Bee Season - Baltimore Md.
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Local honeybees take up residence at a downtown hotel, with delicious resultsby Tracey Middlekauff - Article in "Urbanite"
Thomas is standing in the third floor courtyard at the InterContinental Harbor Court Hotel, hardly the place you’d expect to find a buzzing bee colony. But Baltimore Honey has teamed up with the hotel—along with the American Visionary Art Museum and the Oyster Recovery Partnership—to create an amenable space for the bees to do their important work: the pollination of crops.
To ensure that the bees are able to function as nature intended, Thomas explains that the hotel colony—like all of the apiaries her group cares for throughout the city—will not be subjected to any chemicals or unnatural practices. “Our bees feed only on live plant nectar,” she explains. “We don’t give them sugar water and we don’t smoke them.”
Smoking bees, a common practice employed by beekeepers to calm the hive in order to extract the honey, can damage the bees’ smell receptors, according to Thomas. “It disturbs their ability to communicate. Smoking prevents them from sending off their alarm pheromones. They think their hive is on fire, so they gorge on their honey and then they’re too full to move. Instead, we use a water mister. Then they just think it’s raining. It’s natural.”
Besides, Thomas says that because of the way the bees are handled and cared for, they are gentler and less aggressive than the average honeybee. I was not stung once in the time I spent standing next to the apiary; in fact, I held one very gentle bee in my hand for many minutes before it calmly flew back to the hive.
But what does all this have to do with food? Everything. Aside from pollination’s obvious connection to and importance for food crops, the fact that the Baltimore honeybees are not given a mono-crop to pollinate (think clover or orange blossom) positively affects the flavor of the honey. “Honeybees need a diversity of food foraging areas,” Thomas says. “Each [of our hives] has its own zip code, and so the honey from each hive has its own distinct flavor.” She calls it micro-local honey.
A taste test confirmed for me that the honey produced by the nonprofit under the brand name “B’more Hon E” is richer and more intense than the stuff you generally find on the grocery store shelves. To taste it for yourself, you can purchase a community supported apiary membership through Baltimore Honey beginning in December.
According to InterContinental general manager Arpad Romandy, the apiary is a perfect expression of the hotel’s green philosophy and business practices. Talk about keeping it local: The bees will pollinate the hotel’s herb garden, as well as feast on the clover from the courtyard grass. While there won’t be enough honey to harvest this first year—the bees will need it all to survive the winter—once the hive becomes established, executive chef Josean Rosado will be able to incorporate the honey into dishes at hotel restaurant Brightons.
And in September, Rosado is planning a multi-course prix fixe menu with savory and sweet items incorporating the B’More Hon E brand. If the scrumptious honey-based treats he provided at the recent apiary unveiling are any indication—cantaloupe soup, lemon curd, madeleines—it will be a meal not to be missed. As it turns out, Rosado has an affinity for all things apian: He has taken a beekeeping class and enjoys spending time tending the apiary.
“Honey,” he says, “brings joy to us and to our cooking.”
To learn more about how join the honey CSA, or how to become a hive sponsor or host, visit BaltimoreHoney.org