Urban Beekeeping On Jardinière's Rooftop

Urban Beekeeping On Jardinière's RooftopPhotos: Ayo Suber/Hoodline
Ayo Suber
Published on December 02, 2014
You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but atop of the historic brick building that houses Jardinière, there’s a hidden world buzzing with apiculture. Curious about Jardinière's rooftop beekeeping operation, we stopped by 300 Grove St. to take a closer look. 
We were greeted by Jardinière's Mike Dreyer, who promptly led us through the romantic interior of the restaurant to the kitchen, where we stopped in a small office. A metal ladder attached to the wall led us up to an attic-like opening in the roof. 

Terry Oxford of Urban Bee San Francisco, who maintains the rooftop hives, specifically chose this roof because of its inaccessibility. How well bees survive in any given environment depends on a number of factors, including weather, temperatures, access to water and plants, human activity, pesticides, and other bees, among other influences. Terry wanted to give the bees the greatest chance of survival by placing them in a controlled environment, and the rooftop fit the bill.

The hives were placed on the roof back in 2012, when Terry, who knew Jardinière owner Traci Des Jardins, asked her if she could use the roof for beekeeping. Terry had already been placing hives on the roofs of other San Francisco restaurants, including Nopa, Cotogna, and Quince, so Jardinière was a natural choice . 

Originally, Jardinière's hives boasted a mix of Russian, German, and Italian bees. The Italian bees didn’t do so well, so today only the Germans and Russians remain. German bees are the most aggressive, often raiding other beehives, so their hive is placed apart from the Russian hive. They are known to be aggressive towards humans as well, so we were instructed not to get too close to the hive. 

The roof, though crowded with air conditioning ducts and pipes, was deemed safe by an inspector, since the bees only add negligible weight. The hives are placed on platforms so they don’t touch the roof and aren’t as susceptible to flooding in the rain. 

In 2013, Mike started the rooftop garden to accompany the beekeeping operation. A server at Jardinière, Mike had always wanted to start an urban garden, and the bees alighting on his place of employment presented a natural opportunity. The garden helps sustain the bees, providing them with plentiful sources of food. “They love the marigolds,” he said, pointing to the vibrant yellow flowers. 

Honey bees are not native to North America, and as native plants aren’t designed for honeybees, they rely on human plant cultivation for survival. “We depend on them and they depend on us,” said Mike. “They wouldn’t be able to survive without us.” 

On the rooftop, no pesticides or insecticides are used, and insects are picked off by hand. Not only does Jardinière want to protect the bees, but honey and food produced from the garden are used in the dishes and drinks served in the restaurant below. 

Nasturtium flowers are used in salads, and the honey is used in desserts, vinaigrettes, and in the production of the restaurant's in-house mead, an alcoholic beverage created with fermented honey. In the winter, honey production is low, but patrons are able to get a taste of the mead at Jardinière’s bar in the warmer months when honey production is high.

Terry hasn’t come by to take honey recently, as she wants to make sure the bees can sustain themselves through the winter. Honeybees collect pollen and make and store honey in the spring and summer months so they have something to eat during the cooler months, when there are fewer flowers in bloom. 

Urban beekeeping has seen a growth in popularity, and increased interest in beekeeping comes as Colony Collapse Disorder threatens honeybee populations around the world. “The decline has been going on since the '80s,” said Terry in a video created by Nopalize, below. “I started reading at that point that bees were in trouble ... and I thought, if bees can’t make it, it’s over.” 

She likens the way bees should be treated to the way we think of the natural world at large. “I treat them with that kind of respect ... I know my bees are going to survive without chemicals, without medicine, without plastic, without anything artificial,” she said. “Because my bees reproduce without all of that human assistance, I think that they’re going to continue, that’s where I see a future.”

If you'd like to visit an observation hive, both the Randall Museum (199 Museum Way) and the Children's Insect Zoo at the SF Zoo offer a chance to see bees at work. And to learn more about urban beekeeping and local honey in the city, check out Urban Bee San Francisco, the San Francisco Beekeeper's AssociationCity Bees or Habitat for Honey Bees