Food Sustainability

Climate City: Rooftop Buzz

Extracting honey from honeycombs

By Joshua Blanco

When travelers check in to The Henderson—a quaint inn tucked away in the mountains of Hendersonville—one thing they’re sure to notice is an outfit resembling a hazmat suit straight out of a science fiction film. But as innkeeper Michael Gilligan likes to point out, it’s not for COVID; it’s for the bees he and his wife keep on their roof. “Our guests get a real kick out of that,” Gilligan says. “People really love it.”

It’s all part of a nationwide trend taking off in different parts of the country, but in an area home to the first official Bee City USA, it comes as no surprise people are already embracing it with open arms.

Putting bee hives on the roof at The Henderson

Terri Lechner, a local chiropractic physician and honeybee enthusiast who spent the last four years managing the hives on the second-floor roof of the Renaissance Hotel in Asheville, says this is just the beginning. Tending to the hives requires going up every two weeks during the months of April through September, looking after the bees and making sure everything is in working order. “My most important job is just being a good bee mom,” she says. “It’s all about caring for the bees and using best management practices in hopes of them surviving the winter.”

Like Lechner, Gilligan had also been tending to two hives on his roof—until this year. “My bees last year—because it was my first time doing it—they didn’t survive the winter,” he says. “But it gets sort of addictive. When you’re working up there, and you’re finished with the two hives, you wish you had another one.” After some thoughtful reflection on how he could improve, Gilligan decided to take on another hive.

“We don’t really do anything as beekeepers,” he says. “We try and keep the hives clean and kill the mites and give them a place to live and all that, but it’s not like I make the honey. It’s just pure nature at its finest. And I’m doing it here on the roof.”

Fortunately for Gilligan, their three new queens—Bar-Bee Streisand, Bar-Bee Stanwyck and Bar-Bee Wawa—aren’t wasting time. He has already harvested 35 pounds of honey from his first hive, and next year he plans to add a fourth.

Honey martini and honey pancakes

According to Gilligan, each queen comes with a colony of roughly 15,000 bees. In the span of a few months, that number has already grown to about 60,000 per hive. That may seem like a lot, but as Gilligan puts it, that number is “a mere drop in the ocean.”

When it comes to pollinators, a little bit goes a long way. “Without those efforts, we wouldn’t have these bees,” he says. “The more people that do it, the better chance we have of keeping them healthy.”

For years, the USDA has acknowledged that our pollinators, primarily honeybees, are responsible for roughly one in every three bites of food we consume. They also increase the value of our nation’s crops by billions of dollars each year. Unfortunately, the decades-long decline in their population means more people need to step up.

And rooftop hives are just one way to go about it. Both The Henderson and the Renaissance have even gone so far as to add pollinator gardens to the grounds outside. “We’re bringing awareness to the public by showing that we need to care for our pollinators,” Lechner says. “It’s about getting people to understand how important they are, and knowing there are small things each of us can do to make a big difference.”

Visit CenterforHoneybeeResearch.org to learn more about what you can do to protect our pollinators.

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