Beekeeping in the urban landscape

By Courtney Bettin

MacEwan University’s beekeeping project builds buzz

To combat the steady decline of bee populations, MacEwan University began an urban beekeeping project on campus last fall. Honey sales were set to take place throughout Dec., but the product was so popular that supplies lasted for only 23 minutes.

We chatted with Kerstyn Lane from MacEwan’s sustainability office about what makes this project so special, and what it might look like in the future.

MacEwan Honey sold out in less than half an hour, and more won’t be available until the spring.

Bees in the concrete jungle

“For us, sustainability is a holistic concept — we’re not just looking at environmental sustainability, but social, cultural, and economic sustainability,” Lane said, noting that this project falls mostly into the environmental pillar of sustainability. “We hope that the beehives will bring awareness to why bee populations are important to maintain and support.”

The beekeeping project has two different sections: a hotel for solitary bees and hives on the roof of MacEwan’s 105 Street building, which house four bee colonies. The colonies are maintained by MacEwan’s beekeeper, who ensures the bees are healthy and happy throughout the year.

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The bee hotel sits on the east side of campus. Here, bees without colonies can take shelter and rest.

Important pollinators

Canada’s bee population has an average decline of about 25 per cent every year, according to a CAPA report. With time, the proper maintenance of bee colonies around the world has the potential to grow the population.

“People are familiar that the colony populations are declining worldwide, which is a cause for concern because 80 per cent of the food we eat is pollinated by honeybees,” Lane said.

“When you look at [the] food on your plate and when two thirds of it are gone [as a result of declining bees populations], this is looking pretty scary for some people,” she added. “Declining food availability raises food prices, which leaves the marginalized and the vulnerable at more of a risk.”

The urban beekeeping project is part of campus food services, which has initiated the endeavour as part of MacEwan’s food security portfolio. In order for an area to be “food secure,” it can’t rely on importing goods. By creating honey on campus, MacEwan University increases its food security.

Oh, snap!

Wintertime can be a particularly hard time for honeybees in the Alberta climate. Besides the normal problems that can harm a colony (like mite infestations or insufficient food), bees will frequently have to deal with shock from the cold.

“We’re finding in the spring, we’re getting warmer and warmer weather” Lane said, adding that this might become problematic when MacEwan’s bees experience their first winter and spring. “Thirty degree days in March might encourage some bees to leave the hive, and then a cold snap could mean they don’t make it back, so we’re seeing some challenges with climate change.”

MacEwan’s beekeeper insulated the hives in October.

Go with the flow

The project uses flow hive technology, which started from an Indigogo campaign that aims to makes honey extraction a less stressful experience for bees and beekeepers. This method is less intrusive and requires less equipment for harvesting, as the honey simply flows out of the colony into a collection jar with the twist of a handle.

The honey gathered from the hives stays on campus, and the proceeds go toward other food security projects on campus.

The flow hives allow for easy extraction of the honey.

Pretty sweet

While there wasn’t any excess honey in the first year of the urban beekeeping project, Lane said there are plans to expand how the honey is used on campus in the future. It will used as gifts for speakers and at student events and might also be used to create a signature brew at the campus bar.

While the plans to expand the project sound great, it’s safe to say the first year was pretty sweet.

Thanks to the Office of Sustainability for supplying the photos for this story.


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