urban beekeeping

BBC News reports on bees in Paris

On Monday night, August 9, the BBC News took us to the rooftop of a luxury Paris hotel with an amazing unobstructed view of the Eiffel tower. Thriving at the apex of this astounding real estate is one of the approximately 400 bee colonies that live in that bustling city.

The young beekeepers explained that “it has become fashionable to raise bees in Paris” and that the hobby allows residents to take “ecologically direct action” to help the environment.

But the truly fascinating fact is that the city bees are doing better than their counterparts in the French countryside. According to the piece, the city bees actually produce more honey.

The beekeepers speculate that bees in the city environment are exposed to fewer pesticides than rural bees. In addition, the city bees enjoy a varied flora that grows in gardens, window boxes, and curbside patches. The flowers from these plantings provide a diverse diet of nectar and pollen over an extended period, whereas the rural bees are forced to forage on monoculture crops. And after the monoculture is harvested, there is nothing left to eat.

According to the report, city-produced honey is spiking in popularity and it is frequently served in the finest hotels and restaurants in Paris—in the same buildings that provide the aerial homes for the city’s contented colonies.



  • The televised version of this story was fascinating and charming; maybe it’s easy to access via the BBC TV news archives.

    But TV or text version, this story is creepy, too. In the “mainstream media,” there are lots of stories of specific problems in the food chain (e.g., the huge US salmonella-tainted egg recall).

    But none of these stories ever generalizes about the Big Picture, the fundamental problem: the Scale of modern agribusiness, amd the trend of the last 50 years away from the small farm/food producer toward huge Monoculture.

    The BBC story (or rather the Paris beekeepers) nailed the monoculture/mega-scale problem, and all its negative implications. In a region devoted to one crop, the bees have only one short window to pollinate (the focus of beekeeping to monoculturalists and agribusiness). Then the honey season is over.

    In the city, with its (unintended, unplanned) diversity of plants, the honey season lasts far longer.

    This is my first visit to Honey Bee Suite, so I don’t know what this community’s recent thinking is about CCD.

    But I know an expert local beekeeper who blames CCD entirtely on agribusiness mega-scale.

    Bees, he explains, did not evolve to be able to endure the stress of being trucked 20,000 miles per year, to commercially pollinate distant monocrop regions. The stress to these globe-trotting industrial hives leaves them prone not to one mysterious new disease, but to every traditional threat to the hive from which local small-farm hives are naturally resistent.

    Ain’t no CCD among the rooftop bees of Paris. These neighborhood bees ain’t planning any long trips to the monocrop countryside.

  • Bob,

    I don’t disagree with anything you say. Bees did not evolve to thrive in the world we gave them. The stress of migratory beekeeping, monoculture diets, high-tech pesticides, and global transmission of once-isolated diseases all impact the bees. I have no doubt that CCD is directly related to agribusiness, even though the specific mechanism is still unknown.

    I would add that we have taken away any semblance of connected habitat for all of our pollinators. Although honey bees seem to navigate cities quite well, many of our wild and native species do not, as they have very short foraging distances in comparison to honey bees. Tall buildings, wide freeways, and household abuse of pesticides have virtually wiped out wild bee populations in many areas. The whole thing is a huge mess.

    Stories like this BBC spot are heartwarming. Even though they don’t thoroughly address the problems of modern agribusiness, they are important because they broaden interest and knowledge of bees. So many people have absolutely no clue what bees do that any story that attracts public attention is a good thing.

    They are also a good place to introduce people to the problems inherent in modern agriculture. CCD is the tip of a giant iceberg which includes untested genetically modified foods, E. coli 0157:H7 that evolved to live in the high-acid stomachs of grain-fed cattle, acidosis in those same animals, “mad cow” disease spread by feeding cattle to cattle, superweeds that withstand glyphosate, and of course salmonella that lives inside the egg. The list goes on and on.

    Thanks for stopping by HoneyBeeSuite and thanks for your comments. I hope to hear from you again.

  • Hi Rusty … see? I’m back already!

    I see you’re the King Bee around here. Delighted to meet you, and read your very interesting thoughts and perspective.

    The other day I read a word that was new to me: locovore. It’s a recent term to describe food consumers who have chosen to buy/harvest/grow their food close to home — farmers’ markets, locally grown produce and meat, etc.

    It may be hip and trendy today.

    It will be consumers’ Self-Defense Safety Plan 4 or 5 years from now.

    And before consumers began thinking “locovore,” the notion of “sustainability” throughout the human-made infrastructure has taken hold. Any industry — food, financial, manufacturing — which can’t authentically (not just TV ad hype) demonstrate that the way they do business is long-term sustainable will start to get a D- grade from ordinary consumers — particularly as demonstrably sustainable choices expand into the marketplace.

    (My bank distributes a hugely popular bumper sticker: DON’T BLAME ME, I BANK LOCALLY.)

    The cost? I dunno — how much extra will you pay for a brand that won’t damage your planet (or sicken your kids or grandparents)? With banks and financial institutions, the cheapest and most dependable ones are the small, local, sustainable ones. Credit unions are ceasing to be an odd curiosity, and are becoming an in-demand place to stash your cash and do your consumer loans.

    When I get into meat and can find it, I love beefalo and buffalo … not just delicious, but all they’ll eat is grass. So they’re so free of marbled (corn-fed) fat, you have to lay bacon strips on top of them to roast/broil them so they won’t cook up too dry. Beefalo chili — indescribably delicious!

    Great site, great ideas — about the sweetest, healthiest, and most fascinating food on the planet.

  • Same thing in Ireland. The best honey and the easiest place to keep bees is Dublin, and Ireland is a very good example because it displays a black and white scenario.

    There is only one big city, the capital, Dublin. Medium-size cities are almost non-existent (with the exception of Cork. 200K inhabitants) and the rest is a plethora of towns scattered along a nationwide succession of dairy farms. Forests and prairies are virtually gone.

    Paradoxically all that is left for the bees is the city.

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