Bees keep Minneapolis City Hall buzzing

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2014 - 5:46 AM

Three hives of bees thrive in a courtyard rain garden as Minneapolis models sustainability and conservation efforts.

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Minneapolis City Hall was abuzz one day in late June, and it had nothing to do with political intrigue.

Inhabitants of one of the two beehives installed last year in the Romanesque building’s seldom-seen courtyard had subdivided. The swarm resettled in a honey-gorged beard of bees on a fifth-floor gutter.

The job fell to Jim Doten, one of City Hall’s three designated volunteer beekeepers, to pop out of a rooftop hatch with a safety harness to nudge the docile horde into a large box that more typically would hold city files.

“Even though they’re mellow at this point, one of them might not have gotten the memo,” said Doten, wearing full protective beekeeper clothing.

He took his buzzing refugees downstairs to stay overnight in temporary quarters after most city workers had gone home. He went to Fleet Farm for an extra hive.

The bees are the latest example of a local government trying to set a conservation-minded example for city residents and businesses. The three hives live in a lush rain garden of dozens of native plants brought in several years ago, which also drew grasshoppers that live in the vegetation. Peregrine falcons nest high above in a turret overlooking the courtyard.

Council Member Lisa Goodman was the first to suggest adding the bees. As the council’s earliest green advocate, she had watched as the W Hotel at Foshay Tower added hives year earlier — serving the honey to guests in a nod to the locally grown movement.

Goodman envisioned selling enough honey to offset the costs of the hives and using nature’s sweet nectar as gifts to visiting dignitaries. Doten expects to reap about 75 pounds per hive come fall.

The venture is not costing taxpayers anything. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated bees and the original hives from its 120-hive collection. Doten, supervisor for environmental regulation for the city by day, and his co-keepers maintain the hives in addition to their regular day jobs.

“If you want to show people you can do it in an urban environment, this is the perfect place,” said Gayle Prest, the city’s sustainability director and one of the volunteer beekeepers.

The bees need to fly four stories to clear the courtyard, but once they do, they are off to find blooms or any of the roughly 50 community gardens within their range.

“The honey’s really good — it’s awesome,” Doten said. “There’s some good wildflowers around here.”

It took some time to get the enterprise operating. Hennepin County’s representatives to the city-county board that runs the building were initially reluctant, but a turnover in members gave the idea new life. City leaders recently tweaked an ordinance that once required permission from tenants in nearby buildings to just ensuring that tenants were notified.

Once the hives were brought in, the window-washing crews were initially nervous.

“Even the people who were nervous about it, they seem to really like them now,“ Doten said. “People with the windows on the courtyard really love it.”

Doten’s interest in beekeeping came during his time in the Army National Guard (he retired after serving in Kosovo and Iraq).

A hydrologist by trade, Doten went to Afghanistan as part of a rural development team focused on improving the nation’s farm economy.

Near the end of his tour, he heard from Patrick Hanlon, an environmental initiatives manager at the city. He wanted to know whether Doten wanted to join the City Hall project.

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  • City employees Jim Doten and Patrick Hanlon last week inspected hives of bees living in a rain garden of native plants at Minneapolis City Hall.

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