life than you might think: Thirty-five percent of the human diet (and $214 billion worth of global agriculture) depends on pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees and solitary nesting bees, but their populations are in sharp decline. "Losses have been high all over the world," explains Robert Currie, a professor and the head of the department of entomology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, who cites parasites, pesticides and lack of forage as parts of the problem. The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists reported 37.8 percent of honeybee colonies in Ontario didn't survive the 2014 winter. Luckily, scientists, politicians and regular folks are starting to take plummeting bee populations seriously. In July 2014, Ontario became the first government in North America to restrict neonicotinoids, pesticides that have been linked to the decline of honeybees; Quebec followed suit in November 2015. Meanwhile, urban bylaws are relaxing to encourage small-scale beekeeping, and bee hotels—like the one atop the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver—offer space for solitary bees to lay their eggs.
Here's what you need to know before becoming a beekeeper:
1. Allergies. Anaphylaxis is serious business, and a sting or two is inevitable. "If you're allergic to bees, sorry, this is not the hobby for you," says Julie White of the Ontario Beekeepers' Association.
2. Neighbours. It's considerate to touch base next door and make sure your bees are welcome. Sweeten the deal with the promise of free honey—and healthier gardens for everyone in the hood.
3. Co-ops. If you inhabit a 400-square-foot apartment on the 20th floor, you can't have bees. Try a co-op instead. The Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative has hives for Torontonians to enjoy and offers presentations and workshops to encourage local involvement.
4. Books, books, books. There are tons of great resources for the budding beekeeper's library. Check out Beekeeping for Dummies (Wiley Publishing Inc.) by Howland Blackiston and The Beekeeper's Bible (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Richard Jones.
5. Observation. "Most people are fascinated by bees' social interactions and the way the colony functions," says University of Manitoba professor Robert Currie. Everyone knows about the queen, but it's actually 50,000 worker bees that divide a dozen different tasks including foraging, cleaning, egg attending, building and producing wax. Some "specialize," explains Currie, while others rotate jobs.
6. Bylaws. Check in with your municipality to make sure your hives tick off all the boxes; urban bylaws governing where hives can be placed are different in every city.