Editor’s note: Edmonton city council passed an amendment to the Animal Licensing and Control Bylaw on April 28, 2015, to permit beekeeping in the city. More information about the pilot project to become an urban beekeeper can be found on their website.
In backyards across Edmonton, residents build and cultivate beehives, providing a home for an important pollinator and earning a personal store of honey. Although some people consider bees a nuisance and the City of Edmonton has a bylaw against backyard beekeeping, there is considerable interest in beekeeping in Edmonton. Discussions regarding Edmonton’s current bylaw against bees are ongoing, as are local beekeeping projects.
Honeybee colony collapse disorder: An international concern
Worldwide, honeybee populations have been rapidly declining in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Although experts have identified a number of possible reasons for this decline, including pesticide use, mites and environmental factors, there are no definitive answers to the problem. The disappearance of honeybees is a problem because honeybees are a major pollinator and much of the world’s food supply depends on pollination. According to the Backyard Beekeepers Association, 80 per cent of pollination is done by honeybees while an article in The Guardian states that approximately 75 per cent of food crops need to be pollinated.
The situation in Edmonton
As honeybee populations decline across the globe, beekeeping in Edmonton continues to be a matter of interest. Currently, the City of Edmonton’s Animal Licencing and Control Bylaw allows beekeeping only in agricultural zones but conversations about making backyard beekeeping in Edmonton legal are ongoing.
Dustin Bajer, a local beekeeper and member of the Edmonton Food Council, says beekeeping is a topic the food council deals with on a regular basis. “There is an interest on the food council to see movement on things like chicken and bees,” says Bajer, who adds that he is “cautiously optimistic about chickens and bees in the community.”
City council is also aware of the issue, with some councillors appearing to support beekeeping in Edmonton. “I get the impression that the city has already been looking at this pre-creation of the food council,” says Bajer. It is ultimately up to city council to decide whether to change the current bylaw.
Beekeeping projects in Edmonton
While discussions regarding beekeeping in Edmonton continue, some residents choose to build hives in their backyards regardless of the bylaw. Bajer has his own hive and builds beekeeping equipment for others interested in keeping bees in Edmonton. “I’ve been putting hives together and I’ve been selling them this spring for other hobbyists in the area,” says Bajer.
Bajer has done a lot of research, reading and observation to build hives that will support bees. “They have a few added things like increased pest management, increased ventilation at the top which allows the bees to regulate their own internal environment within the hive, which is not something they can do as easily in a conventional hive,” says Bajer. Bajer has more detailed information about his hives on his website.
For those interested in beekeeping, Bajer recommends finding a mentor. Mentors can help new beekeepers acquire bees and extract honey, and can answer questions. “Beekeepers are pretty friendly and would love to show you what they are doing,” says Bajer, whose father and grandfather also kept bees.
A good place to look for a mentor beekeeper in Edmonton is the Edmonton District Beekeepers Association (EDBA). With over 70 members in the capital region and seven meetings per year, the association offers interested beekeepers opportunities to meet with each other and learn about the latest information in beekeeping. Association president Malcolm Connell explains that the EDBA does not have a formal mentorship program but he tries to connect new and experienced beekeepers. Connell also responds to emails he receives from people who have questions or concerns regarding their hives.
In addition to providing mentorship and education, the EDBA lobbies the government on beekeeping issues. Connell has been in contact with Edmonton’s mayor and city councillors regarding beekeeping in Edmonton and has received mixed responses.
The EDBA also promotes honeybees in Edmonton by starting up hives. This spring, the EDBA placed approximately nine hives in private backyards in Edmonton, where they stay for a few weeks before being relocated to acreages.
Promoting honeybees in Edmonton
Edmonton residents can promote honeybee health without keeping hives in their backyards. In fact, for those who wish to keep bees out of their yards, Connell recommends keeping backyards clean. Unattended bird houses, for example, can attract bee colonies.
While not everyone will want bees in their yard, Bajer and Connell agree that honeybees are a relatively harmless insect. “They’re very docile,” says Bajer. “Being stung is a rare thing.” Connell explains that honeybees and bumblebees (honeybees differ from bumblebees in a few different ways, including their size and shape and the amount of honey they produce) are competition for wasps, so encouraging honey bee population growth can keep the wasp population in check.
“Cities are a fantastic place for bees,” says Bajer, noting that cities have greater biodiversity than single-crop country fields and that Edmonton’s micro-climate gives bees a longer season. For those who want to support honeybees without starting a hive Bajer recommends “planting a diversity of flowers … and being mindful when considering the use of any chemicals from fertilizers to pesticides.”
Although the future of honeybee health and beekeeping in Edmonton remains uncertain, local interest in honeybees is high and many have already taken steps to promote honeybee health in the city. Those interested in honeybees can participate by joining conversations about making backyard beekeeping in Edmonton legal, connecting with local beekeepers, starting their own hives, or making their backyards bee friendly.