Rooftop Bees

NYC rooftop apiary, 1905

NYC rooftop apiary, 1905

There’s a jolly fat man up on the roof. With a smoker and hive tool. Rooftop beekeeping seems modern, trendy, and new, but it’s been happening for generations. Ever since homes had rooftops. I’m surprised there isn’t a Rooftop Beekeepers Association somewhere.  (Maybe there is.)

Perhaps it never occurred to you that you could keep bees up on the roof. As long as you don’t have a habit of running whenever your bees get anxious, there aren’t too many hazards keeping bees on your roof. Of course, this might not work in Switzerland (a steep roof will dislodge winter snow as well as summer hives). But if you have a flat roof and if you are in a crowded urban community, maybe you could try beekeeping above the ceiling.  (Using a balcony is cheating.)

Keeping bees on the roof is a good way to hide hives from nervous neighbours.

Keeping bees on the roof is a good way to hide hives from nervous neighbours. No one would ever notice an apiary like this vintage 1912 bee yard, would they?

Advantages of rooftop beekeeping: Privacy (people might not even know you’ve got bees up there); Few of the bee-nuisance issues that arise from ground-level bees; and, Reduced roof vandalism. (Remember the last time you had to chase kids off your roof? Let the bees do it for you!)

lharperOur previous Canadian prime minister (Stephen Harper) has a fearless wife who grew up on an Alberta farm where bees were kept. A few years ago, a chef led Mrs Prime Minister of Canada (and an entourage of reporters) to the roof of Toronto’s Royal York Hotel where hives were kept. The chef seemed to have lost his way with the bees. The insects chased the poor guy, leaving the prime minister’s wife to replace the lid on an angry hive. To the left, you see the chef, a bit removed from the action, struggling with errant bees.  Bravo to Laureen Harper! (You can see a short video of the misadventure here.)

I didn’t see anything quite so exciting in British Columbia last month, but at Kelowna’s Delta Resort, where I ordered a most excellent salmon, I noticed a story about two beehives (oddly named “Stay in a Hive” and “Honey Cru”). The bees were featured in the restaurant menu, below. Not as part of a wholesome stew, but as rooftop hired help.  We were told that the colonies have names so that the bees “know which hive they belong to.” Scoff and mock if you must, but a lot of fine eateries are puttering around under rooftop honey makers. I think it’s generally a good thing. It’s upbeat free publicity for honey and bees.

O&C Hives

If you have been venting the excuse of postponing your beekeeping career because you lack space, your hive cover is blown. Almost everyone has a roof. If yours isn’t flat, flatten it. To tempt you further, here’s an artsy video of a New York City rooftop beekeeper. (Please ignore the stupid part that quotes Einstein – he was never a rooftop beekeeper.)   Nevertheless, watch, dream, then do:

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Bee Yards, Culture, or lack thereof, Humour, Outreach, Save the Bees and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Rooftop Bees

  1. Chase Emmons says:

    Hey there! NYC rooftop beekeeper here. I posted that picture of the 1905 roof on the NYC Honeyweek Instagram and someone asked if there was any more info on where that was. Do you happen to have any info, or at least where the picture originated from?


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Cool! A real NYC rooftop beekeeper! Hope I did justice to your trade. I don’t do Instagram, so I missed your posting. But tell me, is there a Rooftop Beekeepers Association?
      The picture is from page 47 of my copy of the 1917 ABC-XYZ in Bee Culture, published at the time by the A.I. Root Company. In the caption, the author notes that this was his apiary ‘some years ago’ – elsewhere I inferred that he [E.R. Root] lived in NYC around 1905.
      Here’s the page:
      ABC-XYZ in Bee Culture, 1917


      • Chase Emmons says:

        Very cool, and yep, great article! No specific “rooftop” association, just the NYC Beekeepers Association and NYC Beekeeping Association. Yea, that small detail has resulted in some conflict, go figure! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2016 in Bee Review | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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