British Columbia

Urban backyard beekeeping on the rise and many of the newcomers are millenials

Thousands of pollinators are at risk of extinction. Now, some cities are modifying bylaws to encourage residents to take up backyard beekeeping. And it's working.

'It's definitely a trend right now,' says 28-year-old Vancouver beekeeper

Kelly Davies says urban beekeepers should pay attention to native bee species, not just honeybees. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

Thousands of pollinators are at risk of extinction. Now, some cities are modifying bylaws to encourage residents to take up backyard beekeeping.

And it's working. 

In Greater Vancouver, beekeeping schools are reporting increases of 50 per cent or more in beginner enrolment over the last 10 years. And master beekeepers say a growing number of those novice beekeepers are millennials.  

"We have seen a huge increase in the popularity of beekeeping," said Paul van Westendop, an apiculture specialist for the province of B.C., which tracks urban beekeeping numbers through a mandatory registration system. 

B.C. Bee Supply in Burnaby, which teaches introductory courses, reported a 39 per cent growth in enrolment in 2019 from the year before. Twenty-five per cent of new attendees are millennials, an unusually high number, according to owner Winston Wong. 

Davies, 28, keeps her bee colonies in the backyard of Arbutus Coffee in Vancouver. Here she is inspecting the bees and their honeycombs. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

In 2010, B.C. reported 42,000 colonies throughout the province. As of 2018, there are more than 52,000 colonies, for both hobbyists and those looking to make a profit. 

Pollination is important because it leads to the production of fruits that humans eat, as well as seeds that, in turn, create more plants. 

Eight wild bee species are listed on Canada's species at risk registry. Some of those species have lost 50 per cent of their total population. 

"We are currently inundated, and rightfully so, with the threat of of environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity. We have taken nature for granted for far too long," said van Westendop.

One of Davies' handmade bee hives in Vancouver. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

Van Westendop says backyard beekeepers, if doing the job carefully and with proper training, are making a tangible difference. 

Jonathan Jakes, sales and operations manager at Urban Bee Supplies in Delta, B.C., which offers beekeeping training courses, says in 2012 the company had 14 students. In 2018, it had 104.

What bees need

Brian Campbell, master beekeeper at Blessed Bee Apiary and Bee SchooI in Vancouver, says newbie beekeepers should be aware that they're taking on a great responsibility, not just a trendy hobby. 

"A poor beekeeper could easily unintentionally kill or allow their bees to die. Take a class. Don't just run out and buy honeybees. Invest, because you need a lot of skill," Campbell said.

Some bees species have lost 50 per cent of their total population and are at risk of extinction. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

Why we bee-keep

Kelly Davies, a 28-year-old Vancouver resident, got into beekeeping four years ago because she wanted to learn more about where her food comes from. 

"It's definitely a trend right now. I think it's a good thing ... but could be a bad thing, especially if people are beekeeping but aren't aware of our native pollinators and how honeybees sometimes might compete with our native pollinators."

Davies shows her bees' honeycombs. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

She says urban beekeepers should explore the diversity of bees when growing colonies, because different bees pollinate different flowers. 

Davies took courses at Urban Bee Supply, and two weeks later had her first bee colony up and running. Now, she runs community workshops on beekeeping as part of a Greener City grant project through the City of Vancouver. 

Davies keeps her bee colonies in the backyard of her workplace, Arbutus Coffee in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood.

"The reason I have the bees is for the pollination services that they provide to the neighborhood, while also using them to promote the importance of pollinators in the community," she said. 

Garrett Kean, 31, now has 18 bee colonies. (Submitted by Garrett Kean)

Thirty-one-year-old Vancouver resident Garrett Kean has been keeping honeybees for seven years. He began strictly out of scientific curiosity, beginning with four colonies. Kean has had as many as 25 colonies at one time. 

"When I first started doing it, I was really just interested in the beekeeping side of things, and honey was just a nice byproduct," Kean said.

"For me, it was just this hobby that spun out of control ... I think about it a little like learning to play an instrument. You can start to learn to play piano and every single year, you can add on knowledge and that's what beekeeping has been like for me."

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