With the province making a concerted effort to boost food security in British Columbia, there’s a sweet way each community can help sustain B.C. agriculture no matter the geographic locale.
That’s by supporting apiculture – better known as beekeeping.
The topic surfaced in Montrose last week when a longtime resident asked council to permit him the keeping of two honey bee hives on his carport roof.
The gentleman’s request wasn’t because he wanted to produce fresh honey, it was more altruistic than that.
“Bees are in decline and need all the help they can get,” he stated, mentioning his son’s hives located outside the village boundaries. “They are very docile and do not sting unless provoked.”
Mayor Joe Danchuk says there’s been a handful of backyard beekeepers in the past 20 years quietly tending to their hives, but to date, nobody has come to the village with an official request.
Notably, honey bees are not accounted for in the village’s animal control bylaw, which is where municipalities usually prohibit beekeeping. Nor is there a permissive bylaw with stipulated restrictions like colony limits.
“It’s never been on our radar before, and now it is,” Danchuk said. “So we asked staff to provide a report for the next council meeting in regards to best practices with beekeeping policies in other communities,” he added.
“We are looking at this positively, and I think it’s awesome because we have many avid gardeners in Montrose.”
Trail jumped on the beekeeping-train last year by, for the first time in history, permitting the practice in city limits.
To date, there’s been no apiary-related problems reported to the city.
“With one set up, there were some questions raised re: the siting of the beehives that the Apiary Inspector dealt with,” confirmed Corporate Administrator Michelle McIsaac. “But nothing other than that.”
The city’s Beekeeping Bylaw outlines regulations that include colony limits: two beehives are allowable on property that is 929 square metres or less; and four beehives are allowable on parcels greater than 929 square metres.
Additionally, all beehives must be located in the rear yard and those properties must be located in the R1, R2, R3 or A1 zone (not commercial).
Bees are crucial to the pollination of a host of plants, including fruits, vegetables and crops, although honey is the most obvious handiwork of the genus Apis.
For a number of years, May 29 has been declared the Day of the Honey Bee in B.C. The proclamation recognizes and celebrates how beekeeping has grown from May 1858, when two hives arrived in Victoria Harbour, into an industry that has a $250-million annual agricultural impact.
At last count, there were more than 2,300 beekeepers operating as a hobby, part-, or full time business in British Columbia, with about 47,000 colonies and as many as two billion bees, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The B.C. government monitors for bee diseases and pests through bee inspections conducted by apiculture staff and inspectors. Surveys are collected bi-annually to monitor the health of beekeeping in the province.
Statistics Canada has been tracking the production of honey in Canada since 1924, when 22,205 beekeepers tending 280,010 honey producing colonies produced almost 17 million pounds of honey.
Honey production peaked in the 1980s, up threefold from the mid-1950s.
In 1989, varroa mites—a parasite that is one of the leading causes of bee mortality—first appeared in Canada, resulting in the lowest production totals in over a decade. By 1991, the number of colonies had fallen by one-third and the number of beekeepers was also down by one-third.
The higher costs associated with controlling the pest led to an exodus of beekeepers, especially part-time beekeepers, from the industry throughout the 1990s and into the mid-2000s. By 2008, the number of beekeepers had fallen by almost two-thirds from the mid-1980s to a record low of 6,931.