Bees on Paris’s

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

THE STORY OF JEAN PAUCTON, the Parisian beekeeper, reads like a cross between a children’s book and an urban legend. It starts in the 1980s when the novice beekeeper—who also happens to be the property master for the famed Opéra Garnier—gets his first beekeeping kit. Surprised to learn that the bees can only be kept alive in a sealed hive for 48 hours, he realizes he’s going to have to find temporary accommodations for them until he can drive them to their intended home, his country house outside Paris.

Then, a colleague of Paucton’s, who had apparently been raising trout inside the Opéra’s famed reservoir, recommended he keep the bees on the building’s roof. There, the hive could be opened and the bees would be free to buzz around without hurting anyone. Paucton did, and he soon became a preeminent figure of the French beekeeping set, selling his homemade honey in the theater’s gift shop alongside souvenir keychains and recordings of “Carmen.” Although he packed up his Opéra rooftop hives in 2013, he seems to have helped make beekeeping on the roofs of Paris landmarks a bit of a thing.

Since then, Parisian beekeepers, or apiculteurs, have quietly kept hundreds of hives on the rooftops of some of the most famous buildings in Paris—often without the general public knowing anything about it. The Opéra Garnier, the Musée d’Orsay, the École Militaire, Notre Dame, the Grand Palais, and the Institut de France are just a handful of major monuments where area beekeepers raise their colonies. Privately owned buildings, such as the famed jewelry store Boucheron and La Tour d’Argent (the restaurant that claims to have introduced the fork to the French), also allow beekeepers to practice their métier, or job, on their roofs.

“Each site is different,” Audric de Campeau, a beekeeper of Le Miel de Paris (The Honey of Paris) explains in an email. “For most of them, mostly at the beginning, I just approached them and asked. For some of them I just have a handshake, for some others, a contract.” That said, the growing practice is not without its obstacles. The more popular beekeeping becomes, the more regulated it gets, and modern-day urban beekeepers are encountering old-fashioned bureaucracy.

As many of the marquee hives are situated on publicly owned rooftops, paperwork and red tape are becoming a serious nuisance, if not an outright deterrent for other beekeepers to join the fold. “It is much faster and easier to deal with private companies, who in addition often buy crops made on their establishment,” writes Bruno Petit, of Un Apiculteur Près Chez Vous (A Beekeeper Near You). “The public sector has only disadvantages.” That said, beekeeping is unquestionably on the upswing. According to Mathilde Wadoux, a PR representative for one of these beekeeping landmarks, the Grand Palais, there were approximately 300 hives in Paris at the start of this decade, while there are over 700 today.

Beekeepers at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris.
Beekeepers at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. CLÉMENCELAURAS / CC BY-SA 3.0

But people’s eagerness to become urban beekeepers has also posed its own set of problems. “Certain districts of Paris and Montreuil are totally saturated in hives,” Petit adds. “This represents a risk of famine for the hives of these neighborhoods. The flora is no longer sufficient to feed [them].”

And then there’s the question of the bees themselves. Petit recalls how some of his fellow beekeepers were asked to remove hives from the roof of Fouquet’s, one of the city’s most famous restaurants, when their bees started drinking out of the flower vases adorning dining tables. Petit says he was asked by the Pasteur Institute to take his bees off a roof when they were found drinking stagnant water. Surprisingly, pollution isn’t an issue for Parisian beekeepers and, as Petit notes, air pollution doesn’t appear to affect urban honey’s quality. “We had hives on the roofs of two Monoprix stores in Paris,” he adds. “For each crop (over a period of three years), they analyzed about 30 pollutants and found nothing abnormal in the honey.”

Urban bees tend to be overachievers, producing higher honey yields than their rural counterparts. This is thought to be due to the fact that Parisian bees feed mostly on window box flowers, apartment terrace foliage, and flora in local parks. That means they’re not privy to the same neonicotinoid pesticides that their country cousins have been exposed to for years. Another factor is the city temperature, which tends to run slightly higher than surrounding rural areas.

True to form, Paris also offers its bees an exceptional variety of meal options, which greatly contributes to the increase in production. “The difference in yield comes mainly from the floral diversity in Paris,” Petit says. “Orange trees, jasmine, and other exotic plants can be found on the Paris terraces.” That diversity is also said to be responsible for Paris-produced honey’s unusual taste, which people have likened to cherry and bubble gum.

Bees flourishing in Paris.
Bees flourishing in Paris. GERARD HARTEN

Unfortunately, while the yields are high, so are the prices. Although Parisian bees are more prolific honey producers, there are fewer of them than in the country. Which means that city honey can run about 122 Euros per kilogram, or approximately $65 per pound. In comparison, the average cost of high-quality honey produced in the country goes for about 23 to 50 Euros per kilogram (or around $12 to $23 per pound).

In recent years, city honey has gone from being a gift shop novelty to engrained in Parisian culture, a phenomenon that can be traced in its acceptance by the town’s notoriously revered and discerning dining rooms. De Campeau has worked with the likes of Guy Savoy and Thierry Marx, and in 2016, Michelin-starred chef Jérôme Banctel started incorporating his honey in the dishes he serves at the restaurants of La Réserve hotel. “Parisians love more and more to buy local,” de Campeau says. “And the honey is really delicious, it’s not a marketing thing … [it’s] a real prestigious recognition of our work.”

This acceptance is no small feat in a city that boasts entire supermarket aisles devoted to honey. Visitors to Le Bon Marché’s La Grande Épicerie Paris food hall, a store that is to food what a showroom is to cars, can now find local honey varieties on the shelves. The department store Au Printemps installed hives on their roofs last year and plans to sell its honey in Printemps du Goût, their new gastronomy department dedicated to French food products.

The bees at their home, on top of the Notre Dame.
The bees at their home, on top of the Notre Dame. GERARD HARTEN

The craze comes full circle, given that the bee has been a symbol of France since Napoleon adopted it as his personal emblem. The tiny insect adorns everything from the façade of the Musée de Louvre to the perfume bottles of Guerlain, a storied French perfume house that started a “Bee University” conference in 2017 to discuss declining bee populations and potential solutions. Now, thanks to some very dedicated people, Parisians have come to value the honey as much as the iconic insect that makes it.


October Daily Program

User Rating: 4 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Inactive

Here’s the agenda for the October meeting. Registered beekeepers will be getting a copy in the mail, but feel free to print this and use it for registration if you want or if you aren’t on state list.


Containers of bees are stacked in a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab on the North Dakota State University campus.

User Rating: 1 / 5

Star ActiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

FARGO — There’s a buzz at a federal facility at North Dakota State University, and it’s not just coming from insects in the laboratory.

Researchers here have been awarded a nearly $2.9 million federal grant to study how bees survive rough winters and emerge in the spring to reproduce.

Julia Bowsher, associate professor of biological sciences and lead bee researcher at NDSU, said the work could help lessen the demise of bees worldwide and keep agriculture sustainable.

“Everybody is concerned about the plight of the bees right now,” she said.

The NDSU team will collaborate with the University of Wyoming and New Mexico State University, and work alongside U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers in Fargo.

Total funding for the project, made available through the National Science Foundation, is expected to approach $5.7 million through 2022.

Joe Rinehart, USDA research leader for the insects group, said the funding will allow them to study new areas and bring in new technologies. “This is going to be amazing. We already have a good group here working together to make a happier, healthier bee,” he said.

The three different species of bees to be studied as part of the project are all raised for agricultural pollination.

The alfalfa leaf cutting bee is vital to the beef cattle industry because cows eat alfalfa.

“Honeybees don’t like to pollinate alfalfa, so if we want a sustainable cattle industry, that bee is going to be important for that,” Bowsher said.

The blue orchard bee is important to the almond industry, and bumblebees are used to pollinate greenhouse-grown tomatoes, in addition to the work they do in the wild and in people’s backyards, she said.

Understanding how those bees overwinter and how they’re affected by environmental stressors could help make them more sustainable and reliable for use in agriculture. It could also lessen reliance on other pollinators that are facing declines due to multiple factors, including colony collapse disorder and pesticide exposure.

“While honeybees are great, relying on a single species is really not that great an idea,” Rinehart said.

The grant funding will also be used for facility improvements, including renovations of laboratory space in the Biological Sciences Department in Stevens Hall at NDSU. There, scientists and others in the NDSU community will be able to raise organisms in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.

“That’s the capacity we are missing at NDSU that a lot of similar institutions have,” Bowsher said.

The grant will also cover some costs of mentoring students.

Kendra Greenlee, associate professor and chair of the Biological Sciences Department, said it will fund attendance and housing for four students, over the next four years, at a summer undergraduate research program called Pollination Nation.

“It’s important in training the next generation of scientists,” Greenlee said.