Cincinnati.com: A couple of hotel guests unloading recently in front of downtown's Hilton Netherland Plaza were startled by what they saw on a cart pushed by Todd Kelly, the hotel's food and beverage director.
"Are those... .bees?" asked one guest. "What are you going to do with those?"
Let them make honey, of course.
Kelly, who is also executive chef of Orchids, the fine-dining restaurant at the Hilton, working with executive pastry chef Megan Ketover, and beekeeper Richard Stewart were taking the bees to their new home on the building's sixth-floor roof.
Kelly already used local honey almost exclusively in the restaurant and for events and banquets. Most of it is collected from Stewart's Carriage House Farms in North Bend.
But this rooftop honey will be hyper-local, coming from nectar within three miles of the hotel, which is how far bees fly from their hives. Kelly, who buys most seasonal vegetables and meats from local producers, is interested in digging deep into the origins of the products he serves.
And, "I just thought it would be fun to have our own bees. I love the educational aspect of it, learning about where it comes from. It fits into the food and beverage goals of the hotel, being sustainable, local, and efficient. We're supplementing our supply of something we use a ton of, on an unused part of the hotel: the roof."
Orchids rooftop honey is not unique in the city. Randy Wergers, the chef at the Kingsgate Marriott in Clifton, installed three hives on his rooftop about a month ago. Once the honey's harvested, he said, "I can tell people our honey is local, and when they ask how local? I can say, Well, it's from our roof."
First, Stewart installed the queen, which had its own special mesh box. Then he poured the thousands of worker bees into the hives. Each hive has eight "frames," wooden rectangles on which the bees will construct their honeycombs. The bees swarmed around the hives.
"It's chaos right now," said Stewart, but the bees were soon to arrange themselves into the highly structured organization they're known for. Kelly and Ketover needed only to make sure the bees had sugar syrup to keep them alive until their hive is established.
Jim Tew, an Ohio State University entomologist, says it's hard to predict how well urban bees will do. "These urban beekeepers are pioneers. We're all learning. How high can you put bees? Will they have enough to eat? We don't know."
It's hard to say how much honey Kelly and Ketover will harvest from these two hives: beekeeping is an unpredictable enterprise, but each of Stewart's hives yields about 80 pounds in a year.
"We could get 200 pounds from one hive, nothing from the other," said Kelly. But when they can serve honey from these hive, they'll be sure to point out to guests that it's one of the few foods that can be labeled "Produced in Downtown Cincinnati."
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