"Bees like redheads."
That was Matt Kentner's attempt to reassure me that the continent of flying insects communing above my head wasn't going to sting me to death, a legitimate concern for someone who's allergic to bees. But just in case you're ready to grab the phone and order flowers for my funeral, don't bother. Kentner was right: Bees apparently do like redheads. I walked away sting-free.
We were ten stories high, on the roof of the Brown Palace hotel, amid two colonies of frisky bees -- 75,000 to 100,000 strong -- their honey soon to be incorporated into the hotel's afternoon tea service, and next summer, into executive chef William Dexter's culinary lineup.
The hotel's rooftop bee program, which took flight in April, is the first of its kind in Colorado, and the Brown Palace is one of less than a dozen hotels in the world to nurture bee colonies. Kentner, a local beekeeper for more than seven years, approached the Brown Palace's green committee with the idea of urbanized beekeeping, and from there, things began to --well -- buzz. "We loved the idea, and felt like it was really important for us to lead this kind of effort in Denver," says Shannon Dexheimer-Hulsey, public relations director for the hotel. "Our hope is to grow the initiative and add more hives, so that we can continue to integrate the honey into our cooking and, eventually, even spa treatments." The hotel has donated two beehives to the Denver Beekeepers Association and partnered with Denver Parks & Recreation to plant bee-friendly flowers in Civic Center Park.
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Kentner, who also produces his own pure, unfiltered Colorado honey from the bees he keeps at Kentner Farms, got involved in the project because, he says, "it's vital that we make people aware of how essential bees are to our environment and food source." Colony collapse disorder -- the depopulation of bees -- is a huge crisis, laments Kentner, who maintains that if the Brown Palace can instill hives on a roof in the middle of downtown Denver, anyone can.
The hotel's rooftop bees, says Kentner, are getting their nectar from nearby Linden trees. "They'll travel up to three miles to forage, and they prioritize their nectar sources, usually by determining which sources are closest and sweetest." The first batch of honey, which Kentner collected yesterday, was delicious, with pronounced undertones of mint. "It's great that we have our own hives, because we're getting a really unique product from a flavor standpoint," adds Dexter.
According to Kentner, the bee colonies will swell to 150,000 by the end of the summer, and produce nearly 50 pounds of honey. He estimates that each colony will yield 100 pounds of surplus next spring. "Bees are a lot like trees," he says. "They need to grow to produce."
And the colonies also need a name, which is where you come in. If you want to enter the hotel's "Name the Hives contest," go to the Brown Palace Facebook page. The winners receive a weekend getaway at the hotel.