(The following post was written by two Harvard graduate students about their adventures in novice urban beekeeping).

In the Spring of 2011, we were involved in a conversation with Louisa Dennison of the Harvard Community Garden about bringing beehives to the rooftops of buildings on campus. As two design students with histories in farming and food systems, our interests intersected on the roof of Gund Hall. The more we learned about rooftop hives, the more we realized how feasible and ecological it would be to have a rooftop apiary. This hive would fit in nicely with the existing Green Roof of Gund Hall established in 2007.

Why keep bees?

While the honey is a nice byproduct and would be a great local food product, the real point of the bees fits into Harvard’s sustainability commitment. Bees are vital to the pollination of many of the crops that feed this country and with the recent collapse of so many colonies, healthy urban food systems are a viable alternative to industrialized food production. Urban beekeeping, like urban gardening, can be a small scale intervention that plugs into a larger network moving us towards healthier and more sustainable cities.

In Cambridge, the bees have access to the ideal mix of weeds and wildflowers on the banks of the Charles River, as well as many local plantings such as the Harvard Community Garden. Bees generally forage for food within a two-mile range; with this city’s significant greenery, local beekeepers have noted that Cambridge is a great place to keep bees.  The network of bees throughout the campus would serve to pollinate the Harvard Community Garden, as well as the numerous surrounding community gardens in Cambridge, while also serving as a symbol of the importance of bees to the sustainability of our larger food system.

Our Beehive!

After receiving a Student Sustainability Grant from the Office for Sustainability (OFS), we quickly discovered that there were already two beehives on the roof of the Northwest Labs. Bodo Stern, the Director of Research Affairs at the Harvard FAS Center for Systems Biology, took us to see his thriving colonies and introduced us to the necessary equipment and basic care strategies.

With this shared knowledge and an OFS grant we were able to purchase our own equipment and bees in early June 2011.  The hive on Gund Hall is now heavy with honey and brood. To support this project our parent student group, GSD Green Design, sponsored a beehive winter design competition this fall.

Follow our progress and learn as we learn at our Pollinators blog.