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Colony Collapse & the Buzz on Beekeeping in Pittsburgh

Justin Leonard

Two years ago we took a look at the world of urban farming in Pittsburgh, with a focus on beekeeping in particular. As in many cities, those who want to build apiaries in Pittsburgh have had to jump through various bureaucratic hoops and deal with the myths and fears surrounding honeybees.

President Obama recently stressed the importance of preserving our honeybee populations for the sake of food security. And the White House has even announced plans to form a task force to investigate honeybee colony collapse.

With renewed attention on the decline of pollinators, Steve Repasky, President of Burgh Bees and David Tarpy, Professor and Extension Apiculturist in the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University are working to preserve the honeybees in Pittsburgh and the rest of the country.

Repasky said the local laws for beekeeping have not changed within the last two years, and the rules for keeping bees are pretty strict. But he thinks there has been a good push for positive change in Pittsburgh, and hopes to get a change in the urban agriculture ordinance.

“We’ve gone through a change in the mayor’s office, for the better, as far as urban agriculture is concerned. And we’re taking baby steps and our goal is to revamp it, so as by-right type of issues so that people can keep bees, keep chickens, as long as they’re following a basic set of rules.”

Professor David Tarpy stressed that people rely on these pollinators much more than they may realize. Pollinators such as honey bees have a huge impact on our daily diets, going as far as affecting the alfalfa seeds that then become hay…which in turn, affect our dairy farms.

“What we need is a sustainable, reliable, population of pollinators, because honeybees have been estimated to be responsible for a third of everything we eat, through their mechanism of pollination of about one hundred different crops that we rely on every day.”

Unless something is done about the declining pollinator population, both federally and state-wide, Tarpy sees a potential decline in cucumbers, melons, berries, and nut crops, especially almonds, which are one hundred percent reliant on honeybees.

To learn more about urban beekeeping and the work of Burgh Bees check out the recent short film by Steve Ellington, Portrait of an Urban Beekeeper.

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