These days, more city services, companies, office buildings and schools (yes, schools!) than ever are adding beekeeping to their facilities. They're not only giving bees a safe place to go about their business, but normalizing beekeeping as a beneficial activity and, in the process, debunking fears about bees.
But not everyone is so keen to roll out the red carpet. Often, deep-rooted fears of bee stings keep people from saying yes to an urban beekeeping project. Following a few simple guidelines can help everyone feel safe, turning a simple beekeeping experience into a truly awe-inspiring adventure.
Start with the bee facts
First, let’s get one important fact out there: honey bees aren't inclined to sting — at all. Why? Because they die immediately afterwards if they do. When they do strike as a last resort to protect their colony, their stinger gets physically stuck and will tear off, taking part of their abdomen along with it; a fatal blow.
On top of that, honey bees are most interested in nectar and pollen, not humans or their food. Yep — bees are vegan! With only about 30 days to live, honey bees’ primary drive is to bring food to their colony all day in order to ensure its development. They'll fly up to three miles (five kilometers) away from home to do it. This also means there aren’t more bees hanging around a property because of a hive project. (Psst — the guys trying to share your sandwich at lunchtime are wasps, not bees. They’re super important for the local ecosystem, but let’s face it, they can be pretty annoying.)
Although the typically docile honey bees aren’t inclined to sting at all, nor are they interested in human food, like any animal (including humans!) they can become defensive when threatened.
Know the causes of bee defensiveness near a hive
Around the hive, three main factors have the potential to heighten honey bee defensiveness:
Misplaced hive entrance: Alvéole's hives are always carefully situated so their entrances are ideal for both bees and people, each hive facing away from where people are active, giving bees plenty of open space to come and go as they explore the flowers nearby. When the hive entrance faces away from higher traffic areas, bees’ defenses won’t be inadvertently triggered.
Stormy weather: Bees can get used to most environments, from a windy rooftop to a busy patio, though when the weather or temperature suddenly changes, they may become briefly defensive if one opens their hive. (You’d probably feel the same way if the roof of your house was torn off when it’s pouring!) This is rare, and usually people are inside protecting themselves from the rain so isn’t a real danger.
Mismanaged hives: Urban beekeeping focuses on an approach that is more or less opposite to that of commercial beekeeping, with a focus on education rather than production. This is why choosing a qualified provider like Alvéole is essential. You’ll be able to count on an experienced urban beekeeping partner that knows the tricks of the trade, such as following a rigorous hive management schedule and choosing the right type of honey bees (we work with an Italian variety known for its very mild temperament — it’s also why urban beekeepers wear little or no protection, in case you were wondering).
“The first time [near a hive], I stayed further away, but I saw that the beekeepers didn’t have any fear and they eventually invited me to be more involved. First, you have to be comfortable—that really helps. Then other people see you and it shows them that there’s nothing to be scared of.’’
– David Le Brasseur, Animator, Leisure and Culture, City of Dorval
Consult the experts
One of the reasons beekeeping has seen such a rise in popularity is the availability of professional beekeeping services like Alvéole that prioritize everyone’s safety, from ease of installation to honey extraction. That’s why we put so much focus on education and promoting urban beekeeping as a great means to reconnect ourselves with nature in the city.
We find that once we share the correct information with people, it stops fear in its tracks and leads to genuine curiosity. And curiosity leads to appreciation, which leads to love — and humans want to protect what they love. See where we’re going with this?
“For the people who were scared and reluctant [at the beekeeping workshop], it truly made a difference to explain the distinction between bees and wasps — bees just don’t have the drive to sting.’’
- Geneviève Dubé, Advisor, System and Environmental Services, Air Transat
For employees, students, tenants and others, Alvéole's workshops provide information and educational team-building that alleviates many people's fears of bees and also underlines the overall importance of pollinators to our environment. After offering workshops to more than 50,000 people since our foundation in 2013, we found that a hive experience is a surprisingly powerful vehicle for connecting people with nature. It’s surprising because many people are nervous the first time they hold a frame of bees; but it’s precisely this act of embracing the experience that allows the powerful charisma of the honey bee to work its magic.
Ready to help us conquer fears and spread the word about the importance of bees? Check out our service packages to find the one that suits you most.