Bee business looks to new heights in Cumberland

Comox Valley community considering changes to encourage rooftop beekeeping

The Village of Cumberland is considering some zoning bylaw changes to give bees and their keepers a boost.

At the committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 10, council moved ahead on recommendations aimed at encouraging beekeeping as “urban agriculture,” particularly when it comes to rooftop hives.

“This has been a while in coming,” senior planner Karin Albert told council.

In early 2019, the delegation of Iain Glass and Wendi Gilson of Ethical Bees appeared before council to ask for permission to conduct rooftop beekeeping in the commercial core of Cumberland.

One year later, the plan before council is to change zoning in the commercial core to permit the keeping of two beehives as well as two nucleus colonies, or ‘nucs,’ on rooftops. The staff report indicates the operation wishes to facilitate splits of hives in the spring before bees start to swarm by permitting the two nucs. Nucs are smaller colonies of bees that centre around a queen.

“There is a transition that happens every spring, where they need to be able to split the two hives, to put the split into nucs, and then they can combine them again in the fall,” Albert said.

The addition of wording around nucs would allow beekeepers to make the split.

“That’s to accommodate what happens naturally,” she added.

RELATED STORY: Beekeeping discussed at next Mid Island Farmers Institute meeting

However, at the meeting, Albert pointed out the latest Ethical Bees plan is to have the two hives but hold off on adding the two nucs for now. Coun. Jesse Ketler referred to the original presentation from 2019 to ask about initial plans to breed through the queen to make bees less susceptible to disease and whether this was still happening.

Albert replied that the proponents might revisit this idea at a later date.

“They just decided they wanted to keep two hives to see how it would work,” Albert said. “They may come back in the future to ask for the queen breeding colonies.”

Gilson was in the gallery at the meeting and confirmed they are working on the breeding of the superior genetic bee but at a variety of locations for now and hopes to do this as a rooftop site at some point.

Albert said beekeeping on rooftops is more typical of larger urban areas because of a lack of agricultural land. However, there are other advantages. One reason is the height offers protection from bears looking for protein.

“They’re more after the bees than the honey,” she said.

Additional reasons, she continued, are that bees are usually exposed to less pesticide use in urban settings than in agricultural areas and that residential backyards close to the commercial core can provide a high variety of flowering plants throughout the summer season.

“That was their reason was wanting to have access to the rooftop,” Albert said.

Finally, a rooftop’s height means less interaction between and people on the bees’ flight paths.

As well the changes to zoning for the commercial core, staff are recommending the Village add beekeeping to the definition of agricultural uses in the zoning bylaw, something not currently in the wording.

Coun. Sean Sullivan made a motion to move forward on the zoning changes for beekeeping. As a result, the proposed bylaw amendments will be sent to the Village’s advisory planning commission for comment before coming back to council at a regular meeting.

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