Here’s an interesting idea. Beekeepers rent massive numbers of colonies to almond, blueberry, cranberry, durian, eggplant, and so on farmers. Money is the attraction – neither the meager honey crop nor the diseases picked up on most of these pollination excursions are alluring. It’s the pollination fee. The money.
Beekeepers living in the city don’t usually cash in on bee rentals. They keep just a few hives (seldom more than 100) and often struggle to find urban bee yards. Well, what if you rent hives to city gardeners for a pollination fee? The beekeeper gets a spot to place hives. It’s a place where the gardener is enthused about bees, recognizes their value, welcomes the insects, and pays a few dollars.
A Montréal company rents hives to about 250 backlot gardeners. Rather than charging a pollination fee, this outfit takes the idea a few steps further. The gardener who pays to rent the colonies actually gets to do the beekeeping and keeps the honey the rented bees make. This is especially appealing to people who want to give beekeeping a try, want to see a hive in action, want an unusual summer project, want to save the bees and eat local, but don’t want to invest in the cost of a colony. In this rental system, the hive usually gives enough honey to pay the rental cost. Best of all, it gives gardeners a way out if, after one year, bees are not their thing. Interested? Here’s a link to a CBC news story about the business.
How well will the bees do? It takes skill to care for bees, so the Montréal company (Alvéole) teaches beekeeping. Cared for properly, honey bees in Montréal may make 30 kilos (60 pounds) of mixed-flora honey in a typical backyard. Cities usually have more floral diversity and fewer pesticides than rural areas. The only downside is that the activity may be illegal (by-laws sometimes limit where bees may be kept) and homeowners may need extra liability insurance. But for many people, the obstacles can be overcome and the bees are worth it.
I like bees. I understand the attraction for city homeowners. I am waiting for a dairy to start a rent-a-cow business here in Calgary. Our backyard isn’t huge, but we live next door to a greenspace – a village commons, as it would have been called 300 years ago. My kids could sit with the cow whenever it went to the greenspace. Once there, Betsy or Bossy (we haven’t agreed on her name) could graze and fertilize the city’s grass. We’d keep the milk, of course.