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Rooftop beehives keep Seaport Hotel in honey

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  August 14, 2013 04:26 PM

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Guests are getting a pretty sweet deal at the Seaport Hotel on the South Boston waterfront, where hotel staff have taken over a corner of a lower-level roof to raise bees that supply the hotel with honey.

The sticky syrup winds up in dressings and sauces in the restaurant downstairs. At breakfast, diners can even scoop some up as it drips from the comb and slather it right onto their toast.

The hotel began keeping bees in a rooftop corner above the fourth floor in 2011 as part of Seaport Saves, an environmental sustainability effort, and is now in the process of their third and largest harvest, expected to collect about 500 pounds of honey.

“The first year kind of was an experiment, to see how we’d done,” said Richard Rayment, the hotel’s executive chef, on Wednesday. “And then we’ve increased … the hives here every year. We’re probably at our max at the moment.”

Rayment said the hotel sells the organic, unpasteurized honey by the bottle and gives bottles to some frequent guests, as well as offering it on the breakfast buffet and using it in a homemade barbecue sauce and—his personal favorite—salad dressings.

He said it has been interesting to see the different flavors in each batch.

“When we did the first harvest, the honey [had] almost a kind of mint taste to it,” Rayment said. “Apparently that’s because of what the bees were pollinating on, the local trees around here, and it was a little bit lighter. So it’s kind of evolved over the years.”

Edwin Medrano is the hotel’s executive steward and chief beekeeper. He said the hotel has around 90,000 bees in each of 11 hives, with a total population estimated at more than 1 million.

With so many around, they can pop up in unexpected places.

“One year we were having a meeting, and I got a message—the bees are in the swimming pool!” Medrano said.

It turned out that the insects had found entry through a skylight above the indoor pool area, but mostly they have coexisted with guests without incident.

As long as humans avoid stepping into the bees’ path and obstructing their access to the hive, the bees will largely ignore people, he said.

On the fourth-floor roof Wednesday morning, an area near the exit door was sticky from honey production, and the hives stood alongside several large potted flowers, placed there for the bees’ use.

Medrano said the foliage provided a “natural sanctuary” for the insects, and that hotel management would eventually like to establish a vegetable garden on the roof that would both give the bees plants to pollinate and provide produce for the restaurants below.

Before approaching the hives, Medrano put into a smoker can some wood chips—the same ones used in the kitchen downstairs to smoke seafood—and grabbed a spray bottle full of sugar water, to distract the insects.

Medrano explained that he must work to keep the right balance in each hive. Bees get lazy and unproductive when there are too many males in a hive, he said.

Conversely, having more than one queen can also cause trouble, so he must check each week for queen cells, small cocoon-like structures in which larvae will develop into mature queens in as little as two weeks.

Because the hives sit on the hotel’s lower roof level, above the fourth floor, they are visible from some rooms on floors four, five, and six. Medrano said guests get curious about the hives, and he has given tours to many—so far without a single sting.

On Wednesday, though, as Medrano showed a group around the hives, he was stung right on edge of his upper lip. So nonchalant was the beekeeper that no one noticed until the group was leaving.

When someone pointed out the sting, Medrano shrugged it off.

“He gave me a kiss,” he said with a smile.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow South Boston on Twitter: @YourSouthBoston.

Rayment and Medrano.jpg

Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Richard Rayment, executive chef at the Seaport Hotel, shares a laugh with Edwin Medrano, the hotel’s executive steward and chief beekeeper, as Medrano inserts a honeycomb frame into a centrifuge that will separate the honey.

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