Urban beekeeping on the rise

Hives thriving on rooftops and in backyards

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If it seems that the buzz around bees has picked up volume, that’s because it has. According to the USDA, bees help pollinate one-third of all our food, but recently, a mysterious and destructive honeybee disease called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been wiping out record numbers of hives across the U.S. Although CCD is a common phenomonom, scientists can’t explain why it’s increasing at such a devastating rate.

Coincidentally, headlines about the crisis combined with a dining culture fixed on a farm-to-table philosophy have pushed urban beekeeping into the spotlight. Once a thing of rural countryside farms, bees are now moving to the city in droves. 

Cindy Hodges, an urban beekeeper and president of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, says she’s witnessed the skyrocketing interest in all things bees. “When I joined the association [in 2006] we had 40 members. We now have more than 200,” Hodges says. “Urban beekeeping is growing.” According to the Georgia Department of Agriculturethe vast majority of honey now actually comes from small-scale beekeepers with only a few hives worth of bees.

Atlantans, along with the rest of the country, are installing hives on high-rise rooftop gardens and in their own backyards. Hotels like the Four Seasons Atlanta and the Hyatt Regency’s Polaris keep their own bees and use the honey in their restaurants. Hodges helms the rooftop garden beehives for the Polaris alongside executive chef Martin Pfefferkorn, who calls the bees “his girls.” Pfefferkorn relies on the bees for their honey and for pollinating his herb garden.

Ordinances governing urban beekeeping vary from state to state, but if you want to keep bees here in Atlanta, there’s little standing in your way. “There are no rules restricting it in the metro Atlanta area currently,” says Hodges. While there are no official guidelines governing city bees, the association urges beekeepers to use good practices, such as providing bees with a nearby water supply and setting them as far away from your neighbor’s door as possible.

For first-timers looking to get their start, the director of the University of Georgia’s Honey Bee Program, Keith Delaplane, has penned the hobby beekeeper’s bible, First Lessons in Beekeeping. A popular blog by an Atlanta beekeeper, Linda’s Bees, has additional starter info, and the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association holds educational meetings at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

And if you’re thinking bees might still be better suited to the country life, research actually shows the opposite. Master beekeeper Noah Wilson Rich discussed at a recent Ted Talk that the lack of suburban pesticides in cities makes urban bees heartier and more productive than their rural counterparts.

So really, there’s been no better time to start your own hives. Honey and beekeeping helmets are officially hip. As Hodges point out, “it’s not your grandmother’s beekeeping anymore.” 

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