Bee hives in the city? It makes perfect sense, says beekeeper Jack Wilson Stone. Live for Less visited his factory at Red Hill to learn more about this Brisbane success story and what beekeeping can teach us about sustainable living.
Bee One Third is a rooftop and urban beehive initiative founded by Brisbane beekeeper Jack Wilson Stone. He’s been placing and maintaining beehives on rooftops of commercial buildings around the city since 2012. Clients include City Subaru, Roma Street Parklands, Hotel Jen and the James Street Precinct, with which he shares some the honey harvested for use within their restaurants and as thankyou gifts. The rest he sells online and through local markets and retailers under the Bee One Third Neighbourhood Honey brand banner.
Q. What’s happening with the global honeybee population and why should Australians be concerned?
A. The European Honeybee is the world’s most efficient pollinator, with countries all over the world depending on them as part of the agricultural cycle. The species’ main source of food comes from the nectar of plants, what we know as eventual honey in a jar. What we’re seeing at the moment is a global reduction in European Honeybees, one that we’ve never reportedly seen before. We’re not sure why. But commercial beekeepers are suffering because of chemical warfare-style practices on industrial farms. There’s also diseases, pests and microbial infections, all of which invade the bee nests, and cause huge problems for beekeepers everywhere.
Q. Given that there aren’t many food crops grown in the city, why do we need bees here?
A. Well we do have an abundance of diverse flora. Bees don’t just feed on food crops. You can walk down almost any street in inner city Brisbane or in the middle of any other Australian city and you can see how varied and abundant the plant life is. People’s front and back yards along with their balconies, all covered in greenery. We have established streetscapes that are lined with paperbark and bottle brush, lily pilly’s and blue gums, all rich with sources of food for bee and insect life. Brisbane has some really rich reserve networks all of which attract animals, birds and butterflies. Bees fly up to 5kms in any direction from their hive, providing a wide scope of potential food sources.
Beekeeping is a great way for us to engage further with the complexities of nature. Observing nature dance with nature is so beautiful and highly educational. I think it’s really great for people to interact face to face with seeing bees and butterflies and so on. It gets people asking questions about these things, about how the world around us works. Bees also provide platform for us to talk about what we are all doing personally to make a difference. Being a beekeeper is a great conversation starter.
Q. Where did you get the idea to put honeybee hives on the roofs of commercial buildings?
A. I got the idea in 2012 from several movements that were happening overseas at the time. A friend of mine Kat Skull and I were researching what we could do in the local food scene that would help people understand the implications of sourcing food locally. Then we got into the idea of keeping bees. All of a sudden all of these urban beekeepers around the world popped up on our feed. There was a guy in Hong Kong doing it on a really small scale with 15 beehives. He was using them as an educational platform to teach school kids and local farmers how to connect and grow with each other. New York had just legalised urban beekeeping; it had been illegal in New York for decades. In a building in the centre of Brooklyn in New York they were producing 15 tonnes of vegetable, fruit and honey on a rooftop and selling it locally every year – amazing stuff, really. The future is using these grey spaces and turning them into green, usable spaces. So we got started and our first hive went on a rooftop in the James Street precinct in 2012.
Q. What kind of reactions did you get when you first approached building and business owners?
A. Initially it was all negatives. Too much risk. Or they were supportive of the idea but “not on our roof”. At first we approached a lot of cafes and restaurants – we have hospitality backgrounds so we thought we could speak their language. It got easier after James Street approach us and said we want you to put bees on our rooftop, because it became a joint effort. Now, it’s how I approach all my relationships with customers and rooftop partners – we are in this together. Soon there was this snowball effect. We’ve been really lucky to have local rooftop hive hosts approach us, meaning we could focus on the health of our hives and not on forcefully growing our business. I charge a seasonal fee that guarantees a minimum every year to the host. It’s a pretty good arrangement and I love working closely with those in charge to get the best results. Everyone including the bees benefit.
Q. Tell us about the the honey side of our business. How do you spend the money that the business earns?
A. We invest 100% of the profits back into the business. I’ve just invested in the next generation of beehive technology from Finland, which will be a big part of Queensland beekeeping’s future, particularly in our hot climate. The money also goes back into helping upgrading our bee sites, installing better access points for our beekeepers and all the necessaries for the bees – water, shade, shrubs to collect water from and so on. Urban beekeeping on rooftops in this heat isn’t always a blast, so I try to make the sites a little more comfortable for our beekeepers and attractive for our bees.
Q. What’s your advice for people wanting to get involved in beekeeping in their own backyards?
A. Be conscious and considerate of where you live and your neighbours. You have to know what you’re doing and the responsibility that you’re taking on as a beekeeper. You’re putting in 20,000 to 40,000 little critters that have the potential to cause some serious damage to someone if they have an allergic reaction to bee stings. In the beekeeping courses I teach, I ask students where in the backyard they think the beehive would best be positioned, based on a number of rules and precautions we cover.
Like, do the neighbours have a swimming pool? If so, you’ll need to keep the hive away from that side and create different sources of water for the bees. Do you or your neighbours use the back deck often at night? If a bee hive is within line of sight of the bright lights on a back deck, the bees will think the sun has come up and start flying at the light over and over. I don’t do backyard installations myself anymore, my model is a business-to-business only. I believe it’s better that the homeowner takes full responsibility for their investment. If you own a beehive you are a steward of the land, the trees, the birds and bees. And neighbours, friends and family will love your honey.
Q. What does living for less mean to you?
A. I guess it has a financial aspect to it, as it would so most, but the phrase live for less really rings a cord with me when it comes to how we approach everyday life. Abundance of unnecessary goods can only clutter our lives and clutter our rubbish dumps. Practicing to live for less translates through all aspects of my life, from friendship to business, to clothes and hobbies. Consider your daily purchases, just as you consider your bigger investments. We speak with our dollar, so use your voice.
Q. How do you live for less, personally?
A. I’ve been involved in food and in the past I’ve run organic markets stalls, food stalls and worked in small business where being frugal is built into the system of how things are done – no waste. I’ve learnt how to connect with positive communities who provide something that in return funds growth within that community. I try to buy less, while spending a little more money but buying better quality from better producers and manufactures. I make my purchases based on the quality of a product, not how many of the product I can buy. I’m ever learning how to buy more intelligently rather than recklessly, with the help the amazing people around me.