SALT LAKE CITY — The hum of worker bees drowned out the typical city traffic that can be heard from atop the City Library.
"Utah is the Beehive State, so it makes sense that it has beehives," said Paul Clark, a New York native living in Utah. "It's nice to know where they are."
Four communal hives donated by Slow Food Utah stand atop the library, right in the middle of the city. They are maintained by Salt Lake City's officially designated beekeeper, Frank Whitby, and St. Ambrose Church's Boy Scout Troop 202.
The hives produce up to 100 pounds of honey each year, but primarily serve as educational tools to inspire more people to keep bees.
"Keeping bees really is very easy — much simpler than caring for a dog or a cat," Whitby said, adding that hives need only be checked every couple of weeks.
While there is no guarantee of a honey harvest each year, he said the first year can be the best, as the bees get used to their new hive and sometimes overproduce.
Whitby, who also teaches at the University of Utah's School of Medicine, leads an informal discussion about beekeeping the second Tuesday of every month, at 6 p.m. at the library. He answers questions and helps others become successful at honing the hives.
Bees make the honey for themselves, to outlast winter when there are limited nectar sources available. The surplus can be scraped from the wooden frames that hang inside the hive, filtered and enjoyed.
Whitby likes his stirred into a beverage or sucked straight from the honeycomb. Clark said he loves indulging in honey butter or eating it alone, to satisfy his sometimes unquenchable sweet tooth.
The honey harvested from the city's hives will be entered at the Utah State Fair next week, doled out to various city officials, and offered to patrons who visit the harvest celebration at the City Library on Sept. 20 at 3 p.m.
This year, the honey carries a punning literary name, "The Catcher in the Hive," the result of a contest among library staff members and a correct representation of its source.
The library's honey isn't refined or chemically treated, which makes it a natural sugar source, Whitby said, adding that it is uniquely delicious.
"Once you consume honey from your own hives, you won't be buying it from stores," he said. "At least you'll be a lot more selective if you do."
And though the honey is a sweet reward of keeping bees, the city's volunteer king beekeeper said, "I do it for the bees." Whitby said beekeepers can help bolster the dwindling bee community, supporting the environment by adding some 40,000 to 50,000 bees per hive that fly about and help pollinate various vegetation and other food sources.
Beekeeping became a government-sanctioned activity in 2009, when the Salt Lake City Council passed its urban beekeeping ordinance. Many other cities throughout the state also permit beekeeping, though some, including Salt Lake City, have limitations on locations and/or how many hives are permissible, among other rules.
Clark, as well as others in attendance during Saturday's honey harvest, plans to keep his own bees, even if he ends up setting up hives on top of his apartment building, as he doesn't own a home. He said there might even be a financial incentive for buildings all over the city to adopt a hive or two.
"I buy honey quite frequently and I've seen the price go up and up, so it would be nice to have my own source," he said, adding that he's been "fascinated" with bees since a very young age.
Beth and Elliott Bueler brought 6-week-old Win to the harvest, and said such events are exactly the type of thing they'd like him to be interested in as he grows up.1 comment on this story
"Even for ourselves," Beth Bueler said.
"We don't know much about it either, but it's phenomenal what these bees do," Elliott Bueler added. "I joke that I like my honey fresher."
"Fresher than straight from the hive?" his wife countered.
The couple, who are also renting an apartment in the city, said they will consider beekeeping in the future, as long as they can keep little Win from getting stung, because that wouldn't be as sweet.