Roof top bee keeping is an urban, environmental effort flourishing in the 21st century. Learning about bees and their unique challenges in various parts of the world can and/or should become a part of your travels.
Plenty of hotels now have bee hives on their property. But long before it was considered a cool, responsible and even necessary thing to do, the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in downtown Vancouver installed a 2,100 square foot roof top garden. In 1995, it was the first in roof top garden in Vancouver. And then, in 2008, the Fairmont added bee hives to the roof.
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Visiting Roof Top Bees in Vancouver
Bees are enjoying rock star status these days, as they well should after generations of humans poisoning them, destroying their habitat and running away screaming if one happens to like the smell of your shampoo and lands in your hair.
The Earth Watch Institute calls bees the most important living being on Earth.
So, when I travel, I like knowing about hotels, attractions, restaurants and such doing their part to take care of bees. Particularly honey bees, because, well, aren’t we all just a little Winnie-the-Pooh at heart?
The Roof Top Bees at the Fairmont Waterfront
The Fairmont Waterfront is the closest hotel to the Vancouver cruise ship port.
So if you’re planning an Alaskan cruise that departs from or returns to Vancouver, just look up and, you’ll see the roof top garden and honey bees at the Fairmont.
Even if you don’t stay at the Fairmont, you can enjoy the bees. Each day at 2 p.m., May through September, volunteers lead tours of the roof top garden and answer questions about bees.
The roof top garden supports about 250,000 bees that create about 200 pounds of honey from this site per year. These little critters travel about 12 miles in search of nectar. In this part of British Columbia, that puts them in touch with blackberry, dandelion, fire weed, clover, cherry and other indigenous plants.
When the weather turns cold, beekeepers move the hives inland and south, away from the harsh winds that blow in from the harbor. And each spring, the hives and their hard working residents come back to the Fairmont Waterfront.
You can buy jars of the Roof Top Honey in the Fairmont gift shop and enjoy lots of tasty treats in the ARC restaurant, including adult beverages created from this special honey.
In the spirit of Pooh bears everywhere, I ordered an apple galette with burnt honey ice cream. Yummm!
Ask about the bee keeping workshops occasionally offered at the Fairmont.
So, while many hotels do this sort of thing, I love the Fairmont Waterfront for taking its roof top bee keeping one step further. They’ve partnered with an organization called Hives for Humanity. This non-profit builds and places bee houses in green spaces around Vancouver to help grow the bee population of the city.
Particularly, these structures are for Mason bees, hard working pollinators that do not produce honey. This species of bees does not live in hives, but works and lives alone. They just buzz around pollinating, which is the most fundamental job in the world, not worrying about keeping the queen happy.
Mason bees like to curl up in little holes about the size of a paper straw. That’s where they lay their eggs and rest after all that buzzing about. For the human race, it takes less effort to provide for Mason bees than honey bees. And it’s much less likely that you’ll get stung.
If you’ve got some old logs or firewood around, drill a few holes in the wood about the size of a pencil, and voilá. You’ve created a great Mason bee house. Or easier yet, just buy one and hang it up outside.
In working with Hives for Humanity, the Fairmont has also created jobs for marginalized people who otherwise have difficulty connecting with society. During the growing season, previously unemployed people now work in the Fairmont Waterfront’s roof top garden taking care of bees and their habitat.
But others people, attracted to the activity and volunteers, find their way to the bee house work spaces, and therefore are becoming more connected to society and engaged in their community.
Traveling with Bees in Mind
I didn’t know much about bee keeping until I spent a few hours in the garden at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver (although I have read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees).
But now, I know enough that I’ll do a better job of planting flowers — bees love purples and blues I’m told. And I’ll not freak out when they fly close or settle in for a whiff of my hair. Honey bees die when they sting, so it’s certainly a last resort defense mechanism on their part.
I learned that urban bees are often healthier and more productive than rural bees because rural agricultural areas often have more harmful pesticides.
I also might add a Mason bee house to our backyard and I will be more appreciative of what I’m eating when I enjoy honey on toast and such.
And when I travel, I will always, always attempt to patronize businesses that do all they can to help our little buzzy bees.