Creating buzz about bees in Pitt Meadows
The honey bee is misunderstood. Unfairly blamed for stings, the black-and-yellow member of the genus Apis often gets mistaken for more aggressive hornets or carnivorous yellow jacket wasps.
Jacquie Bunse, a regional apiary inspector for the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, routinely gets frantic calls about bees feasting on maple-glazed salmon and juicy steaks.
“Those aren’t honey bees,” she says. “Honey bees are vegetarian – they go to flowers. That’s what they’ve done for millennia. The bees getting blamed for things they are innocent of.”
Millions of beehives worldwide have emptied out as honeybees mysteriously disappear, putting at risk nearly 100 crops that require pollination.
Research is pointing to a complex disease complicated by a combination of factors, including farming practices, that make bees vulnerable to viruses.
In Canada, it is estimated that the value of honey bees to agriculture is $1.3 billion. As a result, there’s a movement afoot to save the pollinators.
“We are paving over everything so we don’t provide habitat for native bees,” says Bunse.
It has been legal to keep bees in residential areas in Richmond, Surrey, the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver for decades, while Vancouver, Delta and Burnaby recently changed bylaws that prohibit urban hives.
There are now beehives on the roof of the Vancouver convention centre, its city hall, the patio of the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel and on high-rises across New York.
In fact, honey aficionados believe product produce in the city tastes better and more complex than its country counterpart because urban bees have to work harder to gather their pollen, which they harvest from a variety of flowers.
In the City of Pitt Meadows, however, you can’t have bees in your backyard.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” said David van Halderen, a resident who recently decided to become an apiculturist.
He can’t understand why an activity, that’s closely monitored by the province, is prohibited in a city where blueberry and cranberry fields occupy much of its land mass.
“The bees won’t just be helping my garden,” said van Halderen. “Every other city allows it, why can’t we?”
The Bee Act requires anyone who keeps bees or beehives or who practices beekeeping to register with the beekeeper and apiary program, administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.
Bunse, the apiculture inspector for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley responds to complaints about swarms and complete inspections of bee colonies should they arise.
Although honeybees swarm as part of their natural life cycle, bees are not aggressive when they depart to scout out a new home.
“During a swarm, the bees are at their most gentle,” explains Bunse, who kept bees on the roof of her condo for years.
“They have no hive to protect. You could actually put your hand right through those bees and they wouldn’t sting you.”
She thinks Pitt Meadows, with its rural and urban interface so closely linked, would be a perfect place to help sustain the valuable pollinators.
If Pitt Meadows wants to keep step with what’s going on in the rest of the Fraser Valley, I think it’s about time they change their bylaw, Bunse said.
Pitt Meadows Coun. Deb Walters indicated she would bring up urban bee-keeping during a committee meeting this week, to gauge council support for backyard apiarists.
Pitt Meadows mayor Don MacLean though isn’t sure he likes the idea.
He isn’t sure why the city amended its land use bylaw in 1995 to keep hives out of urban areas but thinks it most likely had something to do with swarms and concerns about allergies.
“Chickens and bees in the backyard all sounds wonderful,” he said.
“I am a big fan of growing local and doing all those things but you have to consider your neighbours. Although some of these ideas sound good, depending on your neighbour they may not feel the same way.”
If you’d like the city to amend its bylaw that prohibits backyard beekeeping, sign a petition started by David van Halderen online at www.gopetition.com/petition/44018.html.
• Honeybees are social insects with a marked division of labour between the various castes of bees in a colony. A colony of honeybees includes a queen, drones and worker.
• While they are gathering nectar from plants, pollen grains are also transported on their bodies, leading to pollination of other plants.
• Over the last 90 million years, flowering plants and bees have co-evolved, creating a complete interdependence between the two.
• It is estimated that the pollination services provided by honeybees are often 60 to 100 times more valuable than the market price of honey.
• Honeybees will only sting humans if they are on the defensives. Wasps on the other hand, are aggressive carnivores and will sting as they hunt for food.