As we walk through the streets of New York, many of us are unaware that buzzing through our urban gardens, roofs and terraces are millions of honey bees going about their business. While we go about our daily lives, these armies of golden workers are going to and from their hives, from flower to flower and tree to tree, pollinating the plants of New York and making the city that much more livable. These little guys pollinate hundreds of thousands of flowers in New York every year, creating thousands of pounds of local honey and beeswax. In fact, 90% of the fruits and vegetables that we eat require honey bee pollination in order to grow. Unfortunately, this incredibly important species is going extinct due to reasons that are still being debated. Luckily for us New Yorkers, there are urban beekeepers in the city dedicated to raising bees and bringing the many benefits of having local hives to the densest city in America.
In New York, where space is always an issue, urban beekeepers use whatever space they have available to host their hives. In addition to using gardens and terraces, roofs house many of the beehives in New York. Although any roof will work to host a beehive, they tend to thrive on green roofs. The Greensulate green roof on top of Regis High School is home to three beehives, two of which are kept by urban beekeeper Joanne Thomas.
Joanne has been keeping bees in NYC since 2004 and has found that hosting hives on green roofs can have mutual benefits for both the bees and the roof. The plants on green roofs are able to spread better due to pollination from bees, and the bees have access to lots of honey making material. Another benefit of urban beekeeping that Joanne mentions is that “there are few other beehives in the area so my bees have not experienced some of the bee pests and diseases. I feel that being on Manhattan Island, the rivers present a physical barrier against transmission, because bees cannot fly across.” This is especially important when the total population of honey bees is decreasing at such an alarming rate. Joanne also reminds us that beehives on green roofs “provide an opportunity for education about the value of honeybees in the environment.” With her beehives on top of Regis High School Joanne has the opportunity to instruct the students hands on.
Believe it or not, despite all of urban beekeeping’s benefits, it was illegal to keep bees in New York until March 2010. Thanks to advocacy from groups like New York City Beekeeping, the NYC government legalized beekeeping, legitimizing dozens of New Yorkers already enjoying it and paving the way for more people to get involved in urban beekeeping.
When asked what she most likes about urban beekeeping Joanne will tell you that it’s the activity’s calming nature. “100% of the beekeeper’s focus needs to be on what you are doing, and that gives your mind a break from other busy city life concerns” Although beekeepers encourage other people to get involved in urban beekeeping there is a concern within the community about “wanna-bees”, those that may start “bee hives without adequate education, especially regarding care of their beehives.” Joanne stresses that “Beekeeping shouldn’t be something to dabble in” as it involves the proper care of living creatures. That being said, every new beekeeper in the city means a healthier New York for its plants and its residents, so if you’re interested, go get involved! You can find out more about beekeeping instruction on nycbeekeeping.org and http://www.nyc-bees.org/, and even if you’re not ready to tend to a hive of your own, Joanne Thomas (www.hirisehive.com) is looking for green roofs to host hives and and the NYCBA is always looking for people to volunteer spaces to host beehives.