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Urban beekeeping all the buzz in Philadelphia

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

If the sound of the birds and the bees seems louder this spring, you may not be mistaken. Beekeeping in Philadelphia is on the rise. This is the first growing season for the recently formed Philadelphia Beekeeping Guild, now about 40 members strong.

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“It feels weird, to have bees crawling on your skin,” says Nicole Juday. “It feels like a feathery, light little thing.”

Juday has just handled bees for the very first time – 15,000 of them.

“It’s a little bit unnerving,” she says.

Beekeeping is not for the squeamish – the fear of buzzing and stingers is prevalent, even though the common honeybee is not aggressive.
Jessica Baumert, another first-timer, installed a hive on the roof of her West Philadelphia home.

“I told some neighbors,” says Baumert. “I haven’t told all the neighbors. But nobody’s noticed. It’s a different world up there. I sit on my porch at night, and there’s not a bee in sight. And I think to myself: ‘If everybody only knew what was going on on my roof.’”

It might make some neighbors apprehensive, but urban bees could be better off than their country cousins. Compared to agricultural regions with industrial monoculture farming, cities have a wider variety of foliage.

Experienced beekeeper Dave Harrod says those rowhouse flower boxes are heaven for bees.

“One of the nice things about Philadelphia, as opposed to some cities, is that a lot of it is overgrown – it’s sort of a forest-y city,” says Harrod. “We’ve got a lot of areas that are pretty plant-intensive.”

Many people in the Philadelphia Beekeeping Guild started keeping bees because of Colony Collapse Disorder – a mysterious syndrome that causes beehives to die – that has been on the rise.

Guild President Joel Eckel says the honeybee is a canary in a coal mine.

“The honeybee can only do as well as its environment is doing,” says Eckel. “If people can create a healthy habitat for these bees, it can kind of serve the bigger purpose.”

With the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder unknown, it not clear if urban colonies will fare any better.


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