John And The Great Urban Beekeeping Initiative

John And The Great Urban Beekeeping Initiative

Urban Beekeeping: (Regrets…..I have a few……)

What seems like ages ago, I was part of a grass roots push to review the City of Winnipeg exotic animals prohibited list. Honeybees were on that list, and the goal was to have Winnipeg emulate other cities that allowed urban beekeeping. Vancouver, Edmonton, New York, Paris…..if it was allowed there, why not here? With our greenspace and river systems it would provide abundant forage and a safety zone from agriculture insecticides and mono-floral planting.

Chris and Lindsay of Bee Project fame were the tip of the spear in organizing and lobbying council for the chance of open discussion with the city. The Red River Apiarist’s agreed to mentor aspiring beekeepers and provide volunteer “Swarm Catcher” teams. Guidelines were developed, and even the city public works department gave it’s blessing as it would increase homeowners registering buffer zones. (Contrary to popular belief the city hates to spray for mosquitoes. They view it as costly and ineffective and a placebo for unknowing but loudly complaining tax payers.)

Fast forward eight years and upon reflection all the good we hoped to accomplish seems to have a few downsides as well. Eight years ago, honeybees were struggling to regain its pre “colony collapse” numbers. Now there are more colonies in North America than before, even though honey production is less due to climate change. Wild pollinators however are in dire peril, and unlike honeybees there are no fiscally motivated protectors stepping in to arrest declining populations. It’s not hyperbole to say like its most likely too late to save a large percentage of them. That’s thousands of species by the way.

It's A Jungle Out There

Wild pollinators (butterflies, moths, bees, bats, beetles, birds and lizards) not only pollinate and help maintain plant diversity, they also are the food of other insects, birds, fish, amphibians, and the like. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the food chain is rusting out.

Honeybees compete for forage with other pollinators. In the city, that impact is magnified as many of us like our pristine lawns, and tiny yards are really popular in new building developments. We have been so focused on carving out a safe place for honeybees, we forgot about the wild bees and bugs and other critters (even bats 🦇) that do a lot of the heavy lifting in the ecosphere.

But hey! 💡 Can’t the honeybees just provide the pollinating the other guys do?

Short answer is no, they cannot. Diversity is the complex and dynamic engine of life. A lot of these pollinators have evolved alongside with their area's flora and they are built….sometimes specifically….to work a certain style or species of plant.

Bumblebees have weight and strength to push aside petals to get to the stamen (among other abilities!) Some insects have a long proboscis that can reach down into the bell-shaped flowers where others cant. Some are small enough to pollinate the tiny blooms of some plants, and others hatch out at specific times for specific flowering trees and bushes. You can’t turn a bolt with a screwdriver, and we are losing the larger share of our toolbox here.

"What can I do?" Glad you asked!

  • Put away the damn bug spray. You are killing and seriously spoiling the flavour of someone’s lunch. We live in the bottom of a river valley with a 64000-acre wetland that starts 20 miles north of us. All the mosquitoes you kill today are replaced the moment a north wind blows. Just stop it.
  • ✅ Plant pollinator friendly plants in your yard and garden and preferable perennials that thrive in your zone. Don’t know any? Email me and I’ll send you lists.
  • ✅ Register with the city of Winnipeg as a non-spray buffer zone. The crap they reluctantly spray to shut you up kills a hell of a lot more than the skeeters, and it is disproportionately expensive compared to its effectiveness.
  • ✅ Provide a water source. A bird bath, and baking dish with marbles and water, or a small water fountain. Just rinse it out every few days to kill mosquito larva if you worry about that sort of thing.
  • ✅ Provide food and water and they will thrive. Don’t want to dig? Plant in pots! Green lawns are urban deserts to the rest of the animal kingdom. Stop spraying herbicide every time you see a dandelion: let them flower, and then pull them out before they go to seed (FYI dandelions are edible and have a rich history of being part of our diet). Plant a fruit tree or a flowering shrub.
  • In short, get your game on because public apathy is allowing irreparable damage to resources we're all relying on, and if we all do a little, collectively we can get it done!

Thank You For Reading!

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