The buzz is building as MO Hives KC transforms vacant urban lots into thriving bee farms.
Story by Ann Butenas | Illustration and Photos courtesy of Michael Ashley Landscape Architecture
“The hum of the bees is the voice of the garden.” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence
What do you know about bees? Are they just annoying insects that seemingly threaten to harm us if we get in their way or do they have a much grander purpose? In the bigger picture, bees play a significant role in keeping our world fed. Sure, they produce honey, but they are also pollinators. What does that mean? Well, they help encourage growth in many of the fruits and veggies you love.
In just one day, a worker bee can visit up to 1,500 flowers just to gather 0.5g of nectar! So, if you want 454g of honey, a bee must visit nearly two million flowers! That is an impressive amount of work. However, sometimes our buzzing friends need a bit of help. Granted, they are accustomed to working in strict and concise precision, but when they have access to a garden that is bee-friendly with specific plants selected for a natural habitat setting, they can really thrive and get to work.
Fortunately for metro area bees, there is one such garden that is drawing considerable attention, not only from the bees, but also from butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. It is an entire apiary filled with native Missouri plantings, about 45% of which are edible. There are also ample nectar sources for native bees and honeybees.
Introducing MO Hives KC
Launched in early 2020 and located at 50th and Wabash, MO Hives KC, a non-profit organization, promotes thriving bee farms (also known as apiaries) and thriving communities. Founded by Marion Spence Pierson, M.D., FAAP, this project not only emphasizes the importance of the pollinating insect for food products but also the need for a safe and sustainable place for bees to live, feed, and grow.
Through a low-cost, long-term lease arrangement with Community Builders of Kansas City, MO Hives acquired several vacant lots to construct its Wabash Avenue apiary. Prior to the acquisition of these sites, they were simply abandoned lots that had become victims of illegal dumping. MO Hives has now created an inviting community for bees and garden beds. A host of volunteers have donated considerable time and talents to construct many of the apiary’s initial elements, such as the fence, gates, deck, and preliminary plantings.
Landscape architect Mike Ashley, PLA/owner of Michael Ashley Landscape Architecture (MALA LLC), is a long-time friend of Dr. Pierson and her husband, Emmet Pierson, Jr., CEO of Community Builders of Kansas City. As a result of his association with this couple, Ashley has become an integral part of this incredible project.
“I provided an initial wagon wheel design with color in January 2020, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Dr. Pierson asked me to update the design, as the project had finally gained considerable momentum after stalling a bit during the pandemic,” expressed Ashley.
The Piersons subsequently introduced Ashley to Brett Creason, who currently oversees the entire garden.
“Brett is extremely passionate about this garden and has been integral in getting my company involved,” noted Ashley. “He provided me with an initial sketch with his ideas, which I then loaded into my CAD software system and then we put the whole plan together.”
Creason’s primary goals were to have all native plantings that are sustainable and with about 45% of the plantings to be edible. It has since evolved into a micro-forest of sorts with a Zen garden ambiance. Open to the public and free of charge, the garden is definitely a work in progress as Ashley and Creason continue their research on what plants to put in it that help the bees.
“The inspiration for this came from a garden Dr. Pierson came across in another city,” explained Ashley. “She had a vision for it here, so we are now taking her dream of transforming a rather inconspicuous uninhabited piece of land and making it into an oasis, hoping to spread that movement over time.”
And for those who might be afraid of bees, Ashley quickly puts one’s fears at ease.
“This garden is definitely an experience,” he indicated. “The bees won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. While the beekeepers wear suits when interacting with the bees and their hives, I have been close to the hives and have learned that if you stay calm, the bees will not bother you.”
Ashley and Dr. Pierson indicated they are currently awaiting funding and grants to make additional improvements to the garden. Until then, Ashley and his team continue to do all they can, transitioning parts of the garden, pouring footing for an anticipated pergola, installing topsoil compost, and spreading mulch on newly cut walking paths. The team has also been grading for future walls and stairs. With each improvement the MALA LLC team makes, Mike’s appreciation and passion grows deeper.
“This project will be a significant urban oasis on the east side of Kansas City,” he emphasized.