Honey Bees Find Friends In NYC

If I lived in NYC I know I’d have to try and find a place to keep bees. “Beeing” a beekeeper, it is difficult to get it out of your blood. I can only imagine how beekeepers felt when Mayor Rudolph Giullani banned beekeeping in 1999.

Can you imagine bootleg beekeeping?

I’m really glad the decision was reversed and that beekeepers once again are able to continue this admirable hobby. I’m sure they are thriving in the city. In fact studies have show that city bees are doing better than country bees.

More on that later.


 Up On A Roof

On the rooftops above the office canyons of Midtown Manhattan, there is a corporate life for bees where new colonies pollinate green roofs and produce honey for the lucky tenants working below.

Matt Howes is one of a growing number of New Yorkers tending to their office hives this summer. Beekeeping was legalized in New York in 2010, after being banned in 1999 under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration.

Now, hundreds of residents — including at-home hobbyists and office beekeepers — have registered hives with the New York City Department of Health, and the numbers continue to rise. A new hive appeared one office building over from the NRDC just a few weeks ago, perhaps inspired by Howe’s work.

The city does not limit the number of hives allowed per registrant, and while many bee enthusiasts appreciate this freedom to expand, others worry that the city may eventually hit bee capacity, and run out of food sources for the bees.

“It takes one million flowers to produce enough nectar for one pound of honey,” said Andrew Cote, founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association. “Each hive needs hundreds of pounds of honey to survive.”

To supplement what the bees forage from parks and cracks in sidewalks, many beekeepers provide their hives with bowls of sugar water. But Cote said he would rather see bees feed on wild, more nutritious sources of nectar, and the burgeoning number of hives worries him.

“We have the same amount of flowers and trees, but more bees,” Cote said. While not everyone in New York’s beekeeping community agrees, the better-informed beekeepers do agree, he said.

For now, Cote said he hopes that educating the public about beekeeping, the NYCBA will help New Yorkers deal with their bees responsibly.

Howes, who took beekeeping lessons from Cote, regularly changes his bees’ bucket of drinking water — a requirement of the health department — and keeps a journal of his weekly hive checks to track any problems.

“This is purely a labor of love,” Howes said.

Elsewhere, office hives have played more of a role in business. The Waldorf Astoria hotel, for example, uses its rooftop-made honey in cocktails, salad dressing, and even wild mushroom chowder.

“We love having the honey,” executive chef David Garcelon told LiveScience. “Honey is such a versatile thing that you can use in so many dishes. And it has a story behind it that we can share with guests, many of whom can’t believe that there are beehives in Manhattan.”

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Only 125 of the 1,000 pounds of honey the Waldorf kitchen consumed last year came from the rooftop hives. But Garcelon said he finds satisfaction in beekeeping, and doesn’t mind that it’s not a moneysaver.

Some urban hobbyists have managed to make small businesses out of their ventures, but most end up only breaking even within their first year, said Tom Wilk, who sells honey at a weekly flea market in Ridgewood, N.Y.

Beyond the satisfaction of harvesting honey and spending time outdoors, many beekeepers say the hobby has increased their sense of community in the busy city.

“Keeping bees is an equalizer,” among people with different social and political views, said Alex Batkin, a poetry graduate student at Brooklyn College who recently joined a group that helps Cote check hives each week. Opposing viewpoints “somehow don’t translate into beekeeping,” he said. “It crosses many lines, and I think that is a great thing.”

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