What's Buzzing Above Boston? Rooftop Bees Making Local Honey.

June 7, 2016

City-dwelling bees aren't a pest-control problem, they're an urban enhancement. Here's how they're making honey high above the streets. 

By 
Dalia Sawaya
What's the Buzzing Above Boston? Rooftop Bees Making Local Honey. | WGBH | CRAVING BOSTON

What if I told you there are beehives on the roof of The Lenox Hotel? (Nope, not a pest control issue. No pending class actions for vacations-gone-wrong.) There, in the midst of the Back Bay boutique bustle, thousands of bees are hard at work. In fact, they've been up there since 2013! What's more, it's not the only hotel rooftop that's home to bee colonies. The Intercontinental is just another one of several peppered throughout Boston. And they don't just post up there on their own either — these are legit beekeeping operations.

My honeybee excursions didn't begin atop The Lenox, however. Last year, Cambridge’s own specialty shop, Follow The Honey, opened my eyes to the world of bee vomit (Not poop! Better, right?). Before my first honey tasting at FTH, I had no idea of the vast variety of honey textures, colors, and flavors. I thought it was all golden brown, gooey, and overly sugary sweet (before sitting in the cabinet awhile, where it turns gritty and crystallized, which I long thought was somehow my fault. News to me, crystallization is a natural and inevitable process that all honey goes through).

FTH was also where I first got my bearings regarding raw honey — what it is, and why it’s important. Raw doesn’t just mean unprocessed, but that the honey bees aren’t artificially fed (usually some kind of sugar or corn syrup). This led me to wonder, what is it these rooftop bees are eating so far away from greenery and flowers? Before having my questions answered by the beekeeper himself, Dean Stiglitz of Golden Rule Honey, I got a taste of the rooftop booty, courtesy of City Table in The Lenox. Barely translucent and light golden in color, this honey is an ambrosial combination of citrus and floral with a hint of fermentation-like depth (Don’t let that throw you. Fermentation is sexy — see the "Air" episode of Michael Pollan’s "Cooked" series for details).

My worries that the rooftop dwellers were feeding on all the wrong things were put to rest during my adventure with Dean. Turns out that bees forage up to three miles (three!) for flower and plant nectar. What’s more, they first fly upwards, clearing the tree line (which can be hundreds of feet) to smell for the location of the food, dip down to snag it, feast, then circle back to the hive. That is to say, a hive on the roof lends a leg up in the foraging game (The Lenox is 12 stories high).

So there you have it — the next phase of capitalization on the honeybee trend here in Boston. Not only can you find local raw honey at any Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, numerous health food stores, co-ops, and farmers’ markets, but now within the city’s posh hospitality establishments. And as the honey bees grow their colonies, the hotel aspires to jar the rooftop treasure for purchase — a perfect gift for out of towners to tote home, or for locals to stop in and snag without missing a beat. Also at City Table, I had the pleasure of sampling their honey-inspired brunch menu, the best of which included a rooftop-honey-broiled grapefruit. Look for a honey-infused cocktail recipe from them, right here next week. 

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  • June 6, 2016