Interview with a Beekeeper

On Saturday, February 2nd The Toronto Beekeepers Co-op (TBC) will conduct an educational day of urban beekeeping at Foodshare in the former Brockton Academy Building on Croatia Street.

Designed for beginners, this is Beekeeping 101 and will examine all you ever wanted to know about beekeeping but were afraid to ask:  how to create bee friendly gardens; interactive hive and equipment demonstrations; bee biology and lifecycles; hive management and apitherapy – the use of bee products in medicinal healing- are some of the topics that will be covered.

The TBC is an organization consisting of forty member volunteers in partnership with FoodShare, and is a dynamic force in Toronto’s urban agriculture scene dedicated to educating the public about the value of bees and their relation to Toronto’s urban landscape and ecosystem.

“FoodShare Toronto is Canada’s largest community food security organization, recognized as an important innovator of effective programs that have been reproduced all across Canada. We facilitate empowerment and community development from the ground up, cultivating awareness, building citizenship and enhancing individual and community participation, all the while striving to improve access to good healthy food.”



The session runs from 10 a.m. and goes until four p.m., with a break for lunch, which is included in the $45.00  “bee fee”. Proceeds from the event will go towards furthering the educational work of the Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative.

Melanie Coates is a long-standing member of the TBC and is the head beekeeper at The Fairmont Royal York.

In June of 2008Melanie Coates and Chef David Garcelon were two colleagues who shared an environmental hope and a dream for generating buzz from the rooftop of The Fairmont Royal York hotel, located in downtown Toronto, Canada.  After much study and research it became a reality when the former Regional Director of Public Relations turned beekeeper (BEEGrrl) and the former Executive Chef turned urban agriculturist joined forces with The Toronto Beekeepers Co-op and FoodShare.  Together they were the first in the world to install an apiary on a city centre hotel roof. It was also Fairmont Hotel & Resort’s first hotel to embark on an apiary project. There are now a total of 20 Fairmont apiaries: seven rooftop apiaries and 13 neighbouring apiaries associated with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ properties around the world. With five years of harvests behind them and over 2,700 pounds of honey harvested for the hotel, Coates and Garcelon have both progressed in their professional careers. They may have altered their flight paths away from their Toronto executive hotel positions, but they remain focused on beecology.  Chef Garcelon has brought rooftop bees to Park Avenue from his new role as Director of Culinary at New York’s Waldorf Astoria and Coates continues to generate buzz internationally.”-

Ms Coates will be presenting a lecture at the event on “Bee Biology”

This former Regional Director of Public Relations at one of Canada’s premier luxury hotels explains in our interview how she got involved with bee-keeping, the health benefits of honey and why teaching the public about bees is important:


What is it about working with bees that you enjoy?

Bees are nature’s little wonders, I had not wondered too much about bees until we brought a hive to the Royal York’s rooftop in 2008. I was instantly fascinated with their social arrangements and how they mirrored human corporate life: drones, workers and one Queen battling for exclusive reign. Urban beekeeping initially took me momentarily away from the office and back to nature. Nature now plays a much greater part in my life and I can thank the bees and the Toronto Beekeepers Co-op for that. I am amazed by how bees communicate through symbolic dances, their flight patterns and how they pollinate flowers in their midst.

Can you tell me some of the types of plants that attract bees to a garden?

There are over 4,000 species of North American bees and the types of plants and flowers are just as vast. Bees prefer bright sweet flowers they can land on and can sip nectar from. Blue, purple, white or yellow, but not red flowers as they can’t see red. Gardens that are a little less manicured will attract bees. Many of the flowers that attract bees might be considered weeds by some gardeners. A few of Toronto bees local garden favourites are: borage, lavender, dahlia and chives.

What are some of the health benefits of honey?

Honey is an excellent refined sugar substitute and can sweeten with fewer calories than sugar. It contains trace amounts of Vitamins C, B and even A, D and K. When diluted, its antibacterial properties can make it an excellent dressing for a moist wound. Other products from the hive have health benefits: pure wax for candles, propolis (a resinous sap) and pollen all have varied health benefits as well. 

Why do you think teaching the public about bees is important?  

The loss of bees would be catastrophic to our food chain. The greater understanding we humans have of bees will deliver a healthier environment for them to thrive in. For example, reduce grass-covered lawn space and include more native plants and flowers, eliminate pesticides and be more aware of their need for tiny water sources. Bees demand our attention as pollinators. They are key to our survival and the enjoyment of their movements offer us a brief connection to nature that we in the city so often neglect.

What is your favourite way to enjoy honey? Do you cook with it?

BBQ ing is a bit tricky as it burns quickly and the nutrients are destroyed at high temperatures. In fact, honey becomes pasteurized once it goes past 180F. I love honey with cheese: a sharp Canadian cheddar or a lighter Buffalo Mozzarella. Salad dressings, oatmeal and baking all deserve a dollop of BEEGrrl honey.

Beekeeping 101 at Foodshare is a ticketed public event and available on a first come, first registered service at $45.00 per person.  

Further information may be obtained by visiting or or by email at


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