Urban Experimentation

Thanks to beekeepers, a forward thinking management company, and equipment donated by the Walter T. Kelley Company, about 100,000 bees have the best view in Louisville of the Ohio River. After a full day of gathering pollen and nectar from the well-watered plantings of urban Louisville, they rest atop the Kentucky Home Life Building, in the largest green space rooftop garden in Kentucky.

The purpose of this initiative, designed and maintained by Bernheim Forest, is to see how native plants do in an urban environment. The roof is green, mainly with sedums and three gardens—one of native grasses, one of rock, and one cedar glade. The beautiful hives, painted by artist Tana Peers, rounded out this little piece of heaven high above city happenings.

Kentucky beekeeper Lani Basberg and her husband Jens head up the beekeeping aspect of the green roof. They started two hives this spring at their home apiary in anticipation of moving them to the rooftop—after Derby festivities. Lani felt fireworks on the river and hundreds of people on the rooftop might be upsetting to just-settled bees.

While installing package bees would’ve been easier, it probably wouldn’t have been as interesting. Laughing, Lani described how they took full hive bodies up the elevator after-hours. The hives were netted and the beekeepers fully suited; you never know what can happen. Luckily, nothing went wrong and the honeybees seemed intrigued by an alternate way to move rapidly through the air.

The honeybees, who were at about the limits of a deep box when installed on the roof, have thrived. They were crowned with a second deep upon installation. By mid-July both hives were already working their second honey supers. Honey was pulled mid-July; a sweet, dark honey that made everyone wonder which plants the bees have visited.
Hauling bees up an elevator and sticky honey back down it, then through an elegant office building is only a minor issue in the experiment of honeybees in an urban setting. A bigger challenge has been the wind exposure that high up, and how to anchor the hives. For aesthetic reasons, a big concrete block atop the hive is not used. Several types of bungees have been tried and experimentation continues as Mother Nature throws different stormy challenges at the hives.

Lani checks the hives every couple of weeks, and happily reports that so far, rooftop bees in Louisville are working, and working very hard.

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