Podcast

Bees in Town

Triangle Gardener podcast logoDurham, North Carolina is a fast-growing area where there’s a thriving agriculture scene right in the heart of downtown. In this episode we meet meet a bee keeper, her musical bees, and some of the people who are leading the way. We discover that development, agriculture and innovation make good partners.

Garden Destinations logoThanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible

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As a service to our followers, we offer a complete transcript of this show

JENKINS

Welcome to the Triangle Gardener show.  We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Our area is on fire these days, new buildings are popping up faster than you can count.  Every time I venture to downtown Durham I discover a new building or a corner that’s under construction. What makes downtown work are the people who live there.

CONNER

Its been phenomenal the number of people living downtown.  It’s interesting it’s not purely millennials.  We have people from all age groups living downtown.  But it’s fun at night, you’ll see people walking around downtown with their kids.  People walking around with their dogs.

JENKINS

Garden Destinations made this story possible. It’s a new digital magazine for travelers who want to include public gardens in their travel plans. Their website is GardenDestinations.com.

Now, on with today’s story…

JENKINS

With all this building I was surprised to discover that agriculture is alive and well in downtown Durham and it even has its own soundtrack. More on that later.

Driving this change is a group of energetic people who are venturing into new areas.   I talked to a young woman who is approaching the business of keeping bees in a very different way.

BONNER

My name is Leigh Kathryn Bonner.  I am the founder and CEO of a company called Bee Downtown that based out of the Triangle.

JENKINS

You come from a family of bee keepers, but you’re doing something really different.  These aren’t your grandfather’s bees.

BONNER

Yes, this is a little different.  I come from a long line of bee keepers.  I’m a fourth generation bee keeper.  I got into it when I was working out with my grandpa and my uncle at our family farm. Took a bee keeping class when I was at NC State. Just got really interested in it.  I ended up turning it into a full time job after graduation.  I do the urban side of the bee keeping.  My family is more on the rural side of bee keeping.  So it’s a good mix between our family.

JENKINS

Talk to me about Bee Downtown. What is that?

BONNER

So Bee Downtown is a company I started during my junior year at NC State.  I was interning for the American Tobacco Campus in Durham and asked if I could put one bee hive on a rooftop there.  The owner and vice president loved the idea.  Michael Goodmon, he said “run with it.”  And that was amazing to me that he let a junior in college have this whole project.  He had so much faith in me.  Was my biggest cheerleader.  Still is. He introduced me to Burt’s Bees. Burt’s Bees wanted a bee hive.  Their world headquarters is at American Tobacco campus too. So one hive turned into two. The second one was a clear observation hive. That’s at their front door.  It’s about six feet tall and it has bees in it year round. It’s free for the community to see.

JENKINS

A six-foot tall observation bee hive in the heart of town. I had to see that. And the folks at Burt’s Bees were kind enough to give me a tour.

ALEXANDER

I’m Paula Alexander and I’m Director of Sustainable Business here at Burt’s Bees.

JENKINS

Paula, where are we?

ALEXANDER

You’re here at The Hive.  That’s what we call the Burt’s Bees building here at the American Tobacco Campus.  It’s in the heart of downtown.  We always say at the top of the waterfall here in the ballpark area. So it’s very recognizable.  An old tobacco warehouse.  There’s a real history to this place.  Tobacco and agriculture was such a huge part of North Carolina and a natural personal care products company just makes sense that we’ve come to this location.

JENKINS

Tell me about the hive.

ALEXANDER

We call it the O-hive.  So it has 15,000 bees in it at the peak of the season.  In the winter it shrinks to a very small number, just a few thousand to keep the queen warm.  We installed it in October 2014 and it serves as a symbol of what we stand for and it’s a great education piece to help the 1.5 million visitors to the campus learn about bees and the importance of what they do in our lives.  Not just helping provide us food, but also being an indicator species for the quality and the state of our environment.

JENKINS

If you’ve seen Burt’s Bees products you might recognize their founder who’s image graces most of the their products and displays.  But Burt’s face plays an important role in the success of the observation hive.  This hive has a bee highway, a clear tube, that connects the hive to the outside.  It exits near a window on the second floor.  Problem is there are three identical windows on the front of their building and the bees couldn’t distinguish which window included their front door.

ALEXANDER

Burt our founder, still sits in the window as their marker.  The target they need to find on their way home. We’ve got a set of windows all across the front of our building that look the same. But we found that they were needing to really hone in on that window pane and the tube exits right there in front of Burt’s face.  So he continues to grace our window and even though he passed away last year we felt it was important to keep him looking after the bees.

JENKINS

While Burt watches over his bees I went over to the Durham Chamber of Commerce to see what else is growing here.

CONNER

Well, I’m Ted Conner, Sr. Vice President for Economic Development. Been here at the Chamber for about 26 years, before that I worked downtown at city hall for another 6.5 years.  So I’ve been downtown Durham since about 1984.  Seen a lot of changes in Durham and a lot of exciting changes.  Really seen the personality and direction of this town completely change.

JENKINS

Is Durham connecting back to its ag roots?

CONNER

I don’t say ag is going to be huge in Durham, but we still have a lot of farm land. But what we are seeing the changes in the food to table which a lot of people are really embracing now as part of that live/work environment. They also want that naturally grown, locally grown food.  So we’re seeing much more in terms of that industry. We’re even seeing it now in the brewing industry.  We have farms that are in Durham supplying nutrients to Full Steam Brewery. They’ll try anything in their formula to see how it tastes.  If it tastes really good they’ll try it.  Full Steam has been very open minded in terms of what they put into their trial drinks, their test drinks. They really want to buy local.  What’s great is a lot of distilleries and breweries are driven by residents who want to support the community and are doing great in terms of wanting to buy local.

Actually, there’s another organization here in Durham called UDI Community Development Corporation they actually have an urban garden going. They committed totally to the hydroponics and I think that’s the wave of the future.  We’ve seen the last two years two commercial scale hydroponics projects.  Where you grow things inside in a very controlled environment. But you’re growing at a scale that allows you to produce much more food on a regional basis versus just a smaller basis.  But that would allow us to have fresh vegetables all year round because they can grow it indoors.  The great thing is they are growing it using LED growth lights, a local company called Cree making this lighting.  Its kind of an interesting twist that you would have a company that’s green and clean tech and being able to marry it with ag industry and provide some products.

JENKINS

Experimental brewing, hydroponics, LED lighting —it’s pretty techy stuff. But Leigh Kathryn’s bees use technology in their own unique way. And that brings us to the soundtrack I promised. During an event at American Tobacco sensors were added to the observation hive at Burt’s Bees. Paula Alexander explains.

ALEXANDER

So our observation beehive was turned into a pollinator synthesizer. Literally, the heat, the light, the movement, and the temperature that was happening in the hive was turned into data and that was turned into sound.  So you could literally could hear the soundscape of our beehive.

JENKINS

This is the sound of the hive at 11am and there’s a link to the tracks on our website, TriangleGardener.com  They are arranged by time and you can hear the rhythm of the hive change during the day. Leigh Kathryn assured me her bees find enough to eat in downtown.  With a range of up to three miles a honeybee can visit 2,000 flowers a day.  Durham recently became a Bee City —an official designation recognizing our commitment to pollinator health.  You can help by adding pollen and nectar producing plants to your garden. We’ve also added links on our site TriangleGardner.com, to tools to help you pick the right plants for your garden.

Durham is known as a very foodie place.  I guess that means food for us and the bees too. I’m Lise Jenkins. This is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. You can find our show on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review. Thanks for listening.