Here and There: Beekeeping on a Chicago Rooftop Garden

The hives atop Chicago's city hall produce roughly 200 pounds of honey annually.

| December/January 2007

  • The hives atop Chicago's city hall produce roughly 200 pounds of honey annually.

Chicago City Hall is abuzz, but the commotion isn’t caused by the politics inside. Nestled among the soaring roofs of Chicago’s Loop, two hives of Italian honeybees (Apis mellifera) thrive in the 20,000-square-foot garden on the City Hall roof. A result of Mayor Richard Daley’s urban agriculture initiatives, the bees debuted in 2003.

Daley planned the city’s rooftop garden after visiting Germany in 2000. In Europe, rooftop gardening and urban agriculture have been common since the Industrial Revolution, when people gravitated to the city, often bringing their apiary skills with them. Upon returning from Germany, Daley planned an American version of urban apiculture.

Stephanie Averill first met with the mayor in the winter of 2002 to discuss the installation of bees in the northwest corner of the City Hall Green Roof. Well-known for the apiary she maintains in her large city yard, Averill was hired to consult with Daley’s team. She and beekeeper Michael Thompson harvest rooftop honey twice annually and ensure that the hives are healthy.

Busy Little Bees

Being in the city actually offers several benefits to the bees. While Lake Michigan allows greater accessibility to water, it also helps create a micro-environment where the same types of trees and plants bloom at different times in different sections across Chicago. This variance allows the bees to attain more nectar, and it affords a growing time of three weeks longer than outside the city. “They can get a lot of work done in those extra three weeks,” Averill says.

Another factor that bolsters the bees’ productivity is the many people planting flower boxes and gardens in the city. The diversity of plant life in a compact area supports a larger range of nectar sources.

The bees pollinate a 5-mile radius around City Hall. Although Lake Michigan truncates their eastern boundary, the bees don’t seem to mind. Averill has noticed them making a literal beeline from their hives toward a favorite place along the lake — the mints in the gardens of Millennium Park. “They love mint,” Averill says, “because it produces a lot of nectar.”



October 19-20, 2019
Topeka, Kansas

Join us in the heart of the Midwest to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.


Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

click me