This time of year in Maryland the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming. It’s spring and the honey bees are back to work after the winter freeze, pollinating flowers and making honey, but this year there are fewer of them, and this has been the case for years now.
Normally when you picture a beehive, you might picture it hanging from a tree in the middle of a field, surrounded by blossoming flowers. Or maybe you picture it tucked under the overhang of the roof of a barn.
But how about on top of a ten-story building, or on the roof of an apartment complex in downtown Baltimore? Noah Wilson-Rich, from the TED Talks video Every City Needs Healthy Honey Bees, suggests doing just that.
Urban beekeeping may not be widely practiced, but Wilson-Rich proposes that it’s widely beneficial. He explains that by building beehives in small, unused spaces in highly populated areas, people can help the environment and help themselves. Because bees are essential to fruit and plant growth, the fewer bees there are, the higher the prices for fruit will be.
Besides, isn’t it better to have gardens and bees on rooftops than tar roofs that bounce heat back into the atmosphere (which contributes to climate change)?
According to the studies he and his team have conducted, urban bees have a higher survival rate and produce more honey than rural bees, and people living around the hives are almost completely unaware of them.
Remarkably, space sets almost no boundaries for where you can keep beehives. Whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural area, you can have your own hive which helps the plants grow, food prices drop, and provides you with your own source of natural, nutritious, and free honey!
The concept of providing for yourself and the environment with little space and cost to you doesn’t end with beekeeping. Vegetable gardens can be found anyplace from a multi-acre farm in Texas to your neighbor’s sunny windowsill. The beauty about vegetables is they can thrive just about anywhere there is sun and water.
Rachel Bowers, a small-scale gardener in Baltimore County, has been growing veggies, herbs, and berries in her backyard for three years now. Initially, her idea to do this came from skepticism of store-bought food items. As many people do, she wanted to know exactly what she was putting into her body and so she took to the soil and began planting her own food.
Growing everything from eggplant to herbs, and berries to broccoli, Rachel has one strong suggestion: space and time permitting, grow the things you’ll eat.
For people with less space and time to offer, there are many plants that grow basically on their own including tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. All in all, the simple rewards are what influence Rachel the most. She put it perfectly by saying:
“We get to entwine our lives with theirs, live deeply within the seasons, and experience things most people don’t anymore.”
Last summer, I personally got a taste of what she meant. I live in a townhome with a tiny and not particularly sunny backyard so the space I have to plant is very limited. In addition, I don’t have a lot of extra time or money to care for anything other than myself, like many other working – and not working – college students. And yet, the desire to be healthy drove me to give it a shot.
To my surprise, the start-up cost was pretty cheap. I bought a couple of pots, some soil, a tomato plant, and a cucumber plant and only spent around $25. I planted in the spring and by the very beginning of summer, I could see the first few buds sprouting on each of the plants. I only watered them once a day and I ended up with tomatoes and cucumbers ready to harvest all summer long.
This spring, I wanted to try things a little differently and add a few plants. For about three weeks, I had solo cups filled with soil and seeds (which are much cheaper than the plants) basking in windowsill sun on my bedroom dresser. Within the first few days there were sprouts in just about every one of them – it was that easy. After they were looking large enough, I potted them outside and (hopefully) they’re on their way to becoming healthy producers!
Whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural area, you will always have enough space to reap the benefits of nature. When you grow your own food, you know where your food is coming from. There’s no worry about chemicals or steroids that may have been added – you know exactly what you’re eating. It also saves money in the long run (and who doesn’t want to save money?).
Above all else, growing your own food improves health and provides a relationship between you and the earth. Like urban beekeeping, having a small vegetable garden is a simple task that can be beneficial to your health, your wallet, and the environment, all while providing you with a sense of accomplishment.
For tips on where, how, and when to start a vegetable garden, you can read Vegetable Gardening for Beginners on The Olde Farmer’s Almanac website or visit your local Garden Center.