New York City Beekeepers Secrety Prepare for Spring

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It’s springtime. The birds are chirping, and the bees are starting to buzz all around the five boroughs. But that doesn’t mean you’ll find local, New York City-made honey on a shelf in your grocery store. Hiving honeybees within city limits is against Health Code because bees are classified as venomous animals. Still, dozens of urban beekeepers carry on their clandestine hobby, enduring months of preparations for the arrival of their spring bees. Jamie Yuenger began following the trail of one hive of city bees on an unseasonably warm weekend back in early February.

REPORTER: Two dozen novice beekeepers are crowded into a corner of a community garden on the Lower East Side. They’re paying close attention to Andrew Cote, their beekeeping instructor.

SOUND: Wax scraping off beehive.

ANDREW COTE: This is wax and propolis. We’re going to scrape it off.

REPORTER: Cote is President of the New York City Beekeeping Association and a local honey enthusiast.

COTE: Basically, we’re teaching people about the bees and how beekeeping works. Hive placement is very important in the city. Like, where will that hive go – better out of sight?

REPORTER: That’s a tip specific to New York City because hives are illegal here. Technically speaking, all these aspiring beekeepers are preparing to become lawbreakers, potentially liable for a $2,000 fine. It’s worth the risk, says Amy – who prefers we not use her last name.

AMY: I mean, I had personally wanted to be involved in the urban agricultural movement. So, bees, it’s’s a way to sort of participate in that on a sort of smaller scale.

REPORTER: After two months of classes, Amy is finally ready to start her own hive. It’s bee day.

SOUND: Buzzing of bees

REPORTER: Amy’s beekeeping instructor has just arrived from Georgia with a screened-in box of 12,000 bees for each student. Amy is sharing her honeybees with her partner in crime, Barry.

BARRY: It’s funny. Look how they jiggle as a big cluster. They’re all stuck together.

AMY: They’re sitting on your lap all the way to Brooklyn!

REPORTER: The hive – which looks like a small chest of drawers - sits near the chimney on Barry’s rooftop in Clinton Hill.

BARRY: OK, so first thing we do is spray the bees, right?

REPORTER: They use sugar water to distract them. The bees start to eat it off each other and become docile.

BARRY: And then we knock ‘em down! And then sprits them again.

BARRY: And we take our hive tool and we pry this wooden top off.

REPORTER: Under the wood top is the three-inch box where the queen bee lives with her attendants.

BARRY: She’s flappin’ around. See her with the blue dot on her back.

REPORTER: After installing the queen, Barry dumps his 12,000 sedated bees into the hive. They pour out of the box like yellow and black gravel. The bees will continue to eat sugar water until it’s warm enough to hunt for nectar.

AMY: Hopefully they’ll go to Prospect Park, we’re close to Pratt, so there’s a nice garden there, and so any backyard gardens that people have, they’ll be pollinating.

REPORTER: When its time for the bees to fly away and pollinate, Amy hopes they won’t blow her cover and get her a fine. She’s actually hoping her hive will soon be legal, which it could be. City Councilman, David Yassky of Brooklyn has proposed a bill to license beekeeping in the city.

YASSKY: The idea is that the health department would issue a license for beekeeping. They don’t have that now, so what we’re envisioning is simply a written test to show that – there are things that beekeepers need to know to operate safely .”

REPORTER: He also thinks it could give an economic boost to the food manufacturing sector, but the bill isn’t expected to come up for a vote until the end of the summer. So, outlaw beekeepers like Amy and Barry just might need to offer their sweet gift with a location free label, Which they’re just fine with.

AMY AND BARRY: People might see increased garden production from our bees! Save the bees!

REPORTER: For WNYC, I’m Jamie Yuenger