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Bytown Bees launching with goal of improving food security in Canada

Dinah Robinson is still working to make Ottawa a more bee-friendly city, as she turns a hobby into a new local business.

Dinah Robinson's Bytown Bees is the product of four years of building a sustainable hobby that's grown into a new business; one that is simultaneously good for the environment, and her bottom line.

Nearly a half-million bees at her cottage in Douglas, Ont., produce more than 60 kilos of honey annually. Robinson hopes to double that as she adds more products to her Bytown Bees line in the next two years, including wax candles, soap and an original honey-garlic dressing.

What began as a hobby for the former City of Ottawa financial consultant, gardening and raising bees, has become something of a new career.

While the business is still in its infancy, Robinson thinks increasing concern for food security and the health of our natural environment can only lead to a growing popularity of organic farming and even more pollinating gardens.

“It's a hobby-business level right now, but it isn't a hobby,” Robinson admits. “This is my full-time professional pursuit, growing my business."

Bytown Bees first took root in 2018 when news of the epic reproductive collapse of native Ontario bees and Monarch butterflies became a growing concern. Robinson responded by digging up the yards of her Lisgar Avenue home, replacing the peonies and grasses with native wild flowers, echinacea, bee balm, bergamot and daisies; as well as flowering herbs basil, oregano and chives that bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects love.

She also petitioned the City of Ottawa to declare itself a bee-friendly city, in order to encourage more urban bee-keeping and farming.

“I was concerned about our pollinators when I had a vision of something to do after I finished working with the City of Ottawa's Public Health,” Robinson remembers. “That's how a became interested in honey bees. Many of our native pollinators such as Monarch butterflies and Ontario bumble bees feed on native plants. If those plants disappear because of development, they have no where to feed. So, they disappear. My core role now is pollinator protection.”

By the first summer's end, Robinson had so many bees in her backyard, she installed a hive. As much as her neighbours appreciated her gardens – Robinson also designs gardens for public spaces throughout the city - the hive was deemed too large by the city. So, she moved operations to her cottage.

“Do bees do better in an urban setting than a country setting?” she asks. “Not necessarily, because farmers don't plant pollinator gardens. The bees are waiting for the stuff at the side of the road to bloom; golden rod and dandelions. In an urban setting, all your neighbours put in lawns and gardens and get rid of the weeds bees love. This is about preserving habitat for the insects that make food security in Canada possible.”

For now, Robinson is intent on spreading the gospel of creating pollinator gardens throughout the city. As the head gardener of the Dundonald Park Gardening Group, a collective of volunteer gardeners dedicated to beautifying the formerly derelict downtown green space, she's encouraging the city to add apiaries to the rooftop gardens of its public buildings.

She also writes extensively about insects, natural gardening and food sustainability issues on her Bytown Bees Facebook page, and produces videos on beekeeping which she will post on her YouTube channel.

“Taking care of the bees, you have to be organized and self-motivated,” she warns. “You don't make a lot of money, but that's not why you do it. You do it because food is important and looking after our native eco-systems is critical.”

Bytown Bees launches next week.

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