Are there too many honey bee hives in cities?
Since you’re here reading the Alvéole blog, we can probably assume one thing: you love bees. There comes a time in every bee-lover’s life when you stop and ask yourself: am I doing what I can to support bees? Am I doing anything that could be harming bees?
A common question we get is: are there too many honey bee hives in cities? What is the sustainable number of hives in my city?
Asking these questions is crucial in the journey towards bee-friendly cities. So let’s examine the different aspects of this issue.
ARE HONEY BEES COMPETING WITH WILD BEES FOR RESOURCES?
Science doesn’t have a definite answer – yet.
Some studies have found conclusive evidence of competition between different bee species. But often these studies focused on agricultural landscapes, where honey bee colony densities are much higher than any city in the world. As of now, a lot of research on competition in urban settings shows negligible side effects of honey bees in cities, and are often inconclusive.
Science doesn’t yet have a full understanding of the urban context. We are eager for more studies to be released in the coming years and will continue to evolve our mission and practices accordingly. Given what we know now, we choose to be inclusive in our work to support both honey bees and wild bees.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMMERCIAL AND URBAN BEEKEEPING
When referencing studies about potential competition between honey bees and wild bees, it’s important to understand that commercial beekeeping in rural settings is a very different reality from urban beekeeping.
A commercial beekeeper’s goal is to produce honey and offer pollination services, which requires hundreds of hives and large colonies. But for urban beekeepers like us, our goal is to reach and educate the greatest number of people with the fewest number of hives. We keep our colonies smaller for meaningful and safe interactions with community members.
We’re also talking about two very different environments. In rural settings, there is often less plant diversity due to monoculture (a whole field growing a single crop). Meanwhile, some urban environments have more diverse floral resources for bees thanks to flowers planted in parks and along roadways.
WHAT IS THE SUSTAINABLE LEVEL OF HONEY BEES IN CITIES?
What is considered a “sustainable level of honey bees” will vary from one location to another, depending on the available forage, nesting habitat, and green space. A great way to reword this question is: how can we make sure there are enough flowers in a given location to adequately feed and host all pollinators?
The best thing everyone can do to help all bees is to plant native flowers that bloom throughout the foraging season. Early spring and late fall blooms help the most, since these are the hardest times of the year for bees.
For beekeepers, employing responsible beekeeping practices is key.
Responsible urban beekeeping means:
- Keeping honey bee populations under control;
- Holding urban beekeeping practices and operations to high ethical and operational standards;
- Promoting pollinator habitat richness.
ALVÉOLE’S APPROACH TO RESPONSIBLE URBAN BEEKEEPING
Over the last decade, we’ve seen the collective conversation about urban bees evolve, and we’ve taken ongoing, concrete actions to make cities a better place for all pollinators.
Let’s take a trip back in time…
Alvéole was born in 2013 as an educational service for families. We taught them how to become independent, responsible urban beekeepers, as well as pollinator advocates.
In 2018, more people were becoming interested in urban bees. Our experience taught us one thing: once people connect with honey bees, their whole perspective on the world changes. They start caring for all bees and evolve with the science to eventually change old habits to better support pollinators.
This is when we decided to focus our efforts on companies, organizations, and schools. We collectivized our urban beekeeping programs, making them accessible to more people, on a larger scale. This meant flipping the conventional beekeeping model around: instead of having one person caring for 1,000 beehives, like rural beekeepers do, we’d have 1,000 people caring for one beehive.
The result was fewer honey bees and a focus on environmental education over honey production.
Finally, in 2023, we proactively decided to cap honey bee hive installations at one per location in the cities where we operate. With 10 years of experience, we know for a fact that with a single beehive, we’re able to help clients with their ESG efforts, as well as advance our own vision of a world of bee-friendly cities.
HOW RESPONSIBLE URBAN BEEKEEPING CONTRIBUTES TO ESG GOALS
- Team-building activities educate stakeholders on the world of pollinators.
- Beekeepers engage stakeholders in deep conversations about ecosystems, modern day farming practices, and biodiversity.
- Biomonitoring is used to determine what is growing in the surrounding landscape, and more importantly, what is missing in terms of biodiversity to encourage pollinator nesting.
The two pillars of our responsible urban beekeeping approach:
1. We proactively adapt our operations to mitigate potential negative effects of honey bees on urban ecosystems.
We don’t help all pollinators by simply installing honey bee hives. But honey bees are the catalyst for so many crucial environmental questions, conversations, and eventually, real, tangible, and transformative actions.
This is why we’ve adapted our urban beekeeping program to offer boundary-pushing, nature-driven services like wild bee hotel servicing, biomonitoring and environmental reporting, and pollinator garden installation.
2. We actively promote urban greening in all the cities where our bees buzz.
We play an active role in the urban greening efforts of all the cities where we operate in two ways:
With our 1% for the Planet partners
We’re part of the 1% for the Planet movement, meaning we give back 1% of our annual sales to nonprofits dedicated to protecting the environment. In other words, every single one of our urban beekeeping services financially contributes to the planting of more greenspaces and wildflowers for all urban bees.
With our clients
In the fall of 2022, we launched a revamped version of our services to help our clients take the next step in their sustainability journey. In addition to a honey bee hive and educational programming, clients can now:
- Measure and track their environmental impact with scientific data.
- Use science-based planting recommendations to offer local bees the food and habitat they need most.
- Plant a bee-friendly garden where pollinators, tenants, and team members can benefit from a lush slice of nature in the middle of the city.
Looking to take your organization’s sustainability efforts to the next level?
Find the responsible urban beekeeping package best suited to achieving your goals.