rooftop beekeeping

European honeybee

According to urban apiarist Trey Flemming, bees that live in cities are generally healthier than their rural counterparts.  Bees are broad spectrum pollinators, which means that they leave the hive and look for varied types of nectar sources.  In the countryside, many bees end up visiting agricultural crops such as corn and soybeans, which are commonly doused with chemical herbicides and pesticides.  By contrast, urban bees feed on local flora found within street plantings, parks, roof gardens, and vegetable gardens.  These small-scale polycultures are generally not treated with herbicides or pesticides, and so the visiting pollinators do not bring chemicals back to the hive.

Trey co-founded Urban Apiaries in 2009 in order to sell local honey throughout the greater Philadelphia area.  The business now cares for 32 hives, located in seven apiaries throughout the city.  Several of these apiaries are situated on rooftops, such as those at North Philadelphia’s SHARE Food Program and Chestnut Hill’s Weavers Way Co-op.

Trey Flemming from Urban Apiaries

Inspecting the frames

Tens of thousands of European honeybees (Apis mellifera) surrounded us on the roof of SHARE Food Program as they went about their business, and we ours.  Trey tended the hives by first spraying pine needle smoke to calm his busy workers, and then he removed each hive’s lid to inspect its contents.  During the inspection we observed bees working the hives and honey cells of various colors.  Trey removed the most mature supers from each hive in order to extract the honey offsite in his honey house.  Urban Apiaries sells its honey in shops, markets, and farm stands throughout the city, and each jar contains the apiary’s zip code on the label.  Visit the company’s website at

2 Comments on “rooftop beekeeping

  1. Rooftop gardening is fascinating– on many levels. And beekeeping up there too? To think that I’m so nervous around bees, I can’t imagine being a beekeeper. But I wonder what they are pollinating on patio umbrellas? Sign up for Lauren’s blog. It will always be interesting.

  2. Certain types of bees and wasps are more aggressive than others. The European honeybee tends to be quite gentle, and Trey’s bees were so well-mannered that we didn’t even need to wear protective clothing. You can see in the pictures that while fiddling with the hives, Trey was wearing a T-shirt!

    I’m no bee expert, but I would guess that the bees under your patio umbrella are either checking out your picnic food or building a hive. Thanks for your comment, Gail.

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