Minnesota couple helps create first solar bee garden

Everyone's talking about their Solar Honey.

What goes together better than bees and honey? Bees and honey and solar power.

Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Pollinator-Friendly Solar Act into law. The first-of-its-kind legislation encourages developers to plant wildflowers and native plants alongside solar panels to transform them into inviting habitats for pollinators, songbirds, and other native creatures.

And one Minnesota couple is helping energy companies take their pollinator-friendly solar gardens a step further – by adding beehives.

Connexus Energy, the largest customer-owned power company in Minnesota, set up a pollinator habitat shortly after the law passed, according to its website

Then this spring, they partnered with Minnesota nonprofit Fresh Energy and Bolton Bees to create America's first solar facility with a commercial bee operation.

Husband-and-wife team Travis and Chiara Bolton installed 15 beehives at the solar garden in the City of Ramsey, Connexus says.

The Boltons didn't stop there, though. They're partnering with other solar companies to establish more apiaries, something the couple says is "readily replicable." 

Besides Connexus, the Boltons have also set up hives at solar facilities in Farmington and Scandia owned by NRG Energy, EcoWatch says.

“Altogether the three sites provide pollinator habitat equivalent to more than 40,000 homes each having a 6-by-12 pollinator garden,” Travis Bolton told Modern Farmer.

They're also looking into opening apiaries at solar sites in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.

Minnesota is leading the way to help bees

Bees and other pollinators are in danger – U.S. beekeepers lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies from April 2015 to April 2016.

But Minnesota is leading the way with the mutually-beneficial partnership between solar and bees, and it's caught the attention of National Geographic and Martha Stewart. And this week, even the Smithsonian is talking about it.

"We have been humbled with all of the interest in the work that we have been doing," the Boltons wrote on Facebook this weekend.

"We strongly believe in this collaboration. It is utilizing the land underneath solar panels – instead of just having gravel or cheap turf grass. Solar Energy is cheap, and being installed rapidly throughout the nation. The land should be used to plant healthy habitat for pollinators," the post says.

Solar Honey

Bolton Bees has trademarked the honey its solar gardens produce as (duh) Solar Honey.

They license it to other beekeepers, food producers, and energy companies that agree to follow certain production standards, Connexus says.

You may recognize that name, because Solar Honey Swirl ice cream was available at the State Fair this year, in the Minnesota Honey Producers Association booth.

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