Honey, I’m Home
When Linda Tillman started beekeeping in urban Atlanta, her neighbors had no idea what was happening behind her fence until she presented them with gifts of honey a few years later. A psychotherapist with a busy practice, she was looking for something environmentally satisfying to do in her spare time and found it in her bees. She now spends several hours a week tending 17 hives, 5 of which reside in her tiny back yard. She also writes a popular beekeeping blog, gives talks in schools, coaches “newbees,” and wrangles swarms.
Cities like Chicago and Vancouver are especially good for bees, because they usually have lower pesticide use than agricultural areas in the country and are often rich in parks and urban gardens containing a diversity of blossoms. Honey bees will forage within a 5-square-mile area, with scout worker bees reporting the exact whereabouts of good nectar and pollen flowers to the other bees via the famous “waggle dance,” a marvel of biology that showcases their ability to fix location by the position of the sun.
Street trees and local weeds are also good food sources. Michael Thompson’s top Chicago picks are silver maple, linden, and crabapple trees as well as wild chicory, sweet clover, and white asters. Linda Tillman notes that Atlanta bees produce most of their honey during the heavy nectar flow of native tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera). Graeme Evans has planted a host of honey bee and native bee favorites in his hotel’s expansive herb and bee gardens, including indigenous black elderberries, woodland strawberries, nodding onions, flowering currants, and huckleberries. He has even seeded nectar-rich crimson clover in wild spots near the hotel and notes wryly that his bees adore the flowers of invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), adding that the hotel can harvest 200 pounds of allspice-flavored knotweed honey.
Honey bees, along with native bees, are keystone species, responsible for pollinating many of the world’s food crops; far from being shunned, they deserve every bit of help city dwellers can offer. As Linda Tillman says, “The urban environment contributes so much to the ecological problems of the world. Raising bees is a way of paying back or making up for some of the damage a city is causing. At least we are fostering an insect that is in need of human care.”