The scene on top of the Janet Ayers Academic Center is a peaceful one.
Natural shrubbery and flowers bring the spirit of nature to Belmont’s University’s busy downtown campus. Yet as quiet as it may seem, the rooftop of the JAAC is home to over 150,000 little lives, tended to with care by former university President Bob Fisher.
And a year after his retirement, the three beehives high above Belmont — affectionately known on campus as Bob’s Bees — are still buzzing and busy.
Fisher started keeping bees in his 30s while living in Arkansas. The pastime is influenced by his beekeeper grandfather, and being with the bees brings Fisher back.
“The bees were always just a special day with my grandfather. I’d watch him, and once we got back to his screened-in porch, we’d extract the honey and get crazy from eating too much honey,” said Fisher.
Following his move to Nashville, beekeeping was not a part of his life for the following 15 years, but that changed when the six-story JAAC went up in the summer of 2014: the perfect place, in Fisher’s eyes, to start a thriving swarm at Belmont.
“When we built the Ayers building and put the green roof on the top, I saw those beautiful flowers. I thought it would be a beautiful setting for them,” said Fisher.
Belmont worked closely with the Nashville Area Beekeepers Association while landscaping the rooftop to determine what kinds of flora would best support the bees, said Buzz Evans, the president of the Nashville Beekeepers Association.
And the hives on campus affect more than just Belmont, said Evans.
“Bees will go out and look for nectar and pollen in about a 2-mile radius. So they’re not only going out and pollinating the gardens and flowers on campus, but they’ll go out wherever,” said Evans.
Despite occasionally asking for advice from the Beekeepers Association, Fisher typically tends to the bees on campus himself — and they’ve been his personal project since the beginning.
“I’ve captured two swarms on campus. That’s what really got me started here” said Fisher. “When somebody calls and says there’s a swarm of bees out in front of Inman, I’d go, ‘Well, I’ve got a meeting in an hour and a half. Can I get them in the hive?’”
The former university president is only stung about once a year, he said, even though he doesn’t have a beekeeping suit.
“I sing some Al Green to them while I’m working, ‘I’m Still in Love with You’ and songs like that, and that seems to settle them down,” said Fisher.
In 2020, Fisher’s hives produced about 100 pounds of honey, which he bottles and gives away as gifts.
The honey even won second prize in the 2017 Tennessee State Fair honey show, a proud accomplishment for Fisher and his bees.
“If you’ve met some of these beekeepers, to get second place, that’s huge,” Fisher said.
Even in his retirement, Fisher still makes a point to go up and check on his bees.
“I used to come over here just to kinda unwind, but I’m unwound now, pretty much full time,” said Fisher.
PHOTO: Fisher tending to his beehives before the winter on top of the JAAC. Belmont Vision / Chandler Maynard
This article was written by Connor Daryani. Contributory reporting by Chandler Maynard.