The newest long-term guests at the Cornhusker Marriott — all 40,000 of them — arrived in April, in the back of a truck from California.
Warren Nelson took care of them at his place for a few weeks, feeding them sugar water and waiting for them to multiply, and multiply again, until they numbered nearly 100,000.
And then last week, Nelson and his son, Trey, carried four bee-filled hives to the roof of the 10-story hotel, where they will continue to multiply until the Cornhusker is home to about 240,000 honey-producing bees.
The longtime beekeepers operate Valhalla Bee Farm, but until the Cornhusker called last year, they’d never been hired to care for another company’s bees.
“This is a first for us,” Warren Nelson said. “It’s a new concept.”
It’s new for the hotel, too. And it was triggered by something else new at the Cornhusker — its artist-in-residence program.
Last year, in a small studio near the hotel’s ballroom, Margaret Berry created paintings with a combination of resin, pigment and beeswax.
“It inspired us to look into having bees on the roof,” said general manager Susan Madsen, “and to use the honey.”
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But they didn’t know where to start. So in October, hotel management contacted Valhalla Bee Farm. Warren Nelson ordered 12 pounds of Italian honeybees and four queens from his supplier, and they arrived in April. They needed syrup to survive at first, and he didn’t want to make repeated trips to the hotel roof, so he kept them home until the bees were ready to live on their own.
Then he and his son took the hives downtown, up the elevator and onto the roof.
“We covered them so they didn’t escape in the hotel,” he said. “That would not be a good thing.”
The bees aren’t likely to produce much honey this year, but the hotel hopes to soon start harvesting up to 600 pounds annually.
It will sell some in its gift shop, and its chef and pastry chef are already drafting a list of ways to use it in the kitchen and bar, including scones, salad dressing and a honey-flavored craft beer.
That should be about the closest hotel guests ever get to the rooftop honeybees, Madsen said.
“They don’t have to be worried about getting a bee sting. The bees are just doing their job.”