How Sweet It Is

The Buzz on Calgary’s Urban Beekeeping Scene

Taking a quiet moment to listen in Calgary, one can hear the constant hum of the city. If you listen a little closer, you might also hear the buzz from one of the city’s many urban bee colonies.

As of 2008, there were 620 beekeepers and 226,000 hives in Alberta. In Calgary, in the last three years alone, more than 150 honeybee colonies have arrived in the city to be tended by urban beekeepers from here to as far as Red Deer and the Crowsnest Pass, thanks to A.B.C, Apiaries and Bees for Communities founded by Eliese Watson.

“I just always wanted to be a beekeeper,” she said.

With a $5,000 grant through the Co-operators Youth Impact!, Watson began developing a program to create accessible education for people interested in learning more about bees and beekeeping.

She brought Patty Milligan, a beekeeper from Bon Accord with a colony of more than 200,000 bees, to Calgary to put on a course.

“It was a lot of fun and it sold out, so we did another one, and then that sold out, and we did another one and that sold out,” said Watson. “We got 30 colonies in that way so it just built up and built up and built up and that’s basically where we are today is it’s just building up that way.”

For Watson, who stressed she’s not a honey retailer but an education programmer and community developer with bees, beekeeping is more about keeping a hive and producing honey, it’s about a
community mentality.

“It’s more about getting people to really observe and engage in that hive mentality that you see, that altruism within a colony and start taking those practices and applying them to a social practice,” she said. “So whether it’s through mentorship and peer support and sharing and collaborating within the community, or if its basically just really having a look at how we’re using our landscapes and our spaces.”

Even with Alberta’s shorter summer season, the province is a prime spot for honeybees producing 85 per cent of Canada’s honey surplus. Watson explained even though the summer is shorter, the long daylight hours are a plus and plants around the province such as sweet clover are rich in the nectar the bees need.

For those interested in learning more about bees, or becoming a beekeeper, Watson recommends people do their research, join a community hive chat room and attend monthly events. She said there’s only two colonies per beekeeper that one can apply for but before that you need to take a beekeeping course with ABC or pass an online exam.

A.B.C’s honeybees arrive in Calgary from Bill Stagg of Sweet Acre Apiaries in Sorrento, B.C. Stagg is a provincial hive inspector who practices non-agrichemical beekeeping. For those looking to start their own hive, it’s recommended to call your local bylaw office for regulations in your community.

For more information on urban beekeeping or beekeeping in general check out www.backyardbees.ca or www.calgarybeekeepers.com.

Would you be an urban beekeeper? Or are you terrified of bees?

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