Urban beekeepers bring the buzz to town
A few hundred dollars in supplies, Beekeeping for Dummies, a queen and a dream. That’s all it took for a couple of amateur beekeepers to get the ball rolling.
After a trip to Paris last year, John Foster returned home to Sacramento buzzing about what he’d seen at an apiary in the city’s Luxembourg Gardens. Not only that, but he’d heard about additional bee colonies kept on the roof of the Paris Opera House. All of these hives are collectively responsible for much of the pollination of trees and other green space for which Paris is so well-known.
Lots of trees, huh? Sounds familiar.
“It seemed kinda crazy to me to keep bees in an urban environment,” Foster said. But the intrigue was too great to ignore.
Longtime friend Matt Tucker volunteered his backyard in Land Park, and just like that, the two 29-year-olds got their own hive going. By April, Two Drones was born, and Foster and Tucker were the proud papas of 40,000 honeybees.
Like any good citizen, they first looked into the laws surrounding beekeeping within our city limits. And guess what? “Not only is it legal, but there’s already a bunch of people doing it,” Foster said.
With the onset epidemic of colony collapse disorder—a phenomenon which leaves a queen and her brood abandoned and the rest of the hive empty—bee populations have declined dramatically worldwide, with 36 percent of all hives in the United States dead, according to a 2008 report by the Apiary Inspectors of America. California has been hit the hardest, accounting for 20 percent of CCD cases. Scientists suggest that environmental stress, genetic engineering or pesticides may be to blame—but they haven’t pinpointed a common denominator. At the current rate, by 2010, California may not have enough honeybees to pollinate almond crops alone. Our parks and backyards are eerily absent of that buzzing sound.
People have noticed and begun to take matters into their own hands. Metropolitan areas have seen a rise in urban beekeeping, and in our own fair city, more than 1,000 residents are estimated to be keeping colonies.
Tucker’s neighbors are generally pleased with their nearby black-and-yellow flying friends, which help keep backyard gardens and flower beds flourishing. But the stigma surrounding bees can be a potential deterrent for some.
“We’ve all seen enough cartoons to think these bees are going to be aggressive … it’s not what I’ve seen to be true at all,” Foster said. In almost a year’s work with the swarm, the total amount of stings between the hobbyist pair? Four.
Overall, bees are cooler than one might think.
“It’s amazing how they know exactly what to do and when, how they communicate,” Foster said. “They’re like the most efficient little communist society. They pretty much do all the work themselves.”
One thing’s for sure: Urban beekeeping is definitely not for financial gain. For Foster and Tucker, like most, it’s pure fascination and love of the pastime. But Two Drones has met with great results in their first year: 8 gallons of honey, an unusually large number for beginners. And that’s just their share. The guys leave one crate for the colony and take one for themselves, which they then sell at garage sales and house parties, and to Dad’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Sacramento.
Honey produced by urban hobbyists is more sustainable, and healthier for the bees and for us. The need for large industrial operations to truck bees from the West Coast to other areas during the summer months is eliminated, cutting down on carbon emissions and the spread of viruses among the bees. Chemicals from crop sprayings are avoided. While there is talk of CCD and other ailments among urban beekeepers, it’s mainly just that—talk.
“Our bees don’t travel, and they’re rarely coming into contact with pesticides,” Foster said. So you eliminate two of the possible factors they are blaming colony collapse on right away.”
Many see urban beekeeping as vital to keep up the levels of pollination necessary for our state’s massive agricultural industry. Referencing a newsletter from the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association, Foster prophesied: “It very well may come down to hobbyist beekeepers to replenish our state.”