Beekeeping declining in Helsinki region
Courses offered for new enthusiasts as current generation grows old
The bees in the yard of Vantaa resident Heimo Varonen collected pollen from alder trees and crocus flowers, after the temperature rose above ten degrees Celsius. The colder temperatures of the weekend kept the bees mostly inside, waiting for better weather.
As the spring progresses, the bees of Varonen’s four hives are getting nutrition from spring flowers that are coming out on trees and bushes.
Varonen has kept bees behind his house in the Ilola neighbourhood for decades.
The neighbours have not minded the presence of the bees, because they improve the yield of their currant bushes, and their apple and plum trees. The flowers in their gardens also do well.
Some of Varonen’s hives are taken to a nearby strawberry farm in the summer to make sure that the plants are properly pollinated.
There are about 200 urban beekeepers in the Helsinki region, and about 5,500 in the Uusimaa region, says Heikki Vartiainen, executive director of the Finnish Beekeepers’ Association.
The association is concerned that the region may face a decline in beekeeping because many beekeepers are expected to shut down their activities because of their advanced age.
Courses are available for those who are interested in starting to raise bees. Heimo Varonen himself is running a course this spring.
Getting started costs slightly over EUR 1,000. Two hives are available for EUR 550, and an equal amount is needed for other equipment and a small honey-extracting centrifuge.
“Many Helsinki beekeepers also have hives at their summer cottages.
In Finland, professional beekeepers have hundreds of hives, many of which are taken to fruit orchards, berry gardens, and rapeseed farms to ensure pollination.
In other parts of Europe and in the United States, beekeeping sometimes takes place on an industrial scale, with hives numbering in the thousands.
A concern in Finland and in many other European countries is the rising average age of beekeepers. In Finland it is is 60, and it is even higher in Germany.
Varonen is nevertheless pleased that more people in the Helsinki region are getting into the hobby.
Beekeepers’ associations are starting to work together with the environmental group Dodo, which wants to bring beehives to vacant land in cities.
Bees sting only when they are disturbed, Varonen points out.
“Bees get their nutrition from plants, and they do not hover around barbecue grills. The ones that do that are the omnivorous wasps”, Varonen explains.
Bees and wasps look similar, but a bee is more stout, and their bodies are covered by a thin layer of fuzz. Wasps are slender and have no fuzz.
None of the killer bees that have been extensively discussed in the press and in nature documentaries have made it to Finland.
The new US Ambassador to Finland, Bruce Orek, is setting up a beehive in the fenced-off yard of the American Embassy in Helsinki. Orek himself is concerned about the decline in natural diversity, and wants to promote small-scale urban beekeeping.
Beehives are also being set up at the botanical gardens in Kaisaniemi and in Kumpula, which are run by the Finnish Museum of Natural History of the University of Helsinki.