Famous Buildings Buzz With Secret Rooftop Beehives

Harvard Rooftop Bees
Christian Ervin
Harvard University graduate student Connie Migliazzo inspects the beehive above Gund Hall.

High above the frenetic traffic and flashing lights, some of the world’s busiest cities are keeping a secret on their rooftops: bees.

That’s right. Urban beekeeping has been gaining popularity across the world. And if you think this is just a fringe trend, you'll be surprised to learn that apiaries can be found on the rooftops of hotels, restaurants, museums, universities and even operas.

It may seem counterintuitive, but some bees actually thrive in non-agricultural areas like Paris, London and New York City because of a lack of pesticides present. The rewards are sweet, too: One hive can produce more than 100 pounds of honey per year.

Here are five surprising urban locales that have jumped on the rooftop beehive bandwagon.

The Whitney Museum of American Art

City: Manhattan
Buzz-Worthy Fact: The hives atop the Whitney were installed last July — and the 50 pounds of honey produced that season was divvied out to donors.
The Sweet Stuff: The type of bee bred at the museum, Apis mellifera, is an agreeable Italian honeybee that’s less feisty than other varieties. “A lot of people get bent out of shape about being stung,” says beekeeping expert Lehner. “But a well-managed hive will really ignore people.”

Lloyd’s Building

City: London
Buzz-Worthy Fact: These lucky bees enjoy one of the most scenic views in London: The iconic Lloyd's tower has had a cameo in films like Mamma Mia! and The Avengers.
The Sweet Stuff: In the summer of 2010, the City Bees project placed hives in eight locales throughout London, including the Lloyd's Building. Opening ceremonies at a pavilion dubbed the “Honey House” featured poetry readings about bees and a performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Opéra Garnier

City: Paris
Buzz-Worthy Fact: At nearly 80 years old, resident beekeeper Jean Paucton has been climbing to the roof of the opera to look after his honey producers for over 20 years.
The Sweet Stuff: According to The New York Times, Paucton bought his first hive when he worked as a props man for the opera. He kept it on the balcony of his apartment, which upset neighbors, so a friend suggested that he move his hive to the roof of the opera house. Each year, his five hives can produce more than 1,000 pounds of honey that's sold to fancy Parisian gourmet shops.

Natural Resources Defense Council

City: Manhattan
Buzz-Worthy Fact: Advocating for bee protection has long been a priority of the National Resources Defense Council, which won a lawsuit in 2009 that banned the sale of Movento, a pesticide that’s harmful to bees.
The Sweet Stuff: The NRDC installed hives right after New York City’s board of health legalized beekeeping in March 2010. “There are all these roofs up there,” says Christine Lehner, a beekeeping expert whose brother is the executive director of the NRDC. “You may as well use them for something.” The honey produced by the organization’s three hives is gifted to staff.

Harvard University

City: Cambridge, Mass.
Buzz-Worthy Fact: The Pollinators, a group of graduate students who manage the hive, held a design competition to devise a shelter that would protect the bees from New England's harsh winter.
The Sweet Stuff: Honey production isn’t a top priority for the students who manage the hive atop Gund Hall. In fact, they haven’t even collected any of the honey yet. The main goal is to contribute to the area’s ecosystem, so the bees can forage from a lot of flowering species — and benefit community gardens. “That’s the point of the project,” says co-founder Connie Migliazzo. “It’s not about the honey. We wanted the ecology to benefit from the bees.”

For more on rooftop bees, check out this video about New York City hives. And tell us: Where in your city would you like to see rooftop honey-makers?

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