Urban Community Apiary Takes Flight in Pittsburgh Neighborhood

Beekeepers typically work in rural areas. However, there's a growing trend of urban beekeeping. The Pittsburgh group Burgh Bees has recently opened an apiary containing several bee colonies. The Allegheny Front's Kate Malongowski stops by to check out the buzz. Amelia Possanza also contributed to this report.

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Beekeepers typically work in rural areas. However, there's a growing trend of urban beekeeping. The Pittsburgh group Burgh Bees has recently opened an apiary containing several bee colonies. The Allegheny Front's Kate Malongowski stops by to check out the buzz. Amelia Possanza also contributed to this report.

Beekeepers typically work in rural areas. However, there's a growing trend of urban beekeeping. The Pittsburgh group Burgh Bees has recently opened an apiary containing several bee colonies. The Allegheny Front's Kate Malongowski stops by to check out the buzz. Amelia Possanza also contributed to this report.

MALONGOWSKI: It's a humid Saturday afternoon, and Burgh Bees' Mentor Leader Steve Repasky is outside the Homewood Community Apiary spraying the area with puffs of smoke to calm down the thousands of bees that live in colonies behind the fence.

REPASKY: This is just cotton husks and burlap. It helps create the smoke. Nice, cool smoke.

MALONGOWSKI: Homewood is a Pittsburgh neighborhood that makes headlines because of crime more often than anything else. But today, a small group of locals are gathering to see and learn about bees. Repasky says Homewood is housing an apiary that is unique to the country.

REPASKY: It is, as far as we are aware, the first community apiary of its kind in the United States, which we're pretty excited about.

MALONGOWSKI: He says the space functions like a community garden.

The community apiary in Homewood opened in May. So far, there are 10 hives. Three owners currently have hives there, and the other seven are maintained by Burgh Bees for educational purposes. However, that ratio may soon change, since several visitors this afternoon are interested in having colonies of their own.

Like Josh and Vera Kucharski. They live in a one-bedroom apartment in Squirrel Hill, and hope to have a hive here by next spring.

J. KUCHARSKI: It's more just my fascination with the bees themselves and, you know, how they go around and pollinate crops and flowers and just the biology of themselves. Of their interactions with individuals, but also, acting as a group.

MALONGOWSKI: Once they have a hive, the couple also hopes to have enough honey to give away jars as presents to friends and family.

J. KUCHARSKI: You know, it's really just a hobby.

V. KUCHARSKI: Yeah, it's definitely a hobby.

V. KUCHARSKI: We don't intend to make any sort of income on it.

MALONGOWSKI: Standard size hives can store anywhere between three and 20 frames of honey. Typically, a full frame holds about 16 ounces of honey. Bigger, three-tiered hives can hold upwards of 60,000 bees.

Today, visitors are invited to ask Repasky questions as he inspects hives. Despite the sunny 90-degree day, all are wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants. Burgh Bees provides veils to protect the head and neck from bee stings.

Repasky opens the hive and takes out the frames, one by one, to show the group. He points out the difference between worker bees and drones. He's also looking for the queen. About a half hour later--one visitor beats him to it.
REPASKY: Oh yeah, look at how dark she is. No wonder I missed her. You guys see her? You see her?
WOMAN: She's huge
ANOTHER WOMAN: Oh

MALONGOWSKI: Repasky says beekeeping requires a lot of work. You have to check hives every week at peak season to be sure colonies are healthy. The state Department of Agriculture registers hives to track and prevent the spread of bee maladies. American Foul Brood, mites and the mysterious colony collapse disorder have devastated hives.

In an urban area like Homewood, there is more legwork than usual to beekeeping. There are zoning rules and leery neighbors.

Burgh Bees had a tough time acquiring property. The group worked closely with the city and Urban Redevelopment Authority to get the land they have a five-year lease on now. Repasky says it's a great use for the formerly vacant property.

REPASKY: It went from being an overgrown weed field with tires and pieces of concrete and junk and being used for all kinds of illegal activities, to a site that's welcoming and has flowers and pollen. All kinds of mints, and a small vegetable garden, and you know, 10 colonies of bees at the moment.

MALONGOWSKI: This could add to the approximately 95 beekeepers in Allegheny County. Those beekeepers tend 608 colonies. The statistics don't say whether colonies are in rural or urban areas. While the final count isn't in for this year, the Department of Agriculture says they expect there are 150 more beekeepers in the state now than two years ago. State officials say it's likely beekeeping has been on the rise because many people are becoming interested in organic foods and healthier lifestyles.

After the educational visit at Burgh Bees, the group continues to ask Repasky bee questions. Despite the challenges, the curious crowd is eager.

WOMAN: You don't seem to need much space for one.

REPASKY: No, you don't need much space at all because bees will actually travel upwards of three miles to collect...

WOMAN: So you don't need much more real estate than the hive is taking up?

REPASKY: Correct.

MALONGOWSKI: Most of the visitors exploring Burgh Bees have taken its two-day beekeeping class before, but Repasky says there's much more to learn. In fact, although he kept bees as a child with his father, he says he's still learning.

REPASKY: It's an ever-changing hobby, but it's a fun hobby, until you get stung. Any other questions?

For the Allegheny Front, I'm Kate Malongowski.

HOST: The Allegheny Front's Amelia Possanza also contributed to this report.