Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seedlings, chickens, bees and the city

My little plot of veg hardly qualifies as urban agriculture. If all goes well, it will make a dint in my grocery bills, though. But as May approaches and my seedlings, as you can see, are beginning to sprout nicely, my thoughts are turning more and more to what we can do with our limited urban greenspace.

First, an update on my garden. Few of the early season seeds planted directly have sprouted yet, save for the radishes. There's been lots of rain, though, and I expect to see some activity once the weather gets a little warmer. The strawberries I transplanted last winter from my dad's patch are still alive. I'm sure the squirrels will be thrilled. The seeds I started indoors are doing very well, except the marigolds, which have been late to start. For seed sources and my early plans, see this post. They've recently moved onto the deck, into a lovely little collapsible greenhouse my parents had, but weren't using. These stands are also handy for balcony gardening, as the plastic cover acts as a windbreak and will help keep your plants from drying out. The outdoor sensor of my thermometer is in there, so I can easily see if it's getting too hot or too cold.

But back to urban agriculture. Thanks in part to the localvore movement, it's becoming a new area of interest for many urbanites. I'm looking forward to learning more at the Society of Environmental Journalists' Toronto pub night on May 5 at Harbord House (7:30 p.m., upstairs bar, RSVP to The guest speaker will be Ravenna Barker, an urban agriculturalist with Foodshare.

When I first moved into this apartment, I wondered about keeping chickens. They're neat. I loved playing with my aunt's chickens when I was a kid, and am sure my son, Graham, will love 'em too. Sadly, Toronto doesn't allow urban livestock. Apparently, however, it's something the city may revisit, as more citizens are expressing an interest in having a few chickens. Other cities allow them, some even allow goats. Marie-Eve Cousineau has a fun article on urban chicken politics in the current issue of L'Actualité. It includes the wonderful phrase "les poules clandestines." My French is awful, but the image of clandestine chickens is now forever etched in my mind.

Knowing that chickens were out, I began to think of bees. I was beside myself when my upstairs neighbour, Alison, asked if it's something I'd consider for the back yard. Never knew my friend was a closet apiarist!

However, that's another dream that's impossible for urbanites in our area. Unless you're renting a place with one really big backyard, you can't keep bees in Ontario. The provincial Bees Act (yes, there's a Bees Act) states:
19. (1) No person shall place hives or leave hives containing bees within 30 metres of a property line separating the land on which the hives are placed or left from land occupied as a dwelling or used for a community center, public park or other place of public assembly or recreation. 2002, c. 17, Sched. F, Table.

Hives also have to be at least 10 metres from a highway.

So, for now I'll have to satisfy myself with organic vegetable gardening. And I'll definitely be at the pub night on Tuesday.


Kristen Chew said...

I read something about rogue urban beekeepers in Toronto, where people do it where they know a blind eye will be turned. They're out there; just "underground."

Anonymous said...

On the plus sidem I am told that it *is* legal to send bees through the mail.

Craig Saunders said...

I honestly know nothing about the legality of mailing bees. For some reason, it has me wondering what it would be like to go through airport security with 'em: "Um, sir... your bag appears to be buzzing."

And I have no doubt that there are rogue apiarists in Toronto and elsewhere. Sort of like the "poules clandestines," eh?

One can get away with many activities if one has a good relationship with one's neighbourst. Remember prohibition? Well, not literally, of course... but think of the stories we've been told.

KarenInTo said...

My late father got his bees through the mail. When his first bees died from some virus or other, he got his next family by mail too. Fortunately the folks had a lot of empty acres.

An article in this weekend's Toronto Star was talking about converting part of a small park to an urban orchard. You do need plenty of bees for this, though.