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TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - The arrival of three queens and their 40,000 workers has created a new buzz at one of Toronto's oldest hotels, and given chefs at the massive grey stone building first dibs on up to 700 pounds of honey.
The luxury Fairmont Royal York hotel, opposite Toronto's main railway station, installed three bee hives on its 13th floor rooftop terrace this spring to supplement an in-house garden that already provides its nine restaurants with fresh herbs, vegetables and flowers such as edible pansies.
"Last summer, we were up here and talking about how amazing it is that 13 stories in the air, in the middle of downtown Toronto, that ladybugs and bees and butterflies find this and so we got thinking," Executive Chef David Garcelon told Reuters on a tour of the little green oasis.
"I wondered if we could have our own beehives, so I got in touch with the Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative. It was one of those things that just came together perfectly."
The hotel has nicknamed the three hives the Honey Moon Suite, The Royal Sweet and the V.I. Bee Suite and says that no guest or member of staff has yet been stung.
"Sixty to 70 percent of everything we eat has, at one stage in its development, been pollinated by bees, so if you're at all concerned about agriculture...then bees are tremendously important," said Cathy Kozma, chairwoman of the beekeepers' co-op and regular visitor to the tiny rooftop enterprise.
"Bees in general are having a very rough time of it," she added, referring to a newly discovered virus that threatens North America's bee population.
Kozma and other beekeepers make sure the hives are in good condition and help Garcelon and his apprentices extract the honey.
"I can't think of very many ingredients that are more versatile than honey," said Garcelon, who will feature the ingredient in everything from pastries and soups to salad dressings and ice cream.
Visitors have a chance to visit the garden and look at the hives from a safe distance in daily tours operated in conjunction with the hotel's afternoon tea service.
The hotel is also offering a B&B & Bee package that includes a room, breakfast, honey soap and a $1 donation to the beekeepers cooperative.
Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Janet Guttsman