Urban Beekeeping Mug

Yesterday, Father’s Day, my family surprised me with this homemade mug. They had conspired to co-create this bit of art for the past few days. I heard the hushed tones and I saw people and things quickly disappear when I approached. My new coffee mug says “Urban Beekeeper”.  My first thought when I saw it was that the coffee cup is really sweet and cute and thoughtful.  Then I remembered John Travolta, the Urban Cowboy, and his 1980 movie. These days we have urban lumberjacks (who cut and prune city trees) and urban farmers (backlot gardeners but also landscapers and groundskeepers), so why not the urban beekeeper? An Urban Cowboy is less easy to imagine – even if the cowboy is just maintaining mechanical bulls and riding them for trophy money, as happened in the movie. Though I live in Calgary, the home of the great Calgary Stampede and the heart of Canadian cowboy culture, I couldn’t tell you if my city has even a single mechanical bull. I’ve never seen one here. Maybe they all died out in the 1980s.  Mechanical bulls may be rare, but urban bees are not.

So, shall I be an Urban Beekeeper? I’ve gone without doing much beekeeping for the past little while, just helping friends and neighbours with their own colonies. But my wife and kids are encouraging me to move a hive into our backyard, hence the coffee mug. But an urban beekeeper?  I used to be an entirely rural person – born a farm boy, I’ve owned swampland in Florida and some aspen forest in northern Saskatchewan. For quite a few years, my home was perched at the edge of a sea of grasslands on the prairie. On all of those places, I’d kept hundreds of hives.  But now I’m in a city with a million neighbours, so the moniker and a single colony is appropriate.

Calgary, with some potential bee yards

I never thought the phenom of urban beekeeping would explode as it has. It conveys the welcome message that people (even in towns of more than a million) want to connect with nature. Urban beekeepers usually encourage their hometowns to provide more greenspace, more parks, more nectar-rich flowers, and less poison  – helping their own hive or two, but especially encouraging wild native bees. Today, there are more urban beekeepers keeping bees in our huge agricultural province (Alberta) than there are commercial beekeepers. Many of these folks are conscientious keepers and are supporting apiculture in a big way.

When I get around to setting up my backyard hive, the bees will have to share their spot with rabbits, coyotes, and deer which sometimes wander through here. The hive will sit almost exactly were this fawn is in the picture below. It’s sheltered from wind, sloping, and south-facing. In our area, bees in town make less honey than those out on the range. But that’s OK with me –  massive honey production is no longer my goal. I’ll be satisfied with two or three hundred pounds from a single backyard hive every year. My biggest bonus will be the short ten-metre commute for me when I visit my urban beefriends.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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9 Responses to Urban Beekeeping Mug

  1. Pingback: Urban Beekeeping Mug | How To Raise Bees

  2. Erik says:

    Nice mug! Have you considered trying a long hive with deep frames or a top bar hive? Much easier to pull the frames out one at a time rather than deal with lifting boxes up and down, and would be a change of pace from the hives you used to keep. Not to mention some wonderful blog posts….


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      I hadn’t thought of that! I’ll consider the idea. Two concerns for me would be (1) our climate, with the long, long winters is better adapted to vertical hives and (2) my physical abilities (weak hands and arms from MND) might make it hard to lift frameless combs and inspect them without the combs breaking and falling. I can still manage frames. Shallow (Illinois depth?) would likely suit me best. What do you think about those issues?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erik says:

        Hmmm. I have read that top bar / long hives are used in colder climates just fine. Much warmer here in Virginia, but the bees in my top bar hives seem happy moving horizontal rather than vertical. Although I suspect a larger comb area would be more successful, meaning the frames are heavier. So a dilemma. I didn’t realize you had MND; that must be a little annoying at times. A wooden frame as you suggest is probably easier as you can rest it on something and the comb is more secure for turning and dropping.

        My thought was to eliminate the need to stack / remove boxes, as that is what I find most annoying about the Lang system. If you have someone that can do that for you then perhaps the box approach is best / easiest using a smaller frame size.

        Another idea might be a slotted hive. I forget the exact name for these, but the frames slide out like a book on a shelf so there is much less lifting involved. I believe these are used in cold countries as well, so could be appropriate. A very custom hive, though.

        Also check out this post: https://honeybeesuite.com/the-valhalla-hive-long-low-and-sleek. Not totally appropriate, but related and might spark some ideas.

        Good luck!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ron Miksha says:

        Hi Erik,
        Thanks for your thoughts! I have not looked at the slotted hive. Yes, top bar hives are used in colder climates, but most of the honest users would tell you that (unfortunately) they don’t work well here. I’ve seen some of the biggest advocates of top bar hives quietly switch to standard tall hives. Less swarming in our brief nectariforous summers and better wintering during our long, long, long winters. I’ll continue thinking about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Urban Beekeeping Mug | Raising Honey Bees

  4. Alan Jones says:

    Hi Ron, just a note to say how much I enjoyed your Bad Beekeeping book, you write in an interesting style thats easy to read. Man alive! you worked hard as a young man.
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks, Alan. I never thought of it as really hard work because it seemed that everyone I knew was keeping bees and working the same way. The book tries to capture that time when big commercial beekeepers had only around a thousand hives and didn’t use much hired help and weren’t as mechanized as the much bigger operators are today,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Thanks for mentioning it!


  5. Pingback: Backstory for the Bees | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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