Since beekeeping laws were relaxed in 2014, urban beekeeping in Warsaw has been on the rise. Today, there are hundreds of beehives in the capital ‒ some of them in places you’d least expect, like on the rooftop of an upscale downtown hotel. They provide honey that’s not only delicious, but often healthier than its equivalent from rural regions. How is that possible? Read on to find out.
While there is no evidence that Albert Einstein actually said that ‘if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live’, this famous quote is often attributed to the genial man. Regardless of the author of these well-known words, they point to the fact that bees are a crucial element of Earth’s ecosystem and serve as a pillar of human agriculture. These animals are responsible for the pollination of a great deal of food plants; according to some estimations, we have them to thank for 90% of our apples. Sadly, the world population of bees is on the decline due to various factors, such as climate changes and use of crop sprays. To counter this, people in many countries have introduced these animals to new environments − including cities. Today, there are beehives in places like the rooftop of Notre Dame’s sacristy in Paris, the rooftop of University of London’s Law building in the heart of England’s capital, and on the White House grounds in Washington DC. In this fine city, there are more than 400 beehives, from the rooftops of the emblematic Palace of Culture and Science to the top of the luxurious downtown Regent Warsaw Hotel.
If you’re in a city and find yourself looking around nervously for winged insects waiting to sting, you do not have to worry ‒ urban beekeeping is extremely safe. The honeybees that are kept in cities are of a special breed that are gentle and non-aggressive. According to regulations, urban hives must also be set up at safe distances from human presence; after the change of law, Warsaw isn’t any different than other bee-friendly cities. Honeybees only get aggravated and sting when someone gets within a few meters of their hive. This is why hives in cities stand in secluded places where passers-by don’t have access, like rooftops, closed-off areas, etc. If you’re away from a hive, a honeybee will do you no harm ‒ in fact, bees in the city can do good. Although it might sound unbelievable at first, honey from urban hives can often be superior to its equivalent from rural regions. How? On the one hand, there are far fewer sprays and pesticides used in cities than in the countryside. Honeybees don’t like these chemicals and can die from their usage.
Often, these dead bees cannot be filtered away and end up in the honey. In addition, due to the prevailing agricultural model of single crop plants in great, consolidated areas, the diet of rural honeybees is often monotonous − which doesn’t serve the animals well. Bees need a varied diet to be in top form, which is when they make their best honey. As absurd as it seems, honeybees in today’s cities can encounter a greater variety of plants than in the countryside. Aside from being beneficial to the bees’ health (and, therefore, to the quality of the honey), this has another important consequence − city bees can produce types of honey that can’t be made elsewhere. For example, the commercial urban beekeeping at the Warsaw Regent Hotel is located near the magnificent Łazienki park; this area serves as a great diverse feeding area for the bees that live on the roof of the hotel. The hotel’s honey, called Łazienki Gold, is served at the hotel restaurant and can be purchased in jars.
Another example of this diversity can be found Pszczelarium, a Polish firm specialising in urban beekeeping that harvested a unique chestnut-willow honey in Warsaw last year. One of the company’s founders, Kamil Baj, believes that such a product could not have been created anywhere else but in a city. He argues that outside cities, you can’t get the Chestnut and Willow trees growing close enough together for bees in one hive to make honey out of their nectar and pollen. As you can imagine, there are many other exotic honeys that can only be made in urban areas. At Pszczelarium, apart from producing the chestnut-willow delicacy, the firm has manufactured honeys named after some of Warsaw’s neighbourhoods. So the Mokotów honey comes from hives in the Mokotów neighbourhood, the Praga honey was made by bees living in the Praga neighbourhood, and so on.
The idea to make Warsaw honey as good as (if not better than) rural honey has allowed the firm to sell nearly all of its supply. Not to worry though − soon there will be more of this good stuff, as the season is already in full swing. On top of making mouth-watering honey, Baj’s business also runs beekeeping workshops and sets up hives for clients, something which has grown in popularity thanks to the boom in non-commercial beekeeping.
There are plenty of folks in Warsaw who simply enjoy beekeeping as a hobby. Take, for example, Mr. and Mrs. Knecht, two young married lawyers who have a few beehives in one of the capital’s forests. A few years back, Mr. Knecht remembered that his grandfather and uncle were beekeepers, and the couple decided to maintain the family tradition. They made some beginner mistakes, which led to some small stings. Luckily, these problems passed, and today they have a steadily developing population. They don’t treat beekeeping as a business, but as a way of getting in touch with nature and as an activity that they can do together for relaxation. Their blog about their hobby, www.wylotkinawarszawe.pl, attracts thousands of visitors.
Another Warsaw enthusiast of urban beekeeping is Wiktor Jędrzejewski, creator of the non-governmental initiative Miejskie Pszczoły (editor’s translation: Urban Bees). It was largely thanks to him and this initiative that the city authorities decided to loosen Warsaw’s outdated laws on beekeeping two years ago. Many of the hundreds of beehives in today’s Warsaw were set up by Miejskie Pszczoły, including the ones on the of the rooftops of the Palace of Culture and Science, which is the Empire State Building-like landmark that stands right in the middle of the capital. The folks behind the initiative have also set up hives in the well-known Królikarnia park and the picturesque, village-like central neighbourhood of Jazdów.
In addition, Miejskie Pszczoły runs educational courses and is preparing to open the Beekeeper’s House, a new centre for Warsaw’s honey-making community. The initiative’s primary goals are to popularise and develop urban beekeeping in the capital and to help the bee population grow even more. Sounds pretty sweet!