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How sweet is it: Shelby beekeeper does rooftop hives

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A new hive in the sky above downtown Louisville keeps beekeeper Lani Basberg abuzz about her avocation.

By Lisa King

Lani Basberg has taken her beekeeping to new heights.

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She is the only Shelby County beekeeper to participate in a rooftop green space project in downtown Louisville.

Basberg has two hives of Italian honeybees atop the 15-story Kentucky Life Building at 239 S. 5th St. as part of a project by Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest to study how well native plants grow in an urban environments.

“Bees are fascinating to watch, especially up that high,” she said.

Basberg said her husband, Jens, was a little skeptical when she became interested in beekeeping six years ago, but her enthusiasm soon caught on.

Basberg has dozens of hives, including some at Gallrein Farms, and has honey registered as Lani’s Honey Farm in the Kentucky Proud program.

“He is into it as much as I am now,” she said.

Basberg said one reason she became a beekeeper was to have an activity that she could enjoy with her grandchildren, Ally, 8 and Eric, 4. So far, both have helped, decorating the hives with artwork, but Ally already has her own miniature beekeeping outfit and has won ribbons at the state fair for honey.

Grandma Basberg didn’t do that until this year, when she took first place for her dark amber honey.

“It’s great to win, but it’s even better to see Ally’s eyes shining when she wins,” Basberg said.

The Basbergs began their rooftop project just after the Derby festival.

“The challenge was taking the full hive bodies up the elevator to install them,” she said.

Basberg said the hives are thriving on the roof.

Susan Ritter, spokesperson for Bernheim Forest, said her organization has one other rooftop garden in Louisville and is working with the University of Louisville to place several more on campus.

“We are working with UofL on that right now, but the Kentucky Life Building is our big deal,” she said.

Basberg said she speculates that urban hives could do as well or better than hives in rural areas because farmers use a lot of pesticides that are harmful to bees.

“That’s a big reason the last several years queens have been only been living for about a year, when they used to live for about five,” she said. 

Danny Keeton, president of the Shelby County Beekeepers Club, which has 40 members, described Basberg as being very dedicated to bees.

“She and Buddy Bowles and myself started the club,” he said. “She has a natural talent for it.”

Basberg, a local insurance agent, is also a certified beekeeper and is pursuing her master beekeeper’s status through the University of Georgia.

She said that in addition to income from honey, beekeeping offers extensive career opportunities, such as migratory beekeeping, in which beekeepers transport thousands of hives at a time by tractor-trailer to such places as California, Michigan, Maine and Florida, pollinating everything from blueberries to cranberries to citrus crops.

“There are also many industries that do research on diseases and reproduction with bees, and Texas A&M even has the only forensic palynologist who is an expert in pollen from all over the world and helps that knowledge to help solve crimes,” she said. “Each kind of pollen has its own profile, just like fingerprints. And think how many industries there are that do research for their products that use honey, everything from bread to cosmetics.”

Well, one triumph at a time.

As for now, Basberg said she is happy with selling honey at Gallrein Farms and Hilltop Produce and Garden Center and keeping watch over her hives in the sky.