Bees in the City: The urban beekeepers’ handbook
Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum
In their previous book, A World Without Bees, Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum suggested urban beekeeping as one of the many possible solutions to the dramatic decline in UK honeybee numbers. In this follow-up book, the same authors set out to examine the revolution in beekeeping that has occurred in our big towns and cities and explain what you need to become an urban beekeeper.
Although traditionally a pursuit of the countryside (visions of hives in wild heather country spring romantically to mind), the upsurge in interest in beekeeping in the UK in recent years has been particularly noticeable, it seems, in our bigger towns and cities. Hidden away amongst the hustle, noise and clamour of urban spaces are a growing number of beehives quietly tended by urban beekeepers. Beekeepers are now as likely to be young, savvy and urban as middle aged and country living.
It may come as a surprise, but our urban spaces are often rich in biodiversity with a range of flowering plants greater than that found in the countryside, so bees tend to do well in cities. In London, bee hives can be found near such major landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral, as well as near many schools, offices and community centres and, of course, allotments.
Part of the boom in the grow-your-own, self-sufficiency movement and a wonderful way to connect with nature for city dwellers, interest in beekeeping continues to rise. Urban beekeeping has even spawned a chic and colourful new beehive design, called the Beehaus, made with small urban gardens (and rooftops) in mind.
In fact, this book issues a note of caution about the increase in the number of bee hives in our cities, since a parallel increase in nectar and pollen rich food for the bees will be needed to help sustain the growing numbers and keep honey yields viable. The traditional municipal bedding plant culture with neat rows of pansies, begonias, and petunias – although colourful to our eyes – actually provide little or no food for bees.
Instead, the authors argue, our towns and cities need to grow more areas of bee friendly (often wild) flowering plants, particularly trees such as hazel, holly, cherry, apple and flowering fruit bushes. According to the authors, it is potentially more useful for the future survival of our honeybees to grow bee friendly plants and flowers in your garden than, necessarily, to launch into beekeeping itself – which is certainly food for thought.
This book offers a range of useful urban beekeeper case studies from people in schools and colleges who have set up hives for children to learn from, to office workers and allotment growers who have been bitten by the beekeeping bug. One thing is for sure, beekeeping is a regular commitment, particularly during the spring and summer months when the hives need checking daily.
The second part of the book looks at the practicalities of keeping bees and how to set about getting a hive, where to buy your bees and what type is best, the equipment and clothing you will need and what this is all likely to cost. It covers topics such as: how to carry out a hive inspection, how to look out for signs your colony is going to swarm, how to collect a swarm, how and when to collect the honey, how to prevent and treat diseases in the colony, and it also offers sources of help and expertise. There is also a month by month guide to urban beekeeping jobs.
Bees in the City is a thorough examination of the subject and is a must-have, easy to read guide for anyone who is serious about taking up beekeeping in urban spaces.
Review by Sarah Jameson