Why Beekeeping Is Booming in New York: ‘A Hive Is a Box of Calm’

Why Beekeeping Is Booming in New York: ‘A Hive Is a Box of Calm’
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Why Beekeeping Is Booming in New York: ‘A Hive Is a Box of Calm’

Why Beekeeping Is Booming in New York: ‘A Hive Is a Box of Calm’

In April 2020, at the height of the pandemic in New York, a delicate rescue mission took place.

Andrew Coté and three colleagues, wearing heavy-duty masks and gloves, took an elevator, climbed two sets of stairs and climbed a 20-foot vertical metal ladder to the roof of an empty building in Midtown. There, they recovered four 150-pound boxes filled with hundreds of thousands of restless bees, carried them to the street, and loaded them into a van with others on nearby rooftops.

The bees were then taken to their new home in Queens.

The apiary at the Queens County Farm Museum is now one of Manhattan’s rescue bees. They come from the rooftops of the InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel, the Brooks Brothers flagship, and the New York Institute of Technology, among others. The apiary officially opened at the beginning of last summer, which was the perfect time, as a good chunk of New York’s bees (many of whom live atop office buildings and hotels across the city ) found themselves unattended and in limbo during the shutdown.

Since New York City legalized beekeeping in 2010, it has grown in popularity. It is a small space activity; a beehive is about the size of a two-drawer filing cabinet. Now there are bee-focused nonprofits, public parks with pollinator gardens, and hyperlocal jars of honey galore in green markets. Queens New Apiary, which essentially handled the overflows during the pandemic, shows just how crazy New Yorkers have been with bees.

But some scientists also fear that bees, most imported into the city to feed this beekeeping frenzy, pose a threat to native New York City pollinators, whose dwindling populations could affect local flora and the environment in general.

When the virus has slowed our lives, encouraging us to stay home, enjoy the outdoors, and focus on activities in the natural world (like birding or gardening), zeal for urban beekeeping has also intensified. Sean Flynn, a beekeeper for more than five years, took the opportunity to share his passion with his youngest daughter, Alaura, 18.

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“I’ve always had this fascination with the beehive mentality – it’s about the collective good and the greater good,” said Mr. Flynn, who set up a beehive in his middle daughter’s room when she went to college six years ago. He kept the windows open in his sixth-floor apartment so the bees could come and go as they please. The neighbors never noticed it.

Mr. Flynn now inspects and monitors 12 different beehives in various community gardens around the city. Recently he captured a swarm outside the Javits Center. Despite being allergic to bee stings, Mr Flynn temporarily housed the Javits bees in his own room until he could move them – something he has done several times before to his own detriment.

There are between 115,000 and 125,000 beekeepers nationwide, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees the city’s beekeeping, recorded 326 registered hives in 2020. Although beekeepers are required to register their hives, they do not. often do not. Mr. Côté, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association and fourth-generation beekeeper, estimates that there are more than 600 active beehives in the city.

Several establishments, like the Bushwick Bakery Printing House, and the New York Hilton Midtown, now have their own beehives so they can prepare dishes and cocktails with local honey, said Dan Winter, vice president of American Beekeeping Federation and President of the Empire. National Association of Honey Producers. “People want to know where their honey comes from, and they like it local.”

“When it comes to important species, bees are at the top of the list. They pollinate over a third of the crops that feed 90 percent of the planet, ”said Winter. “Bees are responsible for $ 30 billion in harvests per year. “

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Jennifer Walden Weprin, executive director of the Queens County Farm Museum, has seen a resurgence of interest in the farm’s beekeeping classes, which resumed in the spring. The 40 colonies of the apiary, with more than 2 million bees, compete with the human population of the district. Rescued bees will most likely become permanent residents now that they are settled, but owners of several of their old homes have expressed interest in creating new rooftop colonies.

Many beekeepers know how to spot and manage swarms, which thrive when hives are overcrowded and look like “a quivering ball of live bees, usually the size of a basketball,” Côté said. In swarms, the queen and a third to half of the hive leave. They’ll be resting somewhere for up to three days (on a tree, an air conditioner, or a fire hydrant, for example), Côté said, as the “real estate bees” set off in search of. suitable new accommodation for the group. Returning to the original hive, a new queen is born from the eggs the old queen left, the colony repopulates and the cycle continues.

Last April, Côté arrived at his farm in Norwalk, Connecticut, with a semi-truck full of Italian bees from a Georgia breeder. He then transferred the bees to a van and pickup truck before heading into town, carrying 300 separate packages filled with 12,000 bees each. He delivered them to enthusiastic fellow beekeepers at a meeting point along Central Park West.

Such bee wrappers could be problematic, according to Sarah Kornbluth, a field associate in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, who has expressed concern for local birds and other animals that depend on native bees. New York City has around 200 native species (not counting honey bees, which are native to Europe), so honey bees are in fierce competition for the city’s native pollinators, pushing them further for supplies, this which slows down their population growth.

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“There is no need for European bees in the city, and it would be great if we only had them for educational purposes,” said Ms Kornbluth, who would like to see more movement to keep the bees running. are already there. “I think there is a lot of room for fun in conserving native pollinators, and if anyone can do that, it’s the beekeepers.”

A small movement is preparing: beehives are setting up all over the city. The New York-based Bee Conservancy last year created its Sponsor-a-Hive program in collaboration with Brooklyn Woods, a nonprofit that trains unemployed, low-income adults in work and manufacturing. wood. Pine beehives are designed with a mix of nesting tubes for native bees to ensure species diversity.

“If you want local food, you really need local bees,” said Guillermo Fernandez, founder and executive director of Bee Conservancy. “For many bees, an area of ​​a few hundred feet can represent their entire world, so little things can go a long way,” said Fernandez, who finds the chaos of the hive relaxing. “A beehive is a box of calm in a busy city,” he said. “The buzz and the sweetness are quite soothing.”

Since February, Brooklyn Woods graduates have created more than 350 beehives. Christine Baerga, 31, who lives in Jamaica, Queens, has been involved in making most of them so far. Ms Baerga’s life changed for the better during the pandemic, when she left a homeless shelter and became a famous beekeeper.

“Bees are master craftsmen and builders,” Ms. Baerga said. “It is one of the most important creatures in the world. Without them there is no us.

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