2017-06-15 / Nature

Local Hotel’s Rooftop Beehive a Unique Venture

By Charles Avenengo


Like farm animals, hives must be registered every year with the state. Like farm animals, hives must be registered every year with the state. Unbeknownst to pedestrians strolling along bustling Lower Thames Street, a legion of honeybees zip back and forth just yards above their heads. They are headed to the boutique hotel, Forty 1° North, located at the foot of Christie’s Landing. In a stroke of creativity, the hotel has installed a beehive on its roof, and the busy bees have been producing honey for the past five years.

Peter Borden, co-owner of the hotel, said that despite some initial trial-and-error, including difficulties like wind and cold, about 80 pounds of honey are produced annually by the beehive. “This year, we are thrilled that they are doing well,” he said.

The colony comes as a welcome addition to the world of bees. Some people are aware that many pollinators, especially honeybees, have experienced a dramatic decline nationally. In response, a number of folks are fighting back, including this urban rooftop beekeeping operation.


No honey has been harvested this year, said Mike Shepherd, the beekeeper at Forty 1° North. The beehive is checked approximately every two weeks to make sure that the Queen is laying eggs correctly, and to check for the nectar levels, along with any disease or infestations. 
(Photo courtesy of Mike Shepherd) No honey has been harvested this year, said Mike Shepherd, the beekeeper at Forty 1° North. The beehive is checked approximately every two weeks to make sure that the Queen is laying eggs correctly, and to check for the nectar levels, along with any disease or infestations. (Photo courtesy of Mike Shepherd) While Forty 1° North’s rooftop bee colony is most likely the first in Newport, the practice is believed to have begun in New York City in the 1970s. As the practice spread, even Chicago Mayor Richard Daly got involved by having 20,000 plants placed onto the roof of city hall, including three beehives.

When asked why they installed the colony on the roof of Forty 1° North, Borden said that it was in keeping with the property becoming the first LEED-certified hotel in the region. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system devised to evaluate the environmental performance of a building. By adding rooftop honeybees to the hotel, it was in keeping with this designation. “The bees were struggling nationally, so we instituted the colony. It’s a great fit,” said Borden.

With the difficulties that the bees are facing, government agencies have said that these hard-working bees help pollinate more than 75 percent of our flowering plants, and nearly the same percentage of crops. National Geographic’s website, “The Plate,” writes that “Keeping honeybees abundant and happy is crucial to feeding a planet of seven billion.”

While pollinators come in many forms, including insects, hummingbirds and bats, clearly the most revered is the honeybee. People have always loved honey. Rock paintings dating back 25,000 years in Southern Africa depict humans honey-hunting, while in ancient Egypt Pharaoh Ramses III provided 28,000 jars of honey as an offering to the God of the Nile. Next to humans, bees are the most studied creatures on earth.

In Rhode Island, responding to the bee’s decline the General Assembly in 2016 tasked the Department of Environmental Management to create a legislative group called the “Pollinators Working Group” to address the stresses of the pollinators.

“While a lot of people are pointing to pesticides as the problem, the real takeaway from the “Pollinators Working Group” is that the varroa mite is a major problem here for the bees,” said Keith Salisbury, president of the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association.

The varroa mite is an Asian species that entered the United States in Florida around 1987. Salisbury said the parasites are akin to ticks. They attach to the bees and begin to suck out their fat bodies. In the process, viruses are transferred to the bees, weakening them. This results in deformed bee larvae that eventually causes the colony to collapse. In the year following the varroa mite discovery in Florida, 90 percent of the state’s bee colony was destroyed. The plague rapidly spread across the continent.

Salisbury said a significant result of the group is the Department of Agriculture’s Queen’s Grant, which funds the distribution of imported genetically superior queen bees to the state’s 350 registered beekeepers. The goal is to get the superior mated queens to increase the genetics of the drones with whom they mate, thus improving a colonies’ resistance against the varroa mites. “This is cutting-edge stuff in the world of bees,” said Salisbury.

Back in Newport, it’s a fair trade. Should the drones of the novel waterfront colony ever have time in their busy schedules of pollination forays, they are afforded one of the best views anywhere of Newport Harbor free of charge. In return, Borden said, “Our chef uses the honey product in our menu and we give samples to our guests.”

And with a gift of local honey, it doesn’t get any better.

Naturalist Charles Avenengo has been chasing Aquidneck Island wildlife for more than 40 years.

Return to top