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What is being done to save the bees and how can you help?

The City of Buffalo’s Green Code goes into effect as new legislation is announced that would limit the use of certain pesticides.

This summer the City of Buffalo could gain thousands of new residents. On April 9, the Green Code went into effect and officially legalized beekeeping in the City of Buffalo.

Want your own hive? Local expert in urban bee farming and Western New York native, Erin Masterson Holko, spent the last 15 years in San Diego. For several of those years, she kept bees in the city, operated a beekeeping supply shop, and mentored others about keeping bees. Last year, she brought her impressive program back home to her family’s business, Masterson’s Garden Center, Inc. The program includes apprenticeship, seminars, and workshops. Masterson’s also carries a complete selection of beekeeping supplies for you to get started – even the honey bees themselves!

To anyone thinking about keeping bees, Holko recommends doing a lot of reading first. Masteron’s classes offer hands-on experience with the equipment and handling bees. There are also regional groups such as the WNY Honey Bee Association that host regular meetings.

Holko insists that bee keeping is easy, and not very time consuming. The amount of time spent with the bees will depend on your individual goals. You can expect to spend at least 15-20 minutes per hive once every two weeks. Interestingly, you can set up hives for a variety of types of bees, but if it’s honey you are looking to harvest, you will need to invest a bit more time in your hive and education.

Some things that you might need to get started: honey bee feed, mite treatments and medications, as well as honey extracting and bottling equipment. You may also want to consider purchasing hive components, smokers, and suits.

If you are interested in hosting your own hive, but have not started the process of acquiring bees, you may have to wait until next year. Most bees are already spoken for and need to be ordered well in advance. It is not recommended that hives are established later than May as the growing season in this area is short, and the hive may not have enough time to build up a food supply before winter. However, if you have ordered your bees or are interested for the future, Article 6, Section 6.2 of the City of Buffalo’s Green Code outlines the requirements for keeping your hive:

  1. Apiary. A structure for the keeping of honeybees.
  2. Signed statements, consenting to the keeping of bees on the premises, from the property owner, all residents of the subject property, and all residents of any property within a 50 foot radius of the subject property, must be provided prior to engaging in any beekeeping activities.
  3. Ground-mounted apiaries are permitted only in rear yards, and must be located a minimum of five feet from any lot line and ten feet from any dwelling.
  4. All honeybee colonies must be kept in removable frame or top bar hives.
  5. When an apiary is located within 25 feet of a lot line, a flyway barrier of a minimum of six feet in height is required, located within five feet of the hive and extending at least two feet on either side of the hive. The flyway barrier must be made of a fence, tarp, or dense vegetation to effectively prompt bees to fly at an elevation at least six feet above ground level.
  6. A convenient source of water must be available to the bees at all times.
  7. No bee comb or other materials may be left exposed on the property. Upon their removal from the hive, all materials must promptly be disposed of in a sealed container or placed within a bee-proof enclosure.
  8. All colonies must be maintained with queens selected from stock bred for gentleness and non-swarming characteristics. In any instance in which a colony exhibits unusual aggressive characteristics by stinging or attempting to sting without due provocation or exhibits an unusual disposition toward swarming, the beekeeper must promptly re-queen the colony with another queen.
  9. A minimum 500 square feet of unobstructed area is required per bee colony.
  10. No more than two accessory bee colonies are allowed per lot, except in the N-1S, D-E, D-IL, D-IH, D-OG, D-ON, and C-R zones.

Holko advises that if you see a swarm of bees, it’s unlikely that they will act aggressively. Call a professional bee keeper and they will collect and transfer them to a more suitable location. If they are honey bees they can be adopted by a farmer. It is illegal for any exterminator to kill honey bees in New York State. In fact, the honey bee population last year was down at least 25 %. “When was the last time you saw a bumble bee?” Holko asked, “Growing up I would see them all the time. All the bees are suffering. There’s definitely a decline in all species of bees. Unfortunately, we have statistics for the honey bees but not other species of bee. So we don’t know how much they have declined.”

Can We Save The Honey Bee? | UPROXX Reports

How can we help save Bees? Other than becoming an urban beekeeper, there is a lot the rest of us can do to help the bees. Obviously, we can limit or completely refrain from using pesticides or harmful chemicals on our lawns and gardens.

What is killing the Bees?

  • Overuse of chemicals and pesticides, such as neonicotinoids.
  • Diseases, mites, and other pathogens
  • Lack of genetic diversity
  • Lack of year-round, diverse food and habitat

Native Pollinators. If you are not interested in raising honey bees, you might be interested to know that you can still make an incredible difference. Throughout the U.S., there are over 4,000 species of wild pollinators. New York State is home to more than 450 of those species. The Great Pollinator Project released a pictorial guide to some common pollinator species. It also includes information related to the bee’s behavior:

  • Sociality indicates the degree to which species are social (living in groups, in a hive or colony) or solitary (living alone).
  • Nest indicates where females lay eggs, whether in stem cavities, soil, hives, or rotting wood.
  • Foraging range is the estimated distance that bees fly from their nest site to search for floral resources.
  • NYS flight period is the range of months that bees of that species have been observed flying in New York State.

Interestingly, according to Danielle Bilot’s TEDx Talk video (link below), out of the 4,000 bee species native to the U.S., 95% do not sting. Also, native bees have about a 91% pollination efficiency rate, compared to honey bees whose pollination efficiency rate hovers around 72%, making it important to focus upon helping all pollinating species, including honey bees.

In June 2016, Gov. Cuomo and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation released the NYS Pollinator Protection Plan, which takes the first step in identifying and addressing the challenges facing both native and managed pollinators across the state.

On April 13, Legislator Patrick B. Burke submitted the Honey Bee Protection Act to the Erie County Legislature. Modeled after similar legislation from Maryland, the Honey Bee Protection Act would prohibit the consumer use of insecticides that have been linked to the decline in honeybee populations as well as other pollinating insects. Legislator Burke stated, “This is only a first step. The U.K. has universally banned the use of neonicotinoids for consumer use. This county-wide ban is a step in the right direction. If passed, Erie County would be the first in the country to ban this chemical from retail sale.”

But perhaps the biggest impact we can have on wild pollinators is to assist in the creation of a diverse urban habitat that is pollinator friendly. We can all plant bee-friendly and native plants in green areas. If you own a business that has a parking lot, include flowering plants. Adding fruit trees to landscape design can provide pollinators with a potentially lifesaving snack according to Urban Designer, Danielle Bilot. According to Bilot, some smaller bee species can only fly about 3 blocks without food, or they will die. If pollinator friendly plants were used instead of turf or lawns in parking lots and other green urban areas, it would have the biggest impact on the majority of species, allowing migration and fostering genetic diversity.

How parking lots could save the bees | Danielle Bilot | TEDxMileHighWomen

Recently, Cheerios came under fire for sending out free packets of seeds, some of which could become invasive species, and probably should not be planted. A better option may be the Xerces Native Pollinator Seed Mix for the Easter Great Lakes Region.  Also, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has produced a Native Plant Guide.

But more than reading lists of plants, Matthew Dore, Landscape Designer and Owner of Buffalo Horticulture, suggests that we begin to look at our outdoor space as we would our living rooms. Not as a collection of pieces but as an aesthetic whole, that may or may not include grass. Looking at our urban spaces differently means not seeing green lawns as a way to “green up” leftover space, but should be used to enhance your landscape. When talking about transforming urban green spaces, Dore suggested that, “Sometimes we need to leave the world of being a plant collector. We need to rethink open space and recognize that our spaces need to be designed. If we are going to save the bees we have to think about space differently, not just design garden beds. It’s not about anti-lawn, and not everyone has the resources to maintain a garden, lawns are recreation space, but what can we leave to naturalize?”

So, whether you decide to become a beekeeper, or support local beekeepers by buying local products made from honey and beeswax, or by rethinking your personal landscape, it’s up to every resident to do their part to help save the bees.

If you found this article helpful, please share on social media and with friends.

Photo credits, Wikimedia Commons.

Written by Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli is a WNY native, born and raised in the Lincoln Park area of Tonawanda. She has been involved in local politics from an early age and is currently a Tonawanda Democratic Committee Member. As an avid equestrian and animal-lover, she trained and re-homed over 40 horses. For over a decade, she was an event planner with the law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP, and now owns her own marketing and event management company. She has worked with international and national organizations on large and small scale events. Jessica writes on politics and local events, as well as working with Buffalo Rising as a social reporter.

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