Not Enough Flowers to Go Around for Urban Beehives

Keeping beehives on top of apartment complexes and hotels has been widely touted as an excellent way to undo the urban jungle’s evils. New York City now has hundreds of registered hives and its own beekeepers association, after a 1999 ban on beehives in the city, while Rudy Giuliani was mayor, ended in 2010.

Now, two scientists say that urban beekeeping may not be in the best interest of bees and may not be the solution to address falling honeybee numbers. The reason, say Francis Ratnieks and Karin Alton from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex, is that cities simply lack sufficient flowers and plants for bees to feed on.

As a result, urban beekeepers too often end up feeding their bees sugar water or syrup. That’s tantamount to feeding them “hamburger,” Angela Woods, secretary of the London Bee Keepers Association, once said to WNYC news.

Drop in Bee Populations in the U.K. and the U.S.

Bees have routinely been in the news on both sides of the Atlantic because of alarmingly declines in their numbers; study after study has shown that pesticides are more than contributing to the deaths of too many bees.

A survey carried out by the British Beekeepers Association found that, since records were first kept starting six years ago, the past winter’s losses of honey bee colonies have been the worst. Over the past 60 years, the number of managed hives in England has shrunk, from 300,000 to 135,000.

In the United States, bee numbers have declined due to colony collapse disorder and the continued use of pesticides. Since the 1940s, the number of managed honeybee colonies has fallen 50 percent.

Can a City Have Too Many Bees?

You’d think it would be good news that the number of hives has doubled over the past five years in London, with some 25 honeybee hives for each square mile of the city. But Ratnieks and Alton say that there’s now just too many bees and even the most well-intentioned beekeepers could find themselves with hives of sick and starving insects.

New York beekeeper Andrew Cote raised a similar concern about New York not having enough flowers to support its growing bee population back in 2010. Cote, who produces and sells “hyperlocal” honey and is an advocate for the benefits of beekeeping, noted three years ago that his honey yields had fallen by 50 percent as beekeeping rose in popularity among New Yorkers.

New York does not regulate how many hives an individual beekeeper can have; Cote has around 50. Now that beekeeping is rising to the levels of popularity that he, Ratnieks, Alton and others note, cities may start considering more regulations about beekeeping to ensure that too many hives are not concentrated in a single area.

Let’s Make Cities More Bee-friendly

Ratnieks and Alton have a solution to this dilemma. Urban bee aficionados can forego keeping hives and still do their part by planting bee-friendly flowers and herbs. As they write in The Biologist: “To have bees you don’t need a bee hive. Just plant bee-friendly flowers such as marjoram … and lavender in your garden.”

There are plenty of reasons why cities should place more emphasis on promoting beekeeping among residents. Bees’ pollinating behavior helps foster fresh, local produce. Allergy sufferers can only thank bees for reducing the amount of pollen in trees.

City officials should also take measures to promote bee populations by restricting the use of pesticides and by themselves planting bee-friendly flowers and plants. They also need to make sure that they provide plenty of parks and other green space where those plants can grow. Many an urban beehive is tucked away on the roof of a tall building but bees can’t feed on concrete and metal. A city that’s more friendly to bees, thanks to an abundance of flowering plants, could be a lot more appealing to humans too.

Help make the environment more bee friendly by signing this petition to save crops from Bee extinction.

Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B3 years ago

Governments ~(as usual!) need to be doing more to protect our bees!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla4 years ago

No bees no food!

Dale O.

Having bee friendly flowers helps especially if they are not from nurseries that have used a lot of pesticides on the flowers.

Interesting, but not too long ago (August 15th) there was another article in Care2 about 'urban beekeeping bad for bees' written from a vegan perspective. Not surprisingly, advocating that one should give up honey/ (Vegans don't believe in eating honey as they view it as 'exploitation' of bees.

Responsible beekeepers never feed the bees sugar water or syrup. Only people who don't know what they are doing resort to something like that or big companies with no ethics.

Kirsten Vines
Past Member 4 years ago

Of course I will help!

june t.
june t4 years ago

I'll try to do my part by planting a few things next year. Can start flowers from seed, so no pesticides. I wonder how well lavender does in pots on a balcony or apartment patio?

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

Marianne C: I've sent you a card with the following information, but thought I'd post it here too, just in case. There is something called the East Central Wisconsin Bee Keepers Association located at 625 E County Rd Y in Oshkosh, phone number 715 330 9969. Good luck!

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

need to grow more flowers in the cities

Trinity L.
Trinity L4 years ago

Marianne C., I second what Thomas H. said. In my city, we have a local beekeeper's association (of which I am a member), and we have a hotline for people who have swarms that need to be relocated. I hope there is something similar in your city. Good luck.