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Bees in the City: Safe to Share Space

Ward Teulon carefully lifts a bar from his home-built top bar hive. Olivia Fermi Photos

Recent mainstream media reports in the US and Canada chime louder than ever about the plight of honeybees. For beekeepers on Vancouver Island and beekeepers in the USA, bee die-off’s are worse this year even after decades of decline. Vital to human’s food supply, the forces behind the problem seem to be caused, in great part, by human’s agricultural practices generally and the specific stresses of commercial honeybee husbandry.

Urbanites can help. Says local Certified Beemaster and Beekeeper Brian Campbell, “A city like Vancouver has a fractured ecological system. It’s segmented. Honeybees do well here.”

Beekeepers, even those with bee sting allergies, such as rooftop beekeeper Allen Garr, have learned bees rarely attack. City of Vancouver announced last week it will host bee hives on top of City Hall. It’s all part of Vancouver’s Greenest City Campaign.

Campbell sees urban beekeeping as healthy and positive. He invited this petite VO reporter to don a beekeeper’s suit, size Large, for the privilege of observing a rare and carefully staged early spring beehive inspection.

VO met Campbell at the backyard farm of Ward Teulon, City Farm Boy in East Vancouver this past Sunday. VO observed and listened in on the conversation.

Ward: (looking at the covered hives) Yesterday, it was sunny. There was a lot more action. They’re really quiet today.

Brian: How’s the temperature?

The two confirm it’s over 14 degrees and just safe enough to open the hives.

Campbell immersed himself in the rich and amazing world of bees, while homeschooling his four sons. He thought bees would be a good subject because of how important they are in our overall food supply as well as an integral part of a healthy ecosystem.

They spent hours observing the activities of bees, noticing the bees’ consistent patterns, collective behaviours, and the bee colonies’ similarities to humans.

Ward: (Sets a very large sun umbrella on its side near the hives.) When the weather’s cool like this, I need to feed them — and also protect them from the wind so they don’t get too cold while the hive is open.

VO: Explain to us what made you decide to add bees to your urban farm.

Ward: I grew up on a farm and we had bees. They have personalities. Bees are like pets. My five year old has a swing right here by the hives. He knows if a bee lands on him, to stay quiet and watch, because the bee is having a rest. Raising bees in the city is healthy for kids. I’ve read children who eat local pollen have fewer allergies. …I want honeybees to survive and this might be a way to help.

Brian: We’ll need to be quick.

Ward lifts the cover off of the first hive.

Brian: Today we’re also checking to make sure the hives are okay.

VO: What are you looking for?

Brian: Action. We want to see the bees flying. For eggs, larvae… So we can see how the bees are adapting.

VO: When did you bring them here?

Ward: A couple of weeks ago from Vancouver Island.

VO: Wow. That’s not long ago. Tell us about the hives.

Ward: These are top bar hives. I chose them because I could build them myself. From what I read, bees are healthier in top bar hives than Langstroth [standard commercial] hives. The queens can roam free.

Brian: Top bar hives are less stressful for the bees and the beekeeper. They’re for enjoyment. But I don’t like websites blaming Langstroth hives for bee deaths. It’s been over 150 years since he invented the bee space. I think it’s pretty sustainable. There’s other factors like commercial trucking of hives from place to place during the season, which are a big problem.

Ward carefully lifts one bar.

Brian: They’re building their hive under the bars. The divisions made by the bars are for us. They provide a way for the beekeeper to interact with and observe the bees.

Ward: I have to keep the bars in order.

VO: So what I’m getting is if you mixed up the bars, it would be like someone came into your living room and sliced it in six vertical strips and then rearranged them at random?

Brian: Pretty much.

Ward replaces a bar and lifts the next one.

Brian: That’s great to see bee chain —­ see how they’re all connected and hanging together off of the bar? That’s an indication they’re making wax. They all link together and make comb.

The two examine the bar looking for eggs, but don’t see any. They spend a long time examining the next bar.

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