In busy New Farm, there’s a little community that’s quietly going about its business on the rooftops of James St. High above the air kisses and alfresco dining is the secret world of the honey bee, living in beehives above your very heads. In case you missed it, urban beehives and neighbourhood beekeeping is very much ‘a thing’. Whilst you may think that the city if too grimy and polluted for bees to survive and produce honey, this is actually not the case.
Eat Drink Blog Conference Activity
As part of the Eat.Drink.Blog 2014 Conference, I had an opportunity to go on up to the rooftops, visit the hives and learn more about urban beekeeping and bees in general. Our tour guide through this miniature world was Jack Wilson Stone from Bee One Third Neighbourhood Honey. Bee One Third started in 2012 to promote the importance of bees and insects in the eco system both in the city as an advocate for farmers in the country. With the emergence of urban hives, there is an opportunity to connect with a different audience and to make connections between those who have the knowledge and the stories and those who are interested and want to learn more. Offering the occasional tour to one of the beehives is part of connecting with the community. Bee One Third’s motto is ‘Pollinating Change’.
After a short introduction about the lifecycle and habits of bees, it was time to suit up and visit these industrious little insects. Climbing up fire exits and ladders, we were rewarded with a great view over New Farm and Teneriffe on what was a very warm morning. On top of the roof the occasional bee flitted past to collect pollen and nectar but for the most part, there was just the gentle hum of thousands of bees going about their business. A little smoke was created to calm them and allow us to take a closer look at the hives in various stages and for Jack to point out workers, drones, larvae and lots and lots of honey chambers. Honey acts as an insulator in the hive and is also a bee food so it’s important that when collected, there’s enough left for the larvae to consume and allow the hive to regenerate. Bee pollen, collected as a ‘superfood’, is an essential ingredient in bee bread. This is the key food source of workers and drones so collection must also be carefully managed.
The James St site has been a bountiful one. Originally, one hive was placed on the rooftop to see how well it fared and whether a bee community was sustainable. Within a few short months, the hive had become so big that it swarmed to a nearby tree, taking with it a new queen and a large number of workers. This unexpected event was the sign of a healthy hive and indicated that the bees didn’t mind living in the ‘hood. Thankfully the bees swarmed on a weekend in a tree not too near any chai latte sippers so another apiarist was able to collect the natural hive and take it somewhere else.
Our visit to the rooftop hives culminated in Gerard’s Bar preparing a morning tea showcasing honey including honey iced tea, honey financiers with a delicious honey jelly and cream and a canapé of sobrassada dressed in honey. Warm, salty and smoky, the luscious honey smear was a sweet contrast and propelled this dish to beyond amazing. As I write about it now, many months after I enjoyed the snack, I can still taste that sweet/salty marriage.
Bee One Third has rooftop hives across Brisbane including Bulimba, West End and New Farm and unusual locations such as on top of the Roma St Transit Centre. The honey from these hives is extremely popular with chefs who are able to boast that it’s locally grown and sourced and the carbon footprint is virtually nil. Pretty impressive statements to be able to put on your menu and set you apart from the rest. There’s nothing hipper than to say you have a beehive on your restaurant’s roof.
Like wine, the honey produced is subject to the terroir the hive is located in and the flowers the bees have access to. Some honeys are light and floral, others are strong and dark. Hives even produce different styles of honey at different times of year, depending on what’s available. You may not think that bees have access to a lot of pollen producing flowers in built up areas but most cities have more than enough to keep these bee populations happy. If you take a walk through even the most barren industrial estate, you’ll invariably see some flowering weed poking through the cracks. To you it’s a dandelion but to a bee it’s a feast.
Bee One Third manages urban beehives, runs workshops for groups and individuals and of course, harvests and sells honey. The website is very interesting and worth a visit. For those in Brisbane, there are many places that now sell the rooftop honey (info also available on the website) but I recommend a visit to the cookbook shop Scrumptious Reads in James St so you can taste, browse and be inspired by some honey recipes in the many cookbooks on offer.
There are several urban beekeeping initiatives up and running across Australia. The ones I am aware of have been listed below. If you know of others, please let me know and I will update the list as appropriate.