To Bee or Not to Bee: No Longer the Question

A scant six years ago, the NYC Health Dept. ended the ban on beekeeping. Your first thought – if you gave it any – might be how nice for people in the boroughs with backyards and time to play at beekeeping. But it certainly doesn’t seem in sync with fast and furious, non-bucolic Manhattan. Or does it?

Well, yes. It does and is. There are a surprisingly large number of beekeepers amidst the city’s masters of the universe. You might catch a glimpse at a community garden, but land is incredibly scarce and valuable in the city. That’s why most NYC cultivated bee hives are out of view on rooftops, particularly those that have followed recent trends with green roofs as well as commercial buildings’ setback large patios and balconies.

We all know New York is an extraordinary city. We have an article in this blog that calls it The Unlikely Green Utopia. Now, with beepeeing growing at a fast clip, there’s new support for that definition. Unlike commercial hives that are being devastated by (the word is) pesticides, NYC hives are thriving because, well, there’s not a lot of farming going on in Midtown. The bees are living in a fairly pristine environment, free to roam and enjoy flowers in parks, gardens, backyards, the delicious largesse of Central Park and along seasonally planted medians like Park Avenue

According to the National Honey Board, honeybees have to fly over 55,000 miles and tap two million flowers to make a pound of honey. Think of that the next time you put a teaspoon – the equal to the life’s work of 12 honeybees – in your tea.

Honeybees are in decline and, if it continues, the result will be disastrous to both food supplies and economies. If Colony Collapse Disorder, as it is known, continues unchecked, projections are that one-third of the food on our tables – berries, fruits and vegetables – will disappear.

Thus, the growth of healthy hives in New York City is a very welcome development. Lest you be concerned, these bees are gentle and docile; they have zero interest in attacking or stinging you. If you encounter one, don’t flail, hit or yell. Just move on and the bee will, too. Don’t confuse this honeybee species, Apis Mellifera, with Africanized “killer bees” which are much more aggressive and are found mostly in Texas and the Southwest; the yellow jackets you see flying around trash receptacles in summer; bumblebees (which are much larger and fatter); or wasps and hornets which are much nastier. Give all of them a wide berth.

As NYC, particularly Manhattan hives, are mostly found on rooftops or high floor green spaces, they are both hidden and private. You wouldn’t know it but, for example, The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel has a 300,000 population bee farm; there is a bee farm at the Whitney Museum of Art; hundreds of hives and thousands of bees at One Bryant Park; on the 76th floor of the Residence Inn Hotel; Brooklyn Grange at the Brooklyn Navy Yard has a huge apiary (as well as a bee education training program); Brooks Brothers flagship rooftop in Midtown has 300,000 Italian honeybees. We’ve also read about rooftop hives at The Westin Hotel; Google building; York Preparatory School; and as part of an art installation at MoMA.

There is a New York City Beekeepers Association which offers urban beekeeping courses and where you can “catch the buzz”. Its sponsor is New York City’s best known beekeeper, Andrew Cote of Andrew’s Honey. He’ll set up your hives; care for them; consult; “bee wrangle”; and take you and a small group on an Urban Honey Tour (and you think you’ve seen everything).

And when and if you see a swarm of bees, who you gonna call? Andrew. He’ll remove it for you. The swarm isn’t dangerous as the bees have tummies full of honey and are just looking for a new summer home for their queen and hive. Let’s hope they spend summer in the city and don’t rent in the Hamptons.

 

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