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Rise of the urban 'bee'

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By Renee Tratch
Digital Writer, theweathernetwork.com
@ReneeinTO
Thursday, August 21, 2014, 2:11 PM

It was long hard winter for everyone, including Ontario’s bees.

Reports showed that less than half of the bee colonies survived until the spring and now research is also linking the use of certain pesticides to bee deaths.

Bees are one of the most precious pollinators. They help flowers bloom, gardens produce and keep our ecosystem in sync. Honey or wild, all bees need our support. So for us city dwellers, here are some ways you can nurture the urban bee.

Bee informed: According to Toronto beekeeper Brian Hamlin, we shouldn't fear our buzzing buddies. “Honey bees are not predatory by nature,” he explains. “They are not interested in you unless you’re threatening the hive or shaking the hive. Then they may defend and sting.”

There are thousands of species of bees. To help decipher the buzz around us, have a look at the David Suzuki Foundation’s Pollinators Guide.

Bee-friendly yards: Choosing the right plants for your yard, balcony or community garden can help conserve bee populations. Hamlin suggests native plants or herb gardens. “Sage, thyme, oregano, mint are all great for pollinators and an easy one for people because of the dual use.”

Build a hotel: While gardens provide food for bees, hotels provide a resting place. Yes, bee hotels. Made from wood, twigs and soil, these simple to elaborate structures have been popping up in locations across the city. This summer Sustainable T.O. Architecture + Building helped unveil one at the Fairmont Royal York’s rooftop apiary. You can too. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Check out these DIY options.

Find your nearest hive: Some Toronto hives are open to the public where you can tour and even taste the honey harvest. On summer weekends visit the Toronto District Beekeepers’ Association at work at the Kortright Centre or participate in a weekly tour of the U of T Bees hives. If you’re more into viewing from afar, observe bees-at-work at the Royal Botanical Garden before exploring their Pollinator Garden where honeybees join the native bees and other pollinators.

Become a beekeeper: “Bees are the experts,” says Hamlin. “I am still learning from them.” He has been beekeeping for almost 40 years and moved to an urban setting almost ten years ago. He tends to several GTA hives - U of T downtown and Scarborough campuses, New College at the University of Toronto and Toronto Islands to name a few – and often mentors beginner beekeepers.

Urbanites can connect with the Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative, drop in at a monthly meeting with the Urban Toronto Beekeepers’ Association, or take these first steps to starting your own bee colony.

Buy local: According to Hamlin, it’s hard to find Toronto honey. One reason is that under the Ontario Bees Act, beekeepers are obliged to place hives at least 30 metres from property lines. This makes it more challenging to set up a hive in the city and less likely that you’ll find honey from different neighbourhoods like you would in cities like Vancouver, New York or Chicago.

Most urban beekeepers only extract enough for their needs. So until you find your neighbourhood supply, you can taste some made-in-TO honey on menus at the Fairmount Royal York, home to 350,000 honeybees at the world’s first hotel rooftop apiary, at BeeGrrl on Dundas St. W or at St. Lawrence Market where sweet stuff from Portlands Energy Centre is on sale.

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