Sweden’s highest beekeeping takes place in the unlikeliest of locations: at the very top of Gothia Towers’ middle tower, on the roof of Upper House.
Here, two beehives form part of a flourishing kitchen garden.
Last summer, Gothia Towers and Upper House gained almost 60,000 new employees. And now, having rested over the winter, they’re buzzing to get back to work again. Except they haven’t really been resting at all. As autumn approaches and supplies of nectar and pollen dry up, the bees form into a large ball with their queen in the middle, keeping warm for the winter. They take it in turns on the outside so that the warmth is distributed evenly between the worker bees. Cleverly, they ensure that the ball keeps its shape in a state of perpetual motion.
In the spring, when the nectar and pollen make their return, the colony gets back to work.
Up on the roof of Upper House the bees are in full swing – weather permitting. Almost 30,000 bees are busily searching for nectar and pollen, and by midsummer the colonies in the two beehives at Upper House are expected to swell to around 120-160,000.
The rooftop hives are the brainchild of Krister Dahl, Executive Chef at Gothia Towers.
“There are a number of reasons why we decided to keep bees,” explains Krister. “We always use local produce and local ingredients, and we love being able to offer our guests honey with their cheese that has come straight from the honeycomb from our own bees, living on the roof above their heads. We’re also be using the honey in a beer that we’re currently brewing.”
Pär Svensson is responsible for Upper House’s bees. He works as a project manager within product and design development for the creative agency Stylt Trampoli. But for the last few years, his passion has been bees and beekeeping.
Following organic beekeeping principles, Pär looks after the apiary and ensures that the bees enjoy the best possible conditions in which to thrive and grow.
Tell us, Pär: What’s the best thing about beekeeping?
“The bees, of course! And the insight you get into their fascinating society and their lives. They really are incredible!”
There are around 15,000 beekeepers in Sweden, but beekeeping as high up as at Gothia Towers – 83 metres above ground level – is rather unusual.
Are the bees affected by the altitude in any way?
“Given the choice, they probably wouldn’t choose to live so high up as they can be affected by the wind. But it’s not as windy up there as I thought it might be at first. The towers surrounding the middle tower provide a lot of shelter, and our bees are doing really well.
“Despite what you might expect, the city is an excellent location for keeping bees. In fact, it’s not as easy to practise organic beekeeping in the countryside as it is here at Upper House. The urban environment offers non-toxic flowers as well as a rich variety of nectar and pollen that’s rare in rural areas these days. It’s great for the bees.”
More than just bees
The roof of Upper House is home to more than just the two beehives. There’s also a thriving kitchen garden where various herbs, salad shoots, black kale and radishes are grown. And Krister wants to grow more.
“I want the roof to become a big, flourishing garden where we can show guests around before dinner. Show them our bees, herbs, flowers and other things that will be part of their dining experience later on. Maybe a tour with aperitifs.”
Bees at Upper House – what’s happening now?
Now spring is here, Pär visits the apiary occasionally to check that the bees have what they need in terms of feed and insulation to protect them against the vagaries of the spring weather. Pär will then start coming more and more frequently until midsummer to enlarge their living area as the colony grows in size.
All the honey is harvested in August, just before winter preparations are made in September and October. That’s when the bees are given sugar syrup and their living quarters are checked and treated to protect against any harmful mites.
Bees start producing honey for their own use in the spring. By May, Upper House can start using the surplus.
- All honey bees are eusocial (breeding is taken care of by just one or a few individuals in a colony), colony-forming insects with a system of three castes: queens, drones and workers.
- The honey bee has been around for almost 50 million years (compared with around 50,000 years for mankind).
- A colony of bees can consist of 60-80,000 individuals.
- Bees have to fly the equivalent of two times around the earth to gather enough nectar for half a kilo of honey.