Rooftop bees not a fad here.
by Jan Schlain
"I'm wearing myself out," says Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home & Garden. Hodesh has been getting more exercise lately escorting customers--mostly moms and kids--upstairs to see the beehive he has on his back rooftop. Since the back part of his store is only one story, from the second-floor storage area people can look out the window and see the bees at work.
Last winter, Pat Murphy, a retired schoolteacher turned obsessed beekeeper, called Hodesh up and volunteered to give a free talk with a beekeeper friend on backyard beekeeping. Hodesh said yes, listened, and loved their spirit. "If these guys could grow wings, they'd be bees!" Hodesh says. He agreed to host a beehive if Murphy would set it up and care for it.
Rooftop bees are the rave in big cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto, and Paris. But "to me, it's not a fad," says Murphy, who drives all the way from his home in Mt. Pleasant to tend to Hodesh's bees. "It's a win-win for everybody. The community is having more blooms, more flowers--I mean, these bees are going to be pollinating for a good couple of miles around here."
Watching the hive from the second-floor window, Murphy spots field bees coming in. "Their job is to go out and collect food," he explains. "They will transfer the nectar to a worker bee inside the hive, and that bee will carry it or transfer it on and on until it goes to the correct honeycomb--whatever they decide is the best one...Sooner or later it will ripen into honey."
Some might find working with insects with stingers stressful, but not Murphy. "It's very calming work," he says. "You'd be surprised."
Unlike chickens, Ann Arborites don't need a permit to keep bees, though a city ordinance does set a limit of two hives per property. By the end of summer, Hodesh should have honey to harvest and something like 60,000 bees in his hive.
For Murphy, it's a mission. For
Hodesh, "it's Retailing 301. Maybe 401.
"Downtown Home and Garden is a very feminine store," he explains. "Beekeeping is a male domain. These bees play strong to women with kids, and they're a big part of our business." To start a new generation of bee lovers, he's passing out stickers (designed by his wife, artist Margaret Parker) that say, "I saw the hive at Downtown Home & Garden."
Asked if Hodesh has promise as a beekeeper, Murphy says yes: "He's enthusiastic. He loves what he does. He's patient. And besides," he adds, "the bees do most of the work!"
[Originally published in August, 2010.]