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.
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.