Airdrie, Alta., extends urban beekeeping pilot hoping for more interest

Bylaws in Airdrie, Alta., prohibit beekeeping of any kind unless participating in the city's hive pilot.

Bylaws prohibit beekeeping of any kind unless participating in the city's hive pilot

Evan Fedun, left, and his mom, Tarra Stevens, check on their urban beehive in Airdrie. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Wooden boxes stacked up against the home of Tarra Stevens in Airdrie, Alta., hold gentle bees — too busy working in the hive to notice when her dogs come up to sniff or nibble the outside.

Her family got started in beekeeping to pollinate their garden, but after three years as an urban beekeeper, she's tasted the perks of having bees.

"Now that I've kind of been in it for three summers, I realized how important bees are to our environment," Stevens said. "When we harvest our honey … something that we look forward to is, you know, selling our honey to our neighbours and sharing it with our friends and family." 

Only 12 households so far are permitted to keep bees as part of a pilot program in Airdrie, which is just north of Caglary. In June, council approved an extension for the pilot, which needs more participants to help decision-makers understand how to move forward and regulate hives. 

Bylaws for the City of Airdrie prohibit beehives and beekeeping of any kind — yet citizens surveyed in 2014 about urban agriculture showed overwhelming support for urban hives and bees. 

Initially, there were 20 open spaces in the pilot, but for years only 10 residents went through the application process, said urban agriculture co-ordinator Gail Gibeau. During the pandemic, interest in urban hives came back, and this summer two new households have signed up. 

Participants need neighbour buy-in to install hives

"Our numbers are slowly building up, and we're still trying to get the word out there and let people know that this project does still exist," Gibeau said. "This is an opportunity they may want to take."

Before installing a hive, residents must canvas neighbours for permission and meet several other guidelines. Some see this as a barrier to participating.

But that part, Gibeau stresses, is essential to the pilot. Council wanted those affected by urban hives to have a say. She noted it has also brought neighbours together.

"We have not received any complaints," Gibeau said. "The feedback we're getting from the participants themselves has been very positive."

Airdrie residents interested in beekeeping must participate in the city's pilot. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Some of the participants have told the city it's been an educational experience, and beekeepers have also had neighbours drop by to see the hives in action.

Stevens's son Evan has taken to the bees in their yard. He has his own beekeeping suit and sometimes holds the pollinators in the palm of his hand to get a good look. 

The pilot project is positive in many ways, Stevens adds.

"I think that it's very forward-thinking of the city to allow a pilot and to, you know, make sure that the bees are taken care of at the same time," she said.