Urban beekeeping projects
What is urban beekeeping?
In short, urban beekeeping consists of installing honey bee hives in the city. The rise in this movement is intrinsically related to the resurgence of interest in local food production, but it’s also been supported by a general concern for the fate of pollinators, who are responsible for pollinating one-third of everything we put onto our plates.
Is urban beekeeping safe?
It’s certainly safe – even safe enough for schools! We’ve initiated over 150 beekeeping projects in schools and hundreds in a variety of companies and organizations since 2013.
Of course, beekeeping comes with additional responsibilities when practiced in the city. Choosing a good supplier is key – here’s what an urban beekeeping partner should be able to provide:
- a turnkey service,
- an experienced team,
- a local establishment,
- all required insurance and certifications,
- adapted facilities,
- and strong knowledge of relevant regulations.
At Alvéole, we work with a special breed of Italian bees selected for their docility, but when it comes to stings, one should know that bees are meek creatures who (almost) never sting without reason. Their daily quest is to bring nectar, pollen, resin, or water to their colony to ensure its development. Unless aggression is demonstrated towards them, bees have no motivation to sting – in fact, once they sting, they lose their stinger and a part of their abdomen, and die.
How much space does a honey bee hive need?
The installation of a honey bee hive does not require a lot of space. A clear 2-meter/6-foot diameter is enough. In any case, the Alvéole team will assist you in choosing the ideal spot for your hive.
Get a free assessment of your building today!
What are the benefits and advantages of an urban beekeeping project?
In a nutshell, urban beekeeping:
- brings city folks together and connects them to nature,
- allows for the repurposing of unused spaces,
- makes it possible to highlight a variety of issues related to the environment (as well as industrial agriculture, pollination, and greening);
- and produces an ultra local honey harvest.
What does an urban beekeeper do?
A good urban beekeeping partner will offer a turnkey service and take charge of everything to ensure the well-being and sanitary control of your hive – this means performing regular checks and maintenance while making sure your bees are happy and healthy.
Technically speaking, the role means making sure that:
- the colony is in good shape,
- the queen lays her eggs regularly and normally,
- the colony has enough space to grow,
- the distribution of resources is balanced within frames,
- the colony is healthy and not suffering from any diseases or parasites.
At the end of the season, they must:
- harvest the honey and extract it using specialized equipment,
- ensure the colony is healthy and strong enough to survive the winter,
- treat the bees for common diseases and parasites,
- insulate the hive from the cold.
At Alvéole, our goal is to reconnect people to nature in cities, build ecological awareness, and in time, more sustainable cities and food systems. In addition to sustainable beekeeping practices, our beekeepers are trained in teaching and public speaking. Each of our packages includes educational workshops and conferences!
Honey bees in cities
How can honey bees help all pollinators, including wild bees?
Honey bees have become the unlikely ambassadors of something incredibly important and much larger than themselves: the rapid changes we must invoke to ensure our food systems become sustainable. This is why we’re shedding light on honey bees: so that citizens grow attached to them, and that we may ultimately harness that attachment to ensure a commitment to all living beings as well as a transformed view of the environment. Once a person begins to take an interest in the world of bees, environmental challenges that were once distant and abstract suddenly appear much more urgent and important. Bees allow for all of those who pay attention to the world around them to better understand the importance of pollinators for the health of our ecosystems and biodiversity as a whole.
By reaching people here in the city with our message, we have the power to change the agricultural systems that are so hostile to insects. We can achieve this by educating the city dwellers who create the demand for all this food about these systems, and telling them about the choices they can make to create a different kind of demand for food that is produced without harming bees or destroying the environment.
Read more about this on our blog.
Are there too many hives in the city?
As of now, no study has been able to show that there are too many hives in cities or that the presence of honey bees in cities is problematic. In fact, there are studies demonstrating that the wide variety of flowers and nesting ground available in urban areas can maintain a diverse range of bee species.
Why bring bees into the city?
Bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of what we eat, on top of being vital to our ecosystems and biodiversity, which is why their global population decline is so alarming. Their progressive extinction is namely due to industrial agriculture – monocultures, the ubiquitous use of pesticides, and loss of habitat – but also climate change.
And it isn’t just the honey bee that’s in danger: all insect and animal pollinators are subject to the same pressures and threatened by the same factors. Urban beekeeping allows us to highlight these issues and underline the challenges faced by all pollinators so that citizens may become invested in their protection, ultimately harnessing that attachment to ensure a commitment to all living beings as well as a transformed view of the environment.
Will there be lots of bees around the hive?
When bees leave the hive, they have but one goal: to forage for resources (nectar, pollen and tree resin) that are within 3-5 km/2-3 miles. When they take off, they reach an altitude of 6 metres/20 feet within the first 2 metres/6 feet. Most of their activity is concentrated within this space.
What’s the difference between bees and wasps?
Bees are often mistaken for wasps, and vice versa. It can be difficult for the untrained eye to see the difference between the two!
Bees are small, hairy, and black and gold. They’re essentially vegetarian, and only have the power to sting once, due to their barbed stinger. Wasps, on the other hand, are big, smooth, and bright yellow and black. They’re omnivorous (they hunt for nectar, pollen, and insect or animal protein to feed their young) and can sting repeatedly due to their smooth stinger.
While wasps are not as cute or charming as honey bees, they still play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to control insect populations – a bit like spiders!
What about honey bee stings?
Honey bees are not interested in the presence of humans. Their daily quest is to bring nectar, pollen, resin or water to their colony to ensure its development. Unless aggression is demonstrated towards them, honey bees have no motivation to sting. Once they do, they lose their stinger and a part of her abdomen and rapidly die.
How do honey bees manage hot summer or cold winter temperatures?
Honey bees keep a stable temperature inside their hive of about 35 ̊C / 95 ̊F year-round. When it’s cold, they reduce their activities to the minimum, form a cluster and contract their muscles to generate heat. When it’s hot, it’s the opposite – ventilator bees station themselves at strategic positions throughout the hive to effectively circulate air. On extremely hot days, they’ll even use water from outside the hive in their ventilation to cool off the interior!
Can honey bees decide to leave their hive and swarm in the city?
Yes, they can – but it’s our job to prevent bees from swarming. Only rarely are swarms impossible to detect or prevent. Swarming is a natural phenomenon in which a strong , healthy honey bee colony chooses to divide into two smaller colonies – much like cellular division. Simply put, bees start by raising a new queen. Right before she emerges, the old queen leaves the colony, along with half of its population to search for a new home.
Are bee populations in decline?
Yes, populations of bees, bumble bees, butterflies and other pollinators are declining around the world. This accelerating disappearance is mainly attributable to industrial agriculture (monocultures, massive use of pesticides and habitat loss) and climate change. Synthetic pesticides, in particular, threaten the very foundations of biodiversity.
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Support environmentally-friendly agriculture (eat locally-grown, organic food, year-round).
- Request pesticide regulations from elected representatives and governments.
- Plant bee-friendly flowers and plants (and let the weeds grow freely!).
- Encourage your company or school to promote sustainable initiatives that foster environmental awareness within your organization.
Can honey bees bother people eating outside?
Not at all. Bees have absolutely no interest in eating anything but nectar and pollen. As opposed to wasps, the omnivorous little guys ogling your ham sandwich (they feed their young with animal or insect protein), bees will forage in a 3-5 kilometres/2-3 miles radius around their hive in search of the best nectar (sugar) and pollen (vegetal protein) sources. When you think about it, bees are actually – well, vegan!
Are honey bees dangerous?
Not at all. Some bees are selected for their intensity and honey-producing abilities (particularly in commercial honey production), while others are chosen for their docility (ideal for urban beekeeping). This is the case of the Italian bee, which is the one we work with. It has a very mild temperament, making it the perfect neighbor in densely populated urban areas. It’s also why Alvéole beekeepers wear so little protection!
Are honey bees healthier in cities?
No, they aren’t necessarily – that would be a generalization. It’s true that pesticide use is associated with conventional farming and monocultures, whereas cities have stricter laws about pesticide use in dense areas. In any case, we’re not bringing bees to cities to ‘save’ them from pesticides, rather to foster a deeper sense of connection to nature in cities and bridge the urban and rural divide.
Are honey bees territorial?
Not at all. Bees care only for the development and well-being of their colony. When foragers leave their hive on a sunny day, they have but one goal: to forage for resources (nectar, pollen and tree resin) within 3-5 km/2-3 miles. When they take off, they reach an altitude of 6 metres/20 feet at a maximum distance of 2 metres/6 feet in front of the hive. Most of the activity of bees on a property is concentrated in this space.
How do honey bees make it to the top of a building?
They fly all the way to the top, of course! More seriously, since honey bees are able to forage for resources within 3-5 km / 2-3 miles from their hive, going up and down a couple dozen stories isn’t a huge deal for them.
How long can a colony of honey bees live?
In ideal conditions, a bee colony can last forever as an organism. Worker bees live for about 30 days while the queen can live up to 3 years – given that she lays up to 2,000 eggs per day in high season, the bee population is constantly renewing itself. As the queen nears the end of her life, the colony naturally acts to replace her.
In a way, helping a hive to reproduce can be compared to doing the same for a domestic plant: with lots of care and the right conditions, the plant will grow continually and eventually produce cuttings!
Why are different honey harvests different colors?
Each flower produces nectar that has a unique color, flavor, and texture. Since bees forage in a range of 3-5 kilometers / 2-3 miles around their hive, honey produced on each rooftop is unique and carries its own distinct signature, drawn from the surrounding ecosystem and celebrating local characteristics.
What is honey crystallization?
Crystallization is a normal, natural and inevitable process – not a sign of product deterioration. Crystallized honey retains all of its flavour and properties (enzymes, proteins and vitamins). It simply changes in texture.
If you are among those who don’t like the more “creamy” texture of crystallized honey, simply heat it gently in a double boiler until it liquifies.
How does Alvéole make sure that each client gets their very own honey?
One of the biggest challenges of our harvest and extraction process is to make sure each harvest is extracted separately, so each Alvéole client gets their very own, unique honey.
Here’s an overview of how we do it:
- We harvest the ripe honey frames, put them in a bee box, and clearly identify each box with the client’s name and address.
- We bring the honey frames back to our certified honey house, where our team of extractors proceeds to remove the fine wax membrane covering each honey cell with a special fork (yep, it’s all done manually, with lots of love and care!) before putting all the frames in a large 12-frame centrifugal extractor, extracting the honey at high speed for 15 minutes.
- The honey is then filtered through a sieve placed on top of a food-grade pail, in order to remove any larger wax particles that may have made their way into the harvest.
- The filtered honey is immediately jarred for maximum freshness, labeled with our client’s customized labels, and placed in a well-identified box.
- Our beekeeping team delivers the harvest on their next visit!
Does honey expire?
Honey can be stored indefinitely at room temperature because of its high sugar content. However, every artisanal, raw, and unpasteurized honey will eventually crystallize.
How much honey does a hive produce?
On average, an urban hive produces 15 kilos (30 pounds) of honey per year.
Is Alvéole honey pasteurized?
All Alvéole honey is left unpasteurized to better preserve its unique flavor as well as its beneficial enzymes. It’s a living, untransformed, raw product, which can be preserved indefinitely thanks to its antibacterial properties.
Pasteurization is when a product is heated at a high temperature to destroy any potential pathogens and to lengthen its shelf life. Unlike dairy products which are pasteurized for food safety reasons in North America, honey is only pasteurized for esthetic reasons, since it slows the process of crystallization – it also happens to kill its flavors and other important characteristics.
Alvéole's urban beekeeping service
What happens during an Alvéole visit?
It depends on the time of year and the measures that need to be taken to ensure the well-being of your colony. Generally speaking, a beekeeper will visit your hive for about 1 hour, whether it be to open the hive, split the colony, assess the hive’s wellbeing and make sure the queen is healthy, prepare the honey harvest, harvest the extra honey produced by the bees, treat the hive for disease or parasites, or prepare the bees for the colder season.
If you have Alvéole bees, all the information about your upcoming visits is available at all times through your MyHive account and profile.
What is my MyHive account and profile?
MyHive is a one-stop online portal for accessing and customizing your beekeeping project.
- Your private account allows you to edit your profile and visit schedule, and book workshops.
- Your public profile lets you share and promote your project using posts, pictures, and videos, and allows your network to follow the bees’ development and growth, as well as keep track of upcoming hive visits.
Do you have insurance?
Of course! Safely installing and caring for bees in the city involves costly commercial insurance. Alvéole is covered with full commercial general liability insurance.
Where does Alvéole operate?
We offer services to businesses and schools in 21 cities across North America (Canada and the US) and Europe (France). Make sure to visit the Where we buzz section of this website to find out more about Alvéole’s local presence and impact in the cities where our bees buzz!
How are the hive visits scheduled?
We’ll establish your schedule at the start of the season, according to your availability and building specificities. Note that you can make changes up to 3 days before any visit through your MyHive account and profile.
What happens if my colony doesn’t survive the winter?
As urban beekeepers, we do everything in our power to keep your bees happy and healthy. But death is a fact of life – and colonies don’t always make it. It’s sad for both our partners and for us when it happens. We try to take it as a learning and teaching opportunity by examining and explaining the factors that led to the bees’ dying.
Sometimes, the reasons may be genetic (some bees are less resistant to winter than others), and sometimes, the factors are external to the bees, like parasites, diseases, predators, or even humidity. If a hive dies, we’ll try to figure out why it happened, and we’ll make sure to replace the hive with a new colony as soon as the weather permits.
What does Alvéole do?
We install honey bee hives on rooftops in cities and use the hives as a way to educate businesses and schools about the environment. Our turnkey service includes all the care and maintenance the bees need to thrive, as well as a hands-on educational program where we get people to participate in workshops to learn all about the role and impact of pollinators in our everyday lives.
At the end of the season, we harvest the extra honey produced by the bees and give it all back to their hosts in jars with their own official logo, which they then share with their network. We’re out to make people fall in love with bees, which in turn will make them fall in love with nature, completely changing their sense of responsibility towards the environment. In doing so, we hope to reconnect people to nature in cities, building ecological awareness, and in time, more sustainable cities and food systems.
When do you install hives?
It depends on the location and climate. Generally, we bring in the bees in spring or early summer.
Why are workshops a crucial part of an Alvéole experience?
To truly maximize a beekeeping experience, people need to engage directly with the honey bees. Also, workshops are a powerful vehicle for education, especially when connected to a hive. After a well-executed workshop, participants become mobilized ambassadors for bees and all pollinators, helping shed light on important issues related to the environment.
How long is the beekeeping season?
It depends on the location and climate. Generally, the season lasts from spring to fall, with bees reducing their activities over winter.
What urban beekeeping packages do you offer?
We have three packages for organizations and one package adapted for schools. Book a call with us for more information.
How do I create or consult my MyHive account and profile?
Your dedicated urban beekeeper will create your MyHive account as soon as you register for one of our services. Once your account is activated, you can:
- customize your public MyHive profile,
- access your visiting schedule,
- book workshops,
- consult or edit your account and billing information, and
- get personalized support.
What are Alvéole workshops?
They are immersive, hour-long conferences or interactive activities aimed at building a bridge between people and the beekeeping project, setting the table for deeper, more meaningful interactions with bees. We currently offer four workshops.
Two inspirational conferences:
- Discover the World of Bees – Introducing honeybees and their fascinating role in our world
- Powerful Pollinators – Taking a closer look at the world’s invisible farm workers (wild bees!)
Two hands-on activities:
- Meet Your Bees – Experiencing a real, memorable hive inspection
- From Hive to Honey Jar – Experiencing a complete hands-on artisanal honey extraction
Reach out to us for more information!
What does the service cost?