As Atlanta gets greener, city planners and designers are incorporating urban gardens for a future in sustain-able food systems. One of the biggest factors affecting crop yield in urban gardens is the availability of animal pollinators- usually in the form of busy bees. To keep these pollinators happy and healthy, the Georgia Tech Ur-ban Honey Bee Project is buzzing with ecological, economic and academic efforts.
At the Clough Learning Commons, researchers, instructors, students, volunteers and community members are learning to keep bees as part of the interdisciplinary undergraduate honeybee research program. The Ur-ban Honey Bee Project offers Intro to Beekeeping classes and weekly hive inspections to anyone curious about not only bees, but how to keep Atlanta’s blooms pollinated.
“People get fascinated in the lifecycle of the bees. It’s fun to see the eggs, larva, pupa, and try to spot the queen during the course of a year,” said Jennifer Leavey, director of the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project.
This past fall, the honey bee project has helped people learn about the variety of bees in Atlanta. While honey bees are part of our agriculture, they are not native to the United States. Leavey and the researchers at Georgia Tech are educating the public about all 4,000 native North American bees ranging from gnat-sized sweat bees to large bumble bees.
Contributing to research is another way to support bees in Atlanta. The beekeeping community stays con-nected online too. Leavey said the website Bumble Bee Watch allows the community to take a picture of a bee, submit the photo to the website and grow a database of bee resources. Pollinator monitoring meets gardening at The Great Sunflower Project, where people plant sunflowers and observe the bees that visit their blooms. Thanks to diligent recording, the project can determine where pollinator service is strong or weak compared to averages.
Beekeeping remains the most impactful way to support the bee population, but Leavey doesn’t recommend traditional beekeeping for everyone. Maintaining hives is physically intensive and requires research, space and a full body protection suit that can get quite hot in the summer. However, anyone can be a beekeeper with a bee house.
Buying or building a bee house costs about $20 and provides shelter for native bees of your area to cultivate and grow. Mason bee house are the most popular and are smaller than a mailbox. Mason bees, along with other cavity-dwelling bee varieties, love the narrow, cylinder shape of the rooms
“The best way urban Midtown can support bees is by providing a habitat or nutrition whether it’s a potted plant or bee house,” Leavey said. Spring will be here before you know it, go get your bee house this month!