Please explain the concept of There is a Bee on the Roof - what's all the buzz about?
The idea is that we put beehives on roofs in the city, we’re beekeepers. During the season from April to September we take care of the bees, harvest the honey, and then we sell it.
Our beehives are in more locations but there are way fewer individual hives compared to a beekeeper in the country who would have 100 hives in one field and switch fields every few weeks. Contrary to what people think, there are enough flowers in cities for beekeeping and you don’t get the monoculture that you get in the countryside so the bees have different trees, parks and flowers on balconies to visit over a much longer time as the flowers blossom at different times of the year. A wide variety of plants builds a more complex honey and keeps the bees healthy.
In total we have 12 hives on 5 roofs in Hamburg.
Tell us about your packaging
We wanted cool packaging that stands out but that also has no plastic and looks handmade and natural. So cork and glass worked as they are plastic free and people can bring back the glass containers so that we can reuse them to create a circular economy, like milkmen back in the day.
Where did the idea come from?
Our friend Paul has a cousin who is a beekeeper! And then through watching documentaries and youtube we saw examples of people doing it in Berlin, Paris, New York. We saw no one was doing it in Hamburg so we thought we’d give it a try.
How did a Frenchman end up in Hamburg making honey on roofs?
Well, French people are quite cool? No they’re not haha! We all had our serious jobs and after a few years we thought, what can we do on the side that could benefit the environment and help us grow personally?
We’ve had to learn all about things like finance, law, and accounting through running the company - so we gained business experience which is a win-win.
What does the future hold for TIABOTR and do you plan to expand?
In terms of honey making, we don’t plan on expanding because we want to respect the ecosystem of the city. There is an NGO in Hamburg that maps the beekeepers in the city and the region and we go to see them every year to see if our hives’ positioning could potentially disturb other initiatives. If we grow too big, this won’t benefit other insects as our bees would hoard everything from other insects, for example, bumblebees.
We have ideas to launch other products though, such as skincare products made from beeswax, and we’re working with other companies in the city to do partnerships such as putting our logo on local independent clothing brands.
Does your honey taste different to honey made by bees in the countryside?
Yes! Because of where the bees go they get a wide mix of flowers. So it varies – for example, one time one of our honeys had a hint of mint because a neighbour planted mint on their balcony.
And people always ask if it is polluted because it’s made in the city – no! The bees only get pollen from flowers that have just opened, as the nectar doesn’t last long, so pollution doesn’t accumulate on the flowers. Also, we test our honey for pollutants and we score way below the European recommendations.
What is your favourite recipe with honey?
I would have to say a goat’s cheese salad with honey – or maybe a hipster toast with smashed avocado and tomatoes with goats cheese and honey drizzled on top.
What are the environmental benefits of making honey in the way you do?
The local honeybee population has increased a lot. But also just by putting them there you increase awareness of bees’ importance so that people recognise how important it is to protect them and how fragile wildlife is. Also, they pollinate all the flowers and vegetables that people grow in the city.
One other big advantage is that there are bee thieves who steal entire hives in the countryside but on roofs they are protected.
In general, roofs are very underused in cities, why do you think that is and is there scope for businesses like TIABOTR to make more use of them?
There are definitely some obstacles. When you’re putting a beehive on a residential building you need agreement from each and every inhabitant – there will always be one old lady saying they don’t want anything on the roof! So we decided to only use commercial buildings. Businesses also often say no because of antennas on the roof, which are bad for bees, or because of their insurance policies which won’t allow it.
But there is scope to do more on roofs and lots of flat roofs now have grass on them here in Hamburg which is progress. Hopefully that will continue.
If you could put a beehive on any building in the world, where would it be?
It would be Object HQ’s building of course, because our values match! Oh, it’s just your small flat in Madrid? In that case Heidi Klum’s house.
Have you ever been stung by one of your bees?
Many times! On average 5-10 times per season. Even with the beekeeping suits, you’re not 100% protected. Once even with a hoody, leather jacket and beekeeping suit a bee managed to sting me through all the layers - if a bee is pissed off it will f**k you up!
They say that bees sense fear – if you’re stressed you will have a fast heartbeat and they will sense it and will get nervous faster so you need to stay calm – but maybe that’s an urban legend.
What in life do you most object to?
As a Frenchman living in Germany, it’s definitely sandals with socks.