There is something incongruous about urban bees. The idea of tending to a community of non-human life—a bee city—amid the skyscrapers, the traffic, the bustle, and the pollution of the modern metropolis is truly amazing. I think, at least in part, it explains the rapid and growing interest in keeping bees today.
But urban beehives aren't new. My grandmother, a war-bride who spent the better part of World War II eating government rations and desperately craving sweets in London, remembers receiving a jar of city honey. It came from a man who kept some hives on the roof of a hotel near Kew Gardens, and for her, it was a miracle: a whole pot of sweet stuff produced right there in the city, at a time when sugar imports were restricted by U-boat torpedoes. I can't count the number of times she told me the story, closing her eyes while she described how it tasted of limes because the man's bees pollinated the Kew Gardens citrus trees, she said.
My grandmother's love for urban honey was in the back of my mind when I had my first taste of my city's honey this month. I live in Toronto, where there are few hives, particularly in comparison to New York or London, where, according to the Collin's Beekeeper's Bible, for every human there are 30 bees. Our meager honey crop here in Toronto is in part due to city bylaws that require hives to be kept 30 meters from property lines, but we also haven't opened our mind to the idea of honey in the city. We don't realize that our city has terroir.