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Rooftop Bee Hives Elevate Urban Beekeeping

Julia Mitric / Capital Public Radio

A photo of hyperlocal yellow thistle honey.

Julia Mitric / Capital Public Radio

When urbanites encounter honey bees, some run away in fear while others dream of honey. Two women are on a mission to help people feel more at ease with bees while boosting the urban ecosystem.

At a honey tasting at Mulvaney's B & L restaurant in midtown Sacramento, Kim Felix and Lindsay Harbough set out jars of honey ranging in color from pale gold to mahogany. Each batch is cultivated from a different neighborhood in the city.

“This one is from 'South Sac.' It’s primarily yellow thistle. It’s invasive but it makes incredible honey,” Harbough adds, with a laugh. 

Honeycomb _080116A photo of a honeycomb. Bee Love Sacramento / Courtesy

The yellow thistle she's talking about grows along the edge of a baseball field near her backyard hive. This hyper-local honey has a rich flavor and it's not overly sweet.

This honey tasting benefit supports Sacramento Bee Love, Harbaugh and Felix's non-profit group. It pays for them to visit local schools to "talk bees" with kids of all ages

"You could say we're planting the seed early (for children) to be okay with being around bees," explains Harbough. 

The duo also offer classes for people who are curious about starting a garden or rooftop hive of their own.  

Both women have kept bees in their respective backyards for more than eight years. Still, they both get why bee keeping is not for everyone.

"People in general don't like to get stung," she notes. " I don't blame them. It's not fun."

Blackwhite _beebox _080116A bee box in a Sacramento yard. Adan Romo / Courtesy

Felix admits she herself was wary when a friend asked her to host a hive in her backyard. Felix had young children at the time. But the very first time they opened the hive, she says they were hooked by "the mysterious world of bees."

"In the hive you can see all the little pieces of them working together. I think what (the kids) really loved was they could see one of the bees coming in and them cleaning off the other bee, explains Felix.

Now, they're working to elevate Sacramento's honey bee haven status by convincing local businesses to host rooftop bee hives.

They've already established a bee colony above Mulvaney's B & L restaurant and plans are under way to do the same on the roof of Hostelling International Sacramento a few blocks away. 

Honey bees forage within about three miles of their hive. Given that radius, Felix says Sacramento offers an ideal urban ecosystem.

Smoker _080116A photo of beekeeping supplies. Adan Romo / Courtesy
"There are just tons of trees in the city, everything is just right there for the bees year round," she explains.

"Plus when it’s localized and people actually see bees, see that they can be on rooftops and in their back yard, they understand they can have a connection to them, they’re not afraid."

Starting out with beekeeping can be costly. Felix and Harbough say they're developing a collective model, like a honey CSA. Several people would split the start-up costs of establishing a colony and they'd receive a share of honey in return.