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Local honey saving the ecosystem

Over the past few years, a popular new trend of suburban beekeeping has emerged. In cities around the world, this growing trend is quickly becoming a viable method of producing honey. In 2009, when Michelle Obama placed beehives on the White House lawn to support beekeeping efforts, the rest of the world followed.

Many large cities and urban areas such as New York City legalized urban beekeeping in 2010. San Francisco’s statistics for its Beekeeper’s Association reports a rise from 50 to more than 400 urban beehives in 2010. London’s National Bee Database reports over 3,500 beehives in 2013, an increase that’s three times the numbers in 2009 when the urban beekeeping trend began.

What Caused Recent Bee Loses?

There are various reasons why the bee population has been declining, but it is mainly from the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In 2006, many beekeepers throughout the U.S. started to report large losses in their honeybee hives, some as high as 90 percent. Reports showed the presence of small amounts of honey, a live queen bee, but no other adult honeybees in the hive.

This is not the first time honeybee losses have occurred. There are reports of unexplained honeybee disappearances in the 1880s, 1920s and 1960s. In 1903, more than 2,000 honeybee colonies vanished after a harsh winter in the Cache Valley in Utah. In 1995-1996, Pennsylvania lost more than 50 percent of its bee colonies to an unknown cause.

Although the exact cause for these bee losses is not known, there have been Varroa mites, virus-transmitting parasites that prey on honeybees, found frequently in the hives affected by CCD. According to studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, strong evidence of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, poor nutrition, bee management practices and agricultural practices have all played a part in the onset of CCD. Further research is being done to find solutions to stop more incidences of CCD and promote thriving, healthy bee colonies.

The Beekeeping Trend

Beekeeping has evolved as one solution to combat colony collapse problems and promote healthy beehives and colonies. Beehives can now be found on rooftops throughout NYC, and even right here in northern New Jersey. Urban areas are usually pesticide-free and provide a healthy bee environment. They produce a larger variety of flowers than rural landscapes with flowers that bloom year-round. This provides a constant food source for bees.

Hives can be found on rooftops of the luxury New York Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago City Hall, Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory and on residential urban rooftops across the country. A local northern New Jersey hospital has gotten its hands on some honey as well. The Valley Hospital’s Luckow Pavilion in Paramus has installed two large colonies of honeybees to its rooftop. The honeybees are able to fly in a two-mile radius to collect pollen and return to their rooftop. The bees produce local honey, which will be given to patients, as well as sold in the gift shop of the hospital. By the end of the year the bees will produce about 100 pounds of honey.

These buzzing bees have also been spotted at the Jersey City, Hyatt Regency Hotel. About 36,000 honeybees call the Regency’s rooftop their home. The honey will be used in the hotel’s very own restaurant, creating a buzz in the local food market because home grown is far better than imported.

Who’s Taking Care of the Bees?

With this uptick of beekeeping popularity, who takes care of these urban bees on rooftops and in city spaces? Many beekeepers hire local companies to take care of their hives. For instance, Borst Landscape & Design based in Allendale, N.J., has been beekeeping for over three years. It currently has three hives of Italian bees, which fly in a five-mile radius to collect pollen. If you want to help your own garden of flowers, fruits and vegetables why not start beekeeping? Borst offers beekeeping within your home garden, or larger space. The honey you will harvest will taste more delicious knowing that it is from a local garden.

Local beekeeping creates a lot of community benefits enhanced by sustainability and green living. Urban beekeepers and local beekeeping companies that take care of the hives are doing their part to return honeybee colonies to a healthy state. This certainly benefits our entire ecosystem, our local environments and local communities.