Urban Beekeeping: A Conversation with Michelle Ordyniec

We chatted with Michelle Ordyniec, a beekeeping enthusiast from Canada who now lives in Aotearoa, about the benefits and importance of urban beekeeping along with some useful tips for beginners.

Beehives on grass.

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Urban beekeeping is on the rise, and as it turns out the bees are loving it. Studies show that bees from city apiaries are healthier and more productive than their country counterparts, for reasons such as the diversity of foliage and variety of food sources available. In Wellington alone, there are a handful businesses rearing bees at locations around the CBD and suburbs, plus countless hobbyist beekeepers throughout the region. Most of the community gardens also feature hives where bees can be safely viewed going about their business.

We chatted with Michelle Ordyniec, a beekeeping enthusiast from Canada who now lives in Aotearoa, about the benefits and importance of urban beekeeping along with some useful tips for beginners. Although Michelle is not a beekeeper here in NZ, the principles are similar and her experience can be applied locally just the same.

Why is beekeeping so important?
Bees are responsible for pollinating a huge amount of the world’s flowering plants, including the vast majority of human food crops. The job of a beekeeper is to keep their hives of bees healthy, safe, and strong, so they can go about pollinating their local plants. The main benefit of keeping bees is establishing a healthy pollination chain in your area—honey is just a (tasty) byproduct!

What are some advantages of urban beekeeping as opposed to traditional methods?
Urban beekeeping can be more beneficial to honeybees than rural environments. It often provides a greater range of foliage for bees to forage from which is crucial for their diet. Farmland can sometimes represent what is called a monoculture; a large area dominated by one type of crop, which gives little nutritional diversity to bees. Urban beekeeping yields a wider variety of nutritional sources and often cleaner crops that haven’t been exposed to pesticides.

How much time does beekeeping take?
First and foremost, beekeeping involves a devotion of time toward learning and studying the hobby. Even before donning a bee suit and installing your first hive, understanding the complexities, seasonal responsibilities, and biological systems of a beehive is the most important first step.

Spend your first year studying; there is a wealth of knowledge out there in the form of books, magazines, websites and videos. Join a local beekeepers’ association. Talk to real, live beekeepers in your area, and find a mentor to guide you. Once you have an established hive, depending on the season it should be looked at and managed every 7–10 days, though this is not a hard and fast rule. The regular tasks of a beekeeper include pest management, population awareness and control, recognition and treatment of disease, queen and brood identification, and seasonal honey harvesting.

Is there much risk as a hive owner of getting stung?
When entering a beehive, there is always a risk of getting stung. This is a fear that you’ll have to get over quickly! A beehive will often react to your temperament: If you are anxious, the bees will acknowledge and respond in kind. Beekeeping requires a relaxed state of mind.

Is there any risk of squashing the bees while handling the hive/harvesting honey?
There is always that risk when you are handling the hive, especially during harvest time. I always enter the hive with minimal protection: usually only a veil, shorts, and t-shirt (no matter how I put my hair up, one of those buzzy girls always manages to tangle herself in it, so I opt for the veil). I always forego gloves, this makes me move more slowly and with greater awareness. There will be some casualties. Your main goal: keep the queen safe!

Do you need an abundance of flowers to raise a successful backyard hive?
A plethora of flowers is not necessary, bees will travel up to nine miles in any direction to forage for pollen and nectar. In urban areas, there are generally gardens, city landscaping, community vegetable plots, and random spots of weeds for bees to gather from.

How can people get involved if they don’t want to keep bees?
If you don’t want to don a suit or have hundreds of thousands of bees in your backyard, there are lots of other ways you can help instead:

• Plant things! Give bees in your area a nice buffet to snack on—most importantly, plant native plants for the native bees of Aotearoa.
• Support your local beekeepers! Buy honey from a beekeeper in your area and they’ll be able to keep on beekeeping on.
• Buy local, organic produce! This has a chain effect that means more organic produce is planted and in turn, more healthy stuff for bees to thrive on!
• Set up a native bee home! This usually looks like a bunch of hollow sticks wrapped together, there are plenty of examples online. It gives native bees a place to rest or nest, no bee suit required!

Extra tips:

• When setting up an urban hive, always be sure to check your local bylaws to see what is permitted in your area, and it’s often a good idea to tell your neighbours too.
• You can choose which type of beekeeping protection suits you: a full suit, half suit, veil only, gloves, or nothing!

Photos supplied