Urban Beekeeping: Creating a Sustainable Rooftop Beehive

A Person Standing In Front Of A Building

Local Beekeeper, Tim Mitchell, Chief Engineer turned resident Hotel Beekeeper discusses stewardship and the impact urban beekeeping has on the environment from rooftop beehives at Provenance Hotels.

As food and coffee lovers we can attest, bees are among the most important insects in our community. Accounting for close to one-in-every three bites of food we eat, bees pollinate everything from garden flowers to zucchini’s, strawberries, coffee, beans and pears. As our urban areas continue to grow and bee populations decline, studies continue to show the negative effects on our natural environments and the richness of plant life. Over the last few years, we have been practicing the art of urban beekeeping as a way to pay it forward to nature and produce fresh honey for our guests. We have found that beehives located in urban areas produce a healthier and more productive bee colony with a stronger immune system and further support urban farms and city gardens. Engineer by trade, beekeeper and brewer by passion. Tim Mitchell joined the Provenance Hotels team in 2011, working his way up to Chief Engineer where he oversees all the things that go into physically running a hotel (Elevators? Check. Lights? Check). Now, he’s leading the Provenance Hotels beekeeping program at three of our Portland hotels -- Hotel deLuxe, Hotel Lucia and Sentinel. He’s pretty much the Bee’s Knee’s. At home, you can find Tim casually sipping coffee by his own hives in his back yard, something he says could do all day. This week, we caught up with Tim the rooftop of Hotel deLuxe on “why bee’s” and to learn more about the program he’s cultivating at Provenance Hotels.

Q: What is the buzz all about with beekeeping for you? How did you get your start?

    A: The short answer is Honey. I’m a home brewer and enjoy creating beers, ciders, and meads so honey adds a unique flavor profile. Mead and its origin story are very fascinating. My interest peaked after learning about how humans have kept bees throughout recorded history and in almost every culture across the world. Honey has been used in many ways - culturally, ceremonially and medicinally (with many positive health properties). Another important reason (beyond brewing) is stewardship and the impact it has on the environment. The threat to all pollinators is real, due to climate change and use of chemicals. I felt that beekeeping was something that I could personally do to try and help the world in my own small way.

Q: How do you train to become a beekeeper?

    A: No training required, but some basic how-to books can get you started. However, it is smart to do a lot of reading to be informed about all the tendencies of bees, signs of what to watch for, then what to do when you recognize issues. Take part in local beekeeping communities to be aware of best practices in your region. Here in Portland you can even participation in research studies with the local schools like OSU.

A Man Standing In Front Of A Pizza

Resident beekeeper, Tim Mitchell, and his colony of bees on the rooftop in Portland, OR. 

Q: What’s one tip you have for anyone that might want to practice?

    A: Don’t give up. Seek out the local bee keeping community. You will find friends that love to share their passion and their knowledge. There will be plenty of opportunities to learn and experience beekeeping and honey harvesting without having your own hives. Portland Urban Beekeepers is a great place to start for any beginner beekeepers.

Q: What are the main pieces of equipment needed to properly keep hives?

    A: The library, hive boxes with extra supers, a smoker, jacket/veil, and at least access to honey extraction equipment like a frame spinner.

Q: How often do you harvest? What times of the year typically? How long does it take?

    A: Harvesting usually happens only one time per year. If you have a very strong colony, you can sometimes harvest twice in late summer. Harvesting the honey is a time-consuming process that can take several hours per colony. It depends on many variables - like number of colonies and how strong each of them may be. This year, we invested in FlowHive technology at Provenance, which is newer to beekeeping process. For our small-scale program, it will eliminate a bunch of labor needed from our team and impact on the bees.

Q: What’s the lifespan of a hive (if maintained)?

    A: A single queen bee can live and lay eggs for four or five years. She will typically lay 250,000 eggs or more in a lifetime. A well-maintained colony will naturally replace their queen when needed. In a perfect world, a colony could last decades.

Q: What times of the year are best for harvesting or does it happen year-round?

    A: August. The honey flow is dependent on the seasonal flows of nectar and pollen. It starts in early March and goes into September.

A Piece Of Bread

The fruits of their labor! Raw honey being harvested from Provenance Hotels' urban apiary.

Q: Does the honey need to be treated in anyway after harvest, or can it be eaten right after?

    A: Raw Honey has a lot of positive health benefits from dietary antioxidants to anti-inflammatory effects. I’m not a medical doctor but honey is generally safe (unless you have specific allergies to bee pollen), and it can be eaten straight out of the hive with no processing. There are other hive products that are good for you to eat as well. The comb is edible and contains honey, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly, but I don’t eat the wax myself. Propolis is the glue that the bees make to stick the hive together. Propolis has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties that make it healthy to eat, and useful for wound healing. Bee pollen is also edible and has nutritional properties that make it a “complete food”.

Q: What kind of uniform (safety precautions) do you have to wear while harvesting/maintaining the hives?

   A: I wear a canvas bee jacket with a veil, and leather gloves, similar to what you see me wearing in these photos here. However, many beekeepers are confident, and wear no protective gear. It’s really up to the individual. The smoker is key for your protection.

Q: What are some safety precautions you recommend taking to protect not only yourself, but the bees?

    A: Have a plan before you start. Keep the time that the hive is open to a minimum. Have a water source around to extinguish the smoker. Have another person around to assist, if needed. Don’t open the hive in the rain or in the dark. Working in slow motion while the hive is open and pay attention to their temperament. They will let you know when they are finished.