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Arts & Culture

Local Hotel Putting Bees To Work On Roof

There’s a lot of buzz about a project hovering above the Omni San Antonio Hotel at the Colonnade. Enter the Omni lobby and look up. About three floors above you, outside the window you’ll see tell-tale white, stacked boxes sitting in an unusual rooftop garden.


"On the roof here we have ten beehives," explained Walter Schumacher with pride.

Schumacher is the director of Central Texas Bee Rescue.  Those bees invaded a San Antonio home last August.  Schumacher removed them and moved them to the Omni's roof garden.

“Once spring kicks in, we might get 75,000 to 100,000 bees per hive. So you’re looking at about a million bees by the end of May."

“And do you know about how much honey that will produce?” I asked.

“Thirty pounds, twice, in 2015 from each hive. So about 60 pounds per box is our goal.”

While they’ve yet to harvest their first honey, which is still a month or two away, one person in particular is interested in that harvest—Chef Samuel Boisjoly, the Executive Sous Chef at the Omni Colonnade.

Boisjoly has big plans for that honey.  Besides its use in cooking, the hotel plans to place honey at restaurant tables, and bottle it to sell in their gift shop.

“The flavor’s unbelievable. There’s nothing like the actual raw honey. You can actually use it in different ways," he explained, "to bring out the flavors of certain meats and vegetables and fruit.”

At the Omni, the bees are part of inventor Pat McNeal’s vertical growing system.  Pat looks like Santa Claus in an Aggie maroon-colored long sleeve shirt. Like everyone on this project, his enthusiasm is palpable. He showed off a handful of vertical panels with dozens of leafy lettuce plants.

"Those panels are two and a half feet by six feet," he said, gesturing. "There’s 84 plants on there. One of those panels only weighs 40 pounds.”

McNeal said the panels are highly efficient growing machines. Small amounts of water are injected into the panels, which trickle down to the roots. It’s a closed system.

"Once the plants are fully grown, there’s no water loss from evaporation or leakage. So the only water that’s used in this system is what the plants need.”

The bees help pollinate the plants, making them far more productive. The idea of a modern hotel putting beehives and a vertical garden on its rooftop comes full circle—again—in its kitchen.

“When you’re delivering something you know that is absolutely fresh, something that you grew, there is a real sense of accomplishment, for sure."

Bee rescuer Walter Schumacher said salad greens and herbs are already being clipped from the plants and put into salads and other recipes.

“You have parsleys, basils, thyme, oreganos, et cetera. And then you have vegetables, tomatoes, soon we’ll have beans. And everything we do here is organic—no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers."

And the first honey harvest isn’t far away. Omni Marketing Director Jeremy Lander said it’s given him a new opportunity to promote the hotel. He says guests will think “‘wow—this honey that I’m having with my breakfast was produced directly above me on the roof.’ It’s an interesting story to tell."

It’s a story that began with an experimental garden and some refugee bees, but may result in some sweet profit for the restaurant.