Friday, June 19, 2009

Brooklyn Beekeeper Busted

A Brooklyn beekeeper has been busted for backyard beekeeping. She's received a Notice of Violation from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and will have a hearing on Tuesday, June 23rd. This is in the midst of Pollinator Week, which runs from June 22 to June 28. There will be a rally in support of this beekeeper at City Hall at 12:30 Tuesday.

Other things you can do are listed here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Catch a swarm/sitting on top of the world

One of the other ways of getting honeybees besides ordering a package is to capture a swarm. Swarming season is coming. This is when bees, who have been productively filling up their hive with more bees, decided it’s getting a little crowded in here. The hive splits: a new queen is produced, the old queen leaves with about half the bees. The departees cluster in a swarming football-sized mass on tree limbs, windowsills, lampposts, and in the city, other things that are at eye level. But of course they don't fly in a tight mass, so the air can be full of bees.

Panic and hysteria usually result, even though the swarm is fairly harmless. It just looks terrifying. The bees are surrounding and protecting their queen, hence the big mass. They’re also stuffed with honey, which they ate before leaving the old hive because they aren’t sure when they’re going to get their next meal. When stuffed with honey, the bees are much less likely to sting because their stingers aren’t readily extruded. Meanwhile, the swarm’s scouts are flying around looking for a place to build the new hive. Someplace dry and dark, with limited access, fpl and vu not necessary. What usually happens in the non-wild is that a beekeeper comes and gathers up the swarm and puts them into a waiting hive. Free bees, after all, are not to be laughed at, oh, my, no. Gathering a swarm, assuming it’s not way up on tree, entails spritzing the bees down with sugar water and gently sweeping them into a box. Ideally, if you get the queen in your container, the bees will just waltz in there with her.

Not that you should do this at home on your own if you’ve never done it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Brooklyn Food Conference

Today is the Brooklyn Food Conference. It looks to be a mammoth event, with workshops, films, speakers, tours, and presumably, some food in there, too. Many things are happening at John Jay High School on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Stuff for kids is at the Slope's PS 321 (presumably all kids will be able to get in there for this). Other things are going on at the Old Stone House, the kinda-sorta authentic recreation of the farm where the Marylanders, stout fellows all, held off the Brits and those fucking Hessians in August of ’76. God knows how these things happen, but I’ll be helping out at the Old Stone Barn with a short presentation on beekeeping in the city, and urging people to sign the petition to legalize it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

No bees?

By now, you probably know that the honeybee situation is dire. There are just far fewer bees than there were a quarter century ago, certainly less than there were fifty years ago. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) got a lot of media attention for a while, and is still a major, unresolved problem, but bee populations were plummeting long before CCD. Pick the reasons: pesticides, climate change, habitat destruction, agricultural industrialization, the fact that a lot less people keep bees now and so genetic diversity is limited, a combination of some or all of these. We are, after all, living through the sixth great extinction of species on Earth, the only one we are responsible for, so there is no reason bees should be immune.

One of the ways this shortage manifests itself is that there aren’t an endless supply of bees to be had. The long winter meant more hives didn’t survive, so demand is strong, while bad weather in bee breeding southern states means there are less bees to go around. We've just gotten the news that we won’t be getting any bees until the end of May. This is late for a first year hive. They should already be building out the comb now.


Prospect Park, Wellhouse.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Integrated Pest Management. This grid comes with a screened IPM bottom board. It allows you to count the aptly named Varroa destructor mites, a serious pest to bee hives, which fall through the screen onto this grid. We're going to be sugaring the frames to take care of the mites. This is a labor intensive method, but with only one hive to care for, not really a problem. Sugaring means that you sprinkle powdered sugar onto all the frames in the hive, covering the bees. The sugar helps to dislodge the mites and makes the bees clean each other extra hard (they'll eat the sugar), which may dislodge even more mites.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bees in Brooklyn, Bees on the Internet

Yes! It looks like we have a home for the hive. Details to follow.

Meanwhile, you may enjoy this interview about beekeeping here in the city. Rod Huntress’s Radio Free Cupcake is an internet radio project documenting his curiosity about food. I’m looking forward to future installments.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bees in the mud

A dozen bees were in the mud on the Lookout Hill steps in Prospect Park this morning. Gathering water, perhaps also salts and minerals. I wonder if there's a feral hive somewhere on the hill.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Bee-Ins

Urban bee consciousness is growing by leaps and bounds, and that’s a good thing. Gerry at Global Swarming has a wrap up of recent items, and of course there are the Presidential hives on the White House lawn that are all the ... rage.

Above: tipped off by Amarilla, I went past Anthropologie on 5th Avenue and 16th St. in the Inner Borough to see their window display for Earth Day. An average hive produces 130 of honey a year is what this window wants you to know.

Skeps again

Justice and Prudence are looking over your money, honey, with that beautiful gold skep between them. Or at least that’s what that old long-haired billygoat Ben Franklin wants you to believe. This plaque is the old South Brooklyn Savings building on the corner of on Court and Atlantic, now Trader Vic’s Joe’s. It’s a lot more golden in real life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Out of the strong...

Lyle's Golden Syrup may go a long way to explaining British teeth. It's liquid sugar (technically, inverted sugar, a byproduct of the process of converting sugar cane juice into granular sugar) and once you've had it on steel-cut oatmeal, the kind that takes thirty minutes to make, you'll know it makes a strong run for maple syrup's lead in the non-honey sweetsstakes. The reason it's here is that it's label still sports the same dead lion and bees trademark that Abram Lyle cribbed from the Old Testament back in 1904. Crack it open to Judges 14:14 -- Samson slays a lion, and then later notices that bees have made a comb in the corpse. He says, at least according to various translators, "Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness." I'm wondering if the translators didn't confuse the "white man's fly," as Native Americans called the honeybee, for a real fly. Anyway, you can easily imagine an American company re-branding away from such weirdness a while back, but Lyle's keeps the faith.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The search for a hive site continues. We’ll be checking out some places this weekend. Then, deciding what color to paint the hive. White is traditional, but I think we’ll go for something a little more blending-in, something a little more, "hey, when did you put a Shinto shrine to the household gods in your backyard?" sort of color.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

E.V. hiving 2

The entrance reducer is set to the smallest opening so that the hive, which is underpopulated in the beginning, can defend itself from raiders and robbers as it gains strength and numbers through the spring. Always set the opening up, so that it doesn't become clogged with dead bees.
Pry off the top of tha package. take out the queen cage, make sure she's ok.
Then a bunch of heads intervened so I didn't get a shot of the pouring, but you smack the package on the ground to settle the bees to the bottom of the box and pour them into the hive. You can open this picture up to see them inside the hive already.
Afterwards, people went to pick up their bee packages. It was a cold morning, and early, farmers' hour, so very few people were on the street. I wonder what it might have been like to wake up and look out your window and see about 20 people clustered around a pick-up, picking up these strange, dark packages.

E.V. Hiving 1

At an undisclosed location in the East Village...
Four hives. Two cameramen (AP, some German outfit). One photographer (NYPost). One radio newswoman (public radio). I moved ahead quickly to get a shot before the crowd.
A package of Georgia-born Italian honeybees.
The queen cage. The queen is marked with a blue dot to help her stick out during inspections.
The cage is set up between the frames. The worker bees will eat their way into the queen, the delay allowing the queen's chemistry to spread around the entire hive. Without that time delay, the workers would kill the queen.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Yeah, that's right, Plan B. We'll get the southern belle bees two weeks later. And we'll get a space. If you have suggestions, we're open to them. We need a readily accessible place that gets morning sun. There should be about ten feet of flyway in front of the hive. Ideally, we'd like a garden, but a roof will do. Or, hell, a roof garden... Accessibility for the beekeepers is key, and logistics include moving, if we're lucky, a 50-60 pound super full of honey in the summer and maybe the fall. Which means you'll be getting some of that.

Note that a hive just sits there, the bees do their thing, and you might not even notice it after a while. Although I can sit by one and watch the action at the entrance for a long, long time.


The garden that was to host the bees has just decided that they won't be hosting them after all. They had confirmed, but must have had second thoughts.


If you're reading this delightful piece by Alicia Kachmar in Brooklyn Based, which I understand is read even by people across the big puddle, then welcome to this blog about bee-keeping to be in the big but not so bad city.

We intrepid Brooklyn-based bee keepers are actually planning to hive this weekend. That means we'll be pouring the bees into their new hive. That's right, pouring them in. Stay tuned! Although no two beekeepers seem to do it exactly the same way, this should give you a pretty idea of how some of them do it on the west coast:

Monday, April 6, 2009

This just in

OK, it actually showed up fairly recently. Scientific American on urban honey. Andrew Cote has the money quote.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Thank heavens for longer days. After working 9-5 today (I gotta get religion!), I just had time to prime the hive.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Two nails at each top end, one at each bottom end. Brads to reinforce the edges of the top.
Ten frames, one with wax foundation.
The wax foundation. A thin sheet of wax reinforced with metal rods, imprinted on both sides with hexacomb. Smells really good.
Ten frames are ready for the hiving.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prep for painting

I've taped the edges of the hive boxes, outer cover, and bottom, all sections which won't be needing paint, which only goes on the exterior surface. The taping maybe overkill, but I'm not much of a housepainter.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The hive

has arrived.

R makes a deep. A rainy back yard kept us inside, so now the apartment smells of lumber.

A deep or brood box with cover. This is how the hive will start out. After several weeks, we will add

another deep, and a shallow or medium (those are actually different sizes). The smaller box is where our honey will come from if the bees have a productive first season. We will prime and paint these before exposing them to the elements.

It's getting closer and closer....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bee visit

This morning I was early to work, so I sat on one of the granite planters at the ugly wedge of developer folly called “Forte” on Fulton and Ashland to kill some time. I pulled out a magazine to wile away the minutes in the glorious spring sunshine, and right away noticed a bee land on my right pants leg just up from the hem. She might have come from John Howe’s Fort Green hives. I crossed my legs to get a better view. What was she up to? She put her mouth right up to the fabric as if she was sucking it. Her abdomen was lifted and contracting. Fifteen, thirty seconds. Then she flew off, and I notice several little spots on my pants. She’d pooped on me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stop presses

Good piece in the Daily News about the effort to legalize beekeeping in NYC.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


A skep is an upturned woven basket most everyone recognizes as a beehive even though very few of us have ever seen an actual one. This is probably because this type of European hive has saturated our symbolic culture. It’s been used to represent the first French Republic, thrift, industry, and Utah, among other things. Skeps were once very popular in the iconography of banks. Old school banks, that is, not the loan-sharking and gambling operations of our era.

At the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street stands one of those old banks, the former South Brooklyn Savings Institution. It’s now a Trader’s Joe's. Over the Court Street entrance, there’s a nice stone skep as part of the decoration. Inside, and this is something I’ve never noticed before today, there’s a large metallic plaque with Justice and Prudence separated by another skep. I said to the friendly (clerk, associate, trader?) at the cash register that I wanted to come back and take a picture. Still unabsorbed by the Borg, he warned me, sotto voce, that I should be subtle about it, since they didn’t want people taking unauthorized pictures inside the building. Alert, alert, amateur photographer in aisle three! Evidently Trader Joe’s last name is Stalin. Stay tuned. I'll be shooting from the mocha-macadamia nut snack pile.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

From Thyme

The hive has been delayed. We now expect it next week. Won't you enjoy some wonderful Cretan honey in the meantime? This was given to me for my birthday along with some ouzo (we went to a taverna in Astoria, almost the Aegean), and there is still some of each left.
Can't you just taste the rocky thyme-scented ancient hills? Thanks, A & A.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

These just in

More gear has arrived. In the picture are a smoker and a hive tool sitting in a top feeder. Got these from Brushy Mountain.

The hive tool was discussed earlier.

The smoker is used to burn (pine needles, burlap, special smoker pellets, etc.) to create smoke, which is pumped into the hive via the bellows. The smoke should not be very hot, and the aforementioned items burn on the cooler side. The smoke calms the bees down. In my limited experience, getting the smoker going and keeping it “at smoke," is a bear of a problem (think like the bee, little grasshopper), possibly the most difficult part of beekeeping. It’s always the details, isn’t it?

The top feeder is used to supplement the hive’s food supply in the early spring, before the Niagara of nectar flow, and in the fall, before the dormancy of winter. One pint of water to one pound of sugar is the formula we will be using for spring feeding. This syrup is placed in this tray; the bees get it from the underneath along the sides (without drowning). This lets them concentrate on building wax comb, which is key to the first year of the hive, without having to spend too much energy foraging at this stage.
This weekend should be all about the actual hive. We will be collecting the wood on Sunday and putting together some part of it then. My co-conspirator will be revealed… as much as she would like to be revealed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Beespoke suit

This was in the hallway when I got home this afternoon. I'll get someone else to take a shot of me in the full regalia (what's the opposite of the full monty -- the full python?) later, but for now here's a self-portrait in the bathroom mirror. I got this jacket and the gloves and some leg straps from the fine folks out at Mann Lake. Service with a smile (hell, they're Midwesterners, and if Midwesterners aren't smiling we're in big trouble); service without a sting.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

More bees at the BBG

Yesterday: the crocuses, the honey bees.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In the BBG


Look at the shadow of the wings.
The bees were all over the crocuses today.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Making Brooklyn Bloom UPDATED

3/6 UPDATE: The schedule I printed out earlier this week turns out to be last year's. The chicken & bees workshop, which I attend then, is not running again. The BBG has since righted the error, and this is what's happening tomorrow.

Damn few blooms without bees. Owen Taylor of Just Food and Sarita Daftary of East NY Farms will be presenting a workshop on “raising chickens and bees in the city” at this Saturday’s Making Brooklyn Bloom conference at the BBG. There are more than a dozen other workshops as well as speakers, tables, movies, & gift bags at this very popular annual event, which is free if you present the flyer (printable from the website) for admission to the garden. Two years ago, honey bees were out and about foraging in the garden’s early flowers, and since the weather is supposed to be near 60 this weekend we might see them again if all this snow melts out of the way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An ad from 1861

Recall that into the early 20th century, the western end of Long Island, now Queens (where you will find Flushing today) and Brooklyn, was a substantial agricultural area. Slowly, but surely, we are bringing a tiny little bit of that back. The Rev. L.L. Langstroth patented a movable frame hive that is still very much in use today. Note also the long tradition of clerical beekeeping alluded to here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The basics: gear

I ordered a few things today from Brushy Mountain and Mann Lake.

Jacket with veil, gloves, top feeder, & smoker. I'll go into detail about these at another time.

About this blog

In this blog I will be documenting my experiences with, and practical discoveries about, the keeping of bees. As I glean through the rich history of the human/bee relationship, I will also post things about the culture of beekeeping (art, politics, philosophy, science, and whatever else) of this endless fascinating topic.

Some years ago, after a lifetime of being vaguely disquieted and unnerved about bees, I was invited to view some hives kept by a family friend in Massachusetts. We observed the bees entering and exiting two hives as other bees guarded the hives from intruders. It was a remarkable calming experience. Then I saw frames covered in bees, the very things that had frightened me, and I was not at all frightened. Since that day, I had an idea in the back of my mind that I’d like to learn more. There are many, many things to read about honey bees, for the relationship between humans and bees goes back to the beginnings of our species (bees go back even further), but there is no substitution for the hands-on. Yet I live in Brooklyn. How was I going to get involved in beekeeping? Where there even bees in Brooklyn? In fact, of course, the city is rich with life, and as my experiences birdwatching in the city tell, it’s all a question of looking. Take the time to look closely, to look patiently, and the world begins to bloom all around you.

So one day I was glancing over, the social networking affinity site, and discovered the Brooklyn Beekeepers Meetup (now the NYC Beekeeping Meetup). Ah, so perhaps it was possible to keep bees in the city. Since then I’ve learned much from the meetup’s organizer, John Howe, many other members of that group, and beekeepers Norm and Andrew Cote. One of the main things I’ve learned is that there is much yet to learn.

I hope you'll be coming along for the ride.

Note: For the first time ever I have “monetized” my on-line presence. (An ugly word for an ugly task.) It goes against my nature to do so, but unfortunately I am not made of money, nor am I a trust-fund beneficiary nor a lottery winner, and beekeeping is not without its expenses. So Google ads will appear in the right hand corner and any pennies thus earned will go towards the bees. Click or not as you wish.

The logo of Sweet Melissa Patisserie, still on their former bakery in Gowanus the last time I looked.