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Urban Beekeeping

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by Joann Jovinelly (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published September 21st 2010
If keeping an aquarium isn't your thing and the thought of rushing down the stairs of your fifth-floor walk up with a puppy in tow doesn't thrill you, listen up. Just this past March, the New York Board of Health legalized beekeeping within the five boroughs. And as summer turns to fall (the traditional time to start preparing for such activities according to some, though others think spring is best), urban beekeeping is the city dwellers' newest green fetish. Maybe it's all the talk about Colony Collapse Disorder, but chances are keeping a few extra organic beehives on hand is something more of us ought to consider.

I'll admit, mastering the art of keeping bees alive and happy may not appeal to most, though it does seem less daunting after considering a few buzz-worthy workshops for beginners. So, stop envying your neighbor's organic veggie patch and get down and dirty with those localvores who are setting the stage for the next batch of D.I.Y hopefuls. After all, even First Lady Michelle Obama had installed a hive on the South Lawn of the White House.

First things first. The city lifted the ban on only one type of honey-producing bee: Alpis Millifera (photo by David Blaikie/Flickr). Keeping all others, especially hornets and wasps, is still consider unlawful. And although you'll need no license to keep your hives, you do need to register them with the city health department. Next, you'll probably need unfettered roof access, so if your landlord-tenant relationship is less than stellar, you should probably rethink the endeavor or find a friend with whom to partner.

According to the New York City Beekeepers Association, keeping a hive healthy takes only about one hour a week. Pick a spot that is free from obstruction, not too windy, and that preferably faces southeast (so bees begin working at sunrise). Bees also need a source of fresh water nearby. Expect to pay about $350 for the basic gear to get your hive underway (hive box, smoker, gloves, bee brush, centrifuge), some of which can be acquired online from websites such as You'll also have to acquire the bees, which may also be purchased online. Beginners should start hives with about 10,000, which, if you're careful and attentive, will eventually develop to more than 75,000 happy, honey-producing worker drones.

First timers should take advantage of the plethora of workshops dedicated to helping beginners get a solid start. Gotham City Honey Co-Op conducts free classes throughout the year, which meet every Sunday in Manhattan at the Central Park Arsenal (64th Street and Fifth Avenue). Textbooks on beekeeping are also available. Winter workshops (to prepare hives for next spring) conducted by, are also beginning this fall. Classes will also be offered again in the spring by members of the New York CIty Beekeepers Association, but you can join the group now and meet like-minded folks at their monthly meetings (first Tuesday of every month), take advantage of their vast resources, and learn more about general beekeeping and what to expect when it's finally harvest time. You also might want to invest in some jelly jars: Large, successful hives can produce more than 100 pounds of honey each season!
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Why? It's all about the honey...
When: Spring to Fall
Where: Rooftops, community gardens
Cost: $350 for equipment; Cost for workshops vary.
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