Urban Beekeeping Story: A Profitable Hobby That Benefits Everyone

by Dominique Bernier,

In 2016, I was introduced to beekeeping during a hive inspection with Martin, RakeAround’s first urban beekeeper to join our community. Since he started beekeeping 3 years ago, Martin’s passion for bees has kept on growing, and so have his beehives! Selling honey helps him to sustain his hobby, but there’s way more to the story.

alt text
alt text
alt text

It is not a secret anymore, honeybees struggle in the era of industrial agriculture. Harmful effects of pesticides on pollinators are well documented. The big “buzz” from 2017 studies showing that Neonicotinoids pesticides are slowly killing bees have raised awareness of the importance of these little ones to our food systems. With growing interest in urban agriculture, could cities become an asylum for bees? That’s what Martin from Champlain Honey thinks. As many cities are softening their regulations regarding urban beekeeping on their territory, opportunities to get involved in this field are rising.

From City Dweller to Urban Beekeeper

Martin is a refrigeration mechanic already well initiated to vegetable gardening. He fell in love with urban beekeeping over 3 years ago. It all started after watching the documentary Vanishing Of The Bees. This documentary fascinated me and the next day I went to a library to find books on bees and beekeeping. That’s when I discovered that urban beekeeping was possible. Since then, my adventure continued, he said.

The first question he asked himself was not about honey production or how to sell honey, but rather how can I help bees. His interest for bees and a will to take action that matters became his main motivations. After spending some time attending classes provided by Apicentris, a beekeeping collective in is home town, he finally got his first two hives in 2016.

Martin explained that most of the agricultural environments have limited sources of flowers compared to urban areas. According to him, the biodiversity of flowers can be much more elaborate in cities, which gives the bees a great variety of pollen and different sources of nectar for the health of the hives, almost all year long (depending on the location). For him, citizens should consider themselves pampered to have urban hives in their surroundings. It brings an added value that is often underestimated.

alt text
alt text
alt text

“urban agriculture is about integrating all aspects of agriculture to urban living, including bees.” - Martin

As an urban beekeeper, he knows that his hives have a significant impact on the ecosystem of his neighborhood. Not only do his bees pollinate his neighbors’ vegetable garden and flowers, but they also stimulate the local biodiversity, making him feel like he’s contributing to something much bigger than himself.

Much to his surprise, his passion for beekeeping became contagious to members of his family. His wife, son and daughter routinely assist him while inspecting the hives. For safety reasons, a few rules need to be implemented with kids, but urban beekeeping is very safe and presents no threat, said Martin. Moreover, beekeeping can be an awesome and fulfilling family activity. It gives kids a better understanding of their impact in nature, he added.

“Beekeeping can be an awesome and fulfilling family activity. It gives kids a better understanding of their impact on nature.” -Martin

alt text

Sustainable Urban Beekeeping

Martin’s beekeeping philosophy is to keep his interactions with his hives to a minimum. Usually, the hives are inspected every 7-10 days. But now in his third year, he has a pretty good idea of what’s going by looking over bee activity at the front door of each hive.

Imagine a giant opening the roof of your living room, it would freak you out, right?. It’s the same for bees, he said. For him, frequent hive inspections cause an unnecessary stress on the colony, which affect their productivity. If everything is fine, why should we disturb them. Let the bees be bees, he added. Martin owns 5 hives in total. He follows a 20-day cycle of hive inspections. Every 10 days, he inspects 2 hives, then the other 2 the following 10 days, and so on. He spends an average of 40 minutes per hive inspection for a total workload of about 6 hours per month.

“Let the bees be bees.” - Martin

Martin started the year 2018 with 5 hives, all located in his backyard. He had to merge two in September as one was weaker due to a swarming event in mid-July. By the end of the summer, each of the hives had about 60,000 bees.

Next year may be a different game for Martin as the population of his hives keeps on growing. So will be his workload. Depending on the winter and survival rate of each colony, he could nearly double is beekeeping operation by the end of summer 2019. Yet, it’s becoming harder and harder to plan the season ahead, he concedes.

alt text

On this note, he raised concerns over climate change issues, especially on the recurrence of high fluctuations in temperature. For example, he noted that the Ottawa region experienced several instances of up to 24-degree temperature fluctuations within a single 24-hour period this year, causing considerable stress on the colonies. Such extreme fluctuations don’t allow bees enough time to adjust themselves and regulate the temperature of the hive. When they occur during winter, it can be fatal.

For now (December) there is not much to do. Martin is waiting to see what winter will bring. Starting February-March 2019, he will have a better idea which direction his hives may take.

The Perks

All four hives generated 2 harvests each in 2018, for a total of 600 pounds of honey. Three of the four hives were for liquid honey production, while one was dedicated to honeycombs. According to the National Honey Board, average retail price from January to November 2018 was $7.31 (US dollars) per pound. Martin operates only 7 months per year, working an average of 6 hours per month and harvested a total of 600 pounds of honey. That’s over $4000 worth of product, which makes urban beekeeping a potentially very profitable hobby! But the best part is that honey doesn’t spoil, EVER!!! If you don’t sell or eat it all harvest at once, it can be easily stored until the demand is felt. The value, taste, and quality stay intact.

alt textHoney
alt textHoneycombs

Martin used part of the harvest to create alternative products. One was creamy honey, a delicious mix of crystallized and liquid honey. The other product is the Bear Bee Balm. It is inspired by First Nations People’s use of bear grease as a traditional medicine to treat cuts, prevent infections and relieve aching joints. The bear represents one of the most powerful animals on earth for them, said Martin. It is the only animal that nourishes itself from its own fat while sleeping in a den until he reappears in the spring. Most of us are not used to hearing about the benefits of bear fat. But it has similar healing properties to beeswax, he added. His balm recipe was created using natural ingredients only (beeswax, bear fat, shea butter, and peppermint oil).

alt textCreamy Honey
alt textThe Bear Bee Balm

He enjoys exploring new ideas for products, as well as bringing back some traditional aspects of beekeeping. Just like this skep hive in the picture below, that he has built using pine cones and rope.

alt text

Selling Honey Online and Offline

The practice of urban beekeeping is growing rapidly. People like Martin are true ambassadors in promoting the benefits of bees in cities. E-commerce can play a role in what they do. Online shopping has reshaped our buying habits, especially for city dwellers. The web gives us the ability to sell products at a low cost with less effort than ever. As e-commerce-for-all is still relatively new, Martin decided to go with a dual approach by using both word of mouth and online alternatives, such as RakeAround and his Facebook page.

You’re an urban beekeeper with honey to sell? Let us help you reach buyers in your city!

Start your own project now!

At RakeAround, our simplified online selling process aims to help small-scale urban food producers generate revenues without the burden of attending farmer’s markets or spending too much time searching for customers. Proximity buyers can find their products in one click, using the “What’s near me” feature. Our user experience is designed to make buying local products simpler, fresher and faster by considering both producers and consumers’ busy urban lifestyles.

Curious about starting your own beekeeping project? Here are Martin’s top 3 resources to get answers to your questions:

  • Honey Bee Suite: Great website for beginners, where you can get tips and loads of useful information provided by experienced beekeepers

  • Beekeepers of Eastern Ontario & Western Québec: A Facebook group to learn, share and discuss beekeeping matters

  • Apicentris Beekeeping Collective: It is an urban beekeeping key player in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. It offers courses and workshops (which have already attracted some 125 attendees), organizes various activities in the City of Gatineau, such as The Bee Day at the end of May, and the popular Apéro Apicoles, allowing local and regional beekeepers to meet and exchange. In addition of running an apiary school and a community apiary, it administers the City of Gatineau’s urban beekeeping program as part of a unique Memorandum of Understanding with the City. This Collective has succeeded in February 2017 in lifting the ban on urban beekeeping.

Do you have an inspiring urban agriculture story to tell or share? Contact us or leave a comment below!

About the author
Dominique Bernier

Dominique is the co-founder of RakeAround. For him, demographic trends, the democratization of technology and the personalization of food will shape food systems of the 21st century.