Monday, May 9, 2011

Westchester Bees, Here I Come!

Later this month, I'll be visiting Purchase Elementary School. I'm so excited to share The Honeybee Man with all the K-2ers up there!

And I've been wondering, what are the differences between urban and suburban beekeeping? To find out, I asked Christine Lehner and Charles Branch of Let It Bee Apiaries, who keep hives both in Westchester County and in Manhattan. "Ease of access," says Lehner. In Westchester, "We can walk to our hives or drive to them very easily. Tending city hives involves... climbing up to rooftops and then hauling hives and gear up a ladder and through the trapdoor to the rooftop." (Actually that's an exact  description of Fred's Brooklyn routine in the book!) Continues Lehner, "Hardest of all is bringing down the supers when they are loaded with honey, and hence very heavy." Although she and Branch counteract this hurdle with an ingenious platform that can be lowered down from the roof with a rope.

Another advantage of suburban beekeeping, says Lehner, involves swarming - this is when a queen leaves her hive with some of her workers to start a new colony. When city bees swarm, "It is generally impossible to catch them, and they often cause  alarm and consternation among neighbors who are bee-phobic," said Lehner. In Westchester, "We can often catch and re-hive them fairly easily." To prove it, she sent along a couple of photos of Branch capturing a swarm last year:

Branch capturing the swarm. That's sugar water in the spray bottle, "To keep the bees happy."

Success! Photos courtesy of Christine Lehner

Country beekeepers often worry about attracting bears with their hives; city beekeepers have nervous neighbors to contend with (which is why so many of them keep hives on their roofs, instead of in backyards; "Out of sight, out of mind," Lehner maintains). Suburban beekeepers sometimes have trouble with skunks. But like city beekeepers, suburban beekeepers have less worry than their country counterparts about pesticides from large industrial farms - significant sources of toxins for beleaguered honeybees. Enthuses Lehner, "One of the fun things about having Hastings is that there are so many wonderful and organic gardens - and we often get calls from friends to tell us that our bees are gathering pollen & nectar in their gardens; and certainly for all of us who have blueberries and cucumbers and fruit trees, the bees are helpful in pollinating and encouraging better crops."

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