This symbiotic relationship marks a unique partnership between cemetery developers and beekeepers in a quest to better the natural environment.
Many people still consider them a nuisance. But at Seven Stones, we’re welcoming the bees; in fact, we’re aiming to make them feel right at home. The critical importance of bees to our existence is increasingly well-known.
“Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants—including food crops—would die off,” says the NRDC Bee Facts sheet.
But those busy pollinators have been disappearing thanks to a series of largely man made changes in our ecosystem that threaten the delicately interwoven balance. Fortunately, our eco-friendly philosophy at Seven Stones and the efforts of beekeepers in the Chatfield area have merged to create a symbiotic partnership that will better the environment for everyone.
“We approached Seven Stones to request permission to set an apiary there for several reasons,” says beekeeper Mary Goss. “First, the grounds are clean, because as a botanic gardens landscape, Seven Stones does not use pesticides or GMO plantings. This is important in eliminating part of the cause of what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. These poisons are part of a complex group of threats that create a ‘perfect storm’ that has taken down almost half of the hives in the United States. Second, the grounds are surrounded by clean, open spaces at Chatfield, Roxborough and the equestrian properties and grazing land nearby. Third, it is located close to our homes, making it easy to tend the hives regularly and conveniently.”
So in April 2016, the Seven Stones crew mowed a space at the southwest edge of the cemetery where beekeepers Goss, Kurt Fennell, and the father-daughter team of Andrew Henckler and Clara Henckler-Davis could set up stone hive stands and empty hives. And about a week later, the first hive was filled with a swarm that was captured and moved from Hudson Gardens botanical gardens in nearby Littleton, Colorado.
The bee team assembled an electric fence around the area, but not for the reasons you might think. The bees still can fly wherever they want, and the fence will help protect them from threats—wildlife and intruders.
In fact, most visitors to Seven Stones will never notice the hives, set back at the edge of the property. Unlike wasps, which can sting multiple times, honeybees lose their life when they sting, so they have little interest in attacking people unless the queen is at risk. Just in case—and because one of our team members is allergic to bee stings—we’re keeping an EpiPen on site. But we don’t expect to need it.
As beekeeper Henckler explains, “The location of the hives at Seven Stones is actually a key part of how we minimize the potential for problems for people afraid of or allergic to bee stings. The apiary is located on an ‘island’ on the property: On one side it’s bordered by the High Line Canal, and the rest of the raised piece of land where the hives are located is bordered by a drainage swale. In order to come within 50 feet or so of the apiary, you would have to intentionally cross a natural barriers that frequently have water in them or are quite muddy.
“When bees fly out of their hives during the day, they’re looking for a source of nectar, pollen or water,” Henckler says. “Usually they’ve been told by other bees where the best sources are nearby. So they fly out and head to their destination. Because the apiaries are set back and a bit higher than the surrounding ground, they’re very unlikely to come into contact with people on the grounds, unless they happen to be foraging in flowers that people are looking at. Bees that are at work in flowers are very single-minded and usually will take no notice of people or anything else. The distance of the apiaries from the future locations of paths at Seven Stones means that bee-people contact is likely infrequent and will only include a very-busy-and-not-interested-in-you-at-all bee or two at a time, rather than large numbers.”
Since first welcoming the bees at Seven Stones, the beekeepers have expanded the population, moving more bees from other locations and installing new bees that have been purchased for Seven Stones. Two more beekeepers have joined the team, Corinne Fox and Dale Sherman. In all, there are 15 hives in the first apiary, and the beekeepers expanded to a second apiary housing two more hives this summer. At the peak of the summer, they saw each hive reach a population of about 80,000 individuals, bringing the overall apiary population to well over 1M bees at Seven Stones.
The bees serve as the pollination crew at Seven Stones, improving the health of our flowering plants and assuring the ongoing natural beauty of the landscape. They’ll also contribute to the growth of a vibrant ecosystem in the botanical gardens.
“If you stop to think about it, how much more natural and full is our experience of a beautiful planted space when you add butterflies coloring the landscape, bees happily working a flower bed along with bumblebees and countless varieties of native pollinators, ladybugs controlling aphids and the visual interest of the more unusual insects like hummingbird moths?” says Henckler. “I’ve spent time in cornfields that have obviously been treated with insecticides, and aside from the stalks of corn, it’s like the surface of the moon. A place like Seven Stones is a full ecosystem of beauty, not a sterile display of plants.”
We at Seven Stones have been thrilled for the opportunity to both give back to the community as well as benefit from the establishment of a source for pollination of our botanical gardens. “This partnership has proven to be a huge success, we’re very grateful to be celebrating three successful summer growing seasons with our bees and beekeepers and look forward to many, many more,” says Doug Flin, VP of Planning and Product Development at Seven Stones. “Creating a space that’s welcoming and sustainable is a huge priority for us.”
It’s truly a win-win for all involved, including those hardworking pollinators. “The bees have enjoyed tending the gardens, and we can all enjoy the results of the hard work these bees do for the plantings,” says Goss. “We are honored to be a part of the Seven Stones Cemetery project and are grateful to the staff and owners for allowing us to participate!”