Garden, Gardens, Green Living, sustainability

Urban Beekeeping


Text Mariola Jakutowicz Fouché City dwellers concerned about the global decline of bee populations have taken to urban beekeeping. Here we chat to the experts about the benefits of and importance of this trend.

Marjolijn Dijksterhuis and Richard Katz of Gardener's Glory:

Gardener’s Glory maintains hives in private gardens, and you can find our raw, unblended honeys at Starlings Café in Claremont (021-671-6875). The honeys have remarkably different tastes and colours. A Rondebosch harvest is amber-gold and tastes ‘like honey used to taste’, while Newlands honey is ruby-red and tastes like dates. In London, Paris and New York, urban beekeeping is big. London’s mayor Boris Johnson promotes it in the city in response to the significant pesticide-driven decline in the number of bees. Honey boosts immunity and its healing properties have been recognised for centuries. Daily consumption raises levels of protective antioxidants. Local honey is said to alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms. Mass-produced honeys often contain preservatives, and heating or processing can compromise quality. It inspires us to see how people start to appreciate bees once they know more, and to be able to let them ‘taste’ the suburbs they live in…

Dominique and Jenny Marchand of the Honeybee Foundation and Products:

  • What does the honeybee Foundation do? We supply services such as pollination and swarm removals, training and apian equipment manufacture. We’re also initiators and trainers of the City of Cape Town’s Urban Beekeeping Project.
  • Why are bees important? They pollinate our food supply. Without bees, we’d be faced with a vastly reduced food range.
  • Most enjoyable aspects of beekeeping? Getting involved in a natural process that benefits everything in life – pollination, and the byproducts of honey.
  • And your educational initiatives? Our books The Bee Book and Beekeeping: A Practical Guide for Southern Africa are used during our hands-on workshops. We’re AgriSETA accredited and wish to franchise our training programme to make the craft available to rural people.
  • Any other apian associations for interested bee lovers? The South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) is the official mouthpiece of our bee industry.

Marine and Derek Williams, Urban Apiarists

City beekeeping trailblazers Marine and Derek Williams were hard-pressed to find a suitable bee sanctuary in the CBD, until the film company LibraVision in Cape Town’s The Fringe design precinct offered their roof. After building a staircase and filling (donated) paint tins with trees and shrubs, they introduced two hives and a third, wild swarm joined the rooftop party. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by bees and love watching them work,’ says Marine, who realised her passion after completing a Honeybee Foundation course. The couple is deeply concerned about the exploitation of bees in commercial honey production: ‘It’s no longer about the philosophy of the bees: it’s about getting as much as you can, as quickly as you can.’ Supermarket-bought honey often comprises irradiated mixtures from all over the world, from bees treated with antibiotics that are fed high-fructose corn syrup by industrial beekeepers to achieve higher yields. ‘By keeping hives on urban rooftops, we can be the custodians of at least a few bees in the event of colonies collapsing on the farms,’ adds Derek. So what do the bees eat? ‘They forage mainly in the nearby Company Gardens and Table Mountain fynbos,’ Marine explains. The urban beekeeping movement is gaining momentum and, though self-funded until now, the couple hope to turn their hobby into a viable occupation, with more hives spread throughout the city.

This article was originally featured in the October 2013 issue of House and Leisure.