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Allergy Sufferer Turned Urban Beekeeper

Teresa Yost

This post is part of our series that captures the experiences of our NYCBA Urban Beekeeping Apprentices as they learn to care for beehives in the NYC area. Here our beekeeping apprentice, Teresa, shares about her rewarding discovery of urban beekeeping.

As an allergy sufferer, I was at my grocery store in the East Village in search for the most local honey I could find with in a reasonable distance of Manhattan since logically it would be impossible to buy local New York City honey. How could local raw honey be made in a city of concrete? As I was turning around each bottle to check the origin I stopped when I read Brooklyn. Not being a native to the tri-state area, I googled the zip code listed to be certain this was indeed the area just across the river from my apartment. To my surprise, I went home with a new jar of honey that I thought couldn't get any more local than Brooklyn but I would eventually find out I was wrong.

In pursuit of answers as to how and where this Brooklyn honey came from, I began to stumble upon blogs and articles about urban keeping. I had no idea this was even possible let alone happening all over my city. Once I landed on the New York City Beekeepers Association's website I knew I had to get involved. Not quite knowing if I was brave enough to be around tens of thousands of stinging creatures, I thought maybe I could help volunteer behind the scenes some how... so much for that theory. After taking their Urban beekeeping 101 class over the winter, learning about those magical little bees made me want to dive right in and get my hands sticky and even potentially stung. (Knock on wood, I haven't been stung yet... perhaps I'll be the first beekeeper ever in the history of beekeeping not to get stung!? A girl can dream...).

Now as an apprentice urban beekeeper, when I zip up my full body sting suit (while maybe singing in my head a little "Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!") I get a flutter of excitement as to what I'm about to see, learn, and experience. Bees in this city have taken me to a rooftop of a French bakery in Bushwick, a 200 year old cemetery with sheep grazing in SoHo, a 5-star luxury hotel on Park Avenue and up steep feel the burn staircases in Harlem. NYCBA has opened my world up to a diverse beekeeping community through the shared passion of bees and all things bee related. What a sweet world it is turning out to bee ;)

To learn more about NYCBA's Urban Beekeeping Apprenticeship, please visit our program page or reach out to

Photos by Teresa Yost.

The Arrival of the Bees

Maura Keating

This post is part of our series that captures the experiences of our NYCBA Urban Beekeeping Apprentices as they learn to care for beehives in the NYC area. Our beekeeping apprentice, Maura, shares her experiences hiving bees for the first time.

İMira!  İAbejas!  As the astute children in Bushwick correctly exclaimed, in my hands was a small wood and wire mesh box containing upwards of eleven thousand honeybees.  Sometimes palpating for the staples along its edges, I told myself with exaggerated confidence that the box was certainly sturdy enough to hold them.  Having read multiple books about bees, even the formidable “The Hive and the Honeybee,” and eagerly taken in classroom instruction with the NYCBA through the winter months, I figured that the bees would respond positively or negatively to pheromones.  So, I thought, better control your pheromones.  Keep them, you know, neutral. Manage them, regulate them.  Do not think about the heady feeling of carrying a colony of bees for the first time (the mesmerizing hum of them! the clean, homey smell of them! the warmth of them on this April morning!).  Do not think about the awesome responsibility of carrying a colony of bees for the first time (the sheer number of lives in this box! their stinging power! the proximity of these little kids who are not even remotely concerned with their pheromones!).  OK, think about that part a little.

Apprentices installing new packages of bees at a Harlem rooftop apiary.

Apprentices installing new packages of bees at a Harlem rooftop apiary.

¿Está la reina en el centro de las abejas?  Right again, kids!  The queen was more or less in the nucleus of a scrum of bees which clung to each other but moved constantly, the mass sagging down like an udder from the top of the box.  Smart children, they were, and completely taken with the fact that some lady was standing there on the sidewalk with a whole mess of bees in a box, and what am I doing with these bees, anyway?; where will they live?; are they making any sound?; what will they eat?; is there honey in that box?; are they happy?  Soon, not only the children but the adults in the neighborhood were smiling, pointing, engaging I and the other NYCBA apprentices in conversation about the honeybee, how their grandparents used to keep hives back home in their country, how beautiful the bees are, how they read that their numbers are dwindling across the nation – and I had the privilege not only of carrying a colony of bees, but also of chatting with lots of people whom I might never had the chance to meet without that box of bees.  You should try it sometime.  (You should not try to control your pheromones, however, because that is a pointless activity if ever there was one.)

Eventually I parted from my sidewalk buddies and climbed up, up, up the stairs to the roof that held the honeybees’ new home.  The manner in which they enter it is even more insane and impossible than walking on a city street with eleven thousand bees in a wooden box.  You pour them inside the hive like cereal into your breakfast bowl.  The queen goes in first, in her personal, tiny, temporary box, and then the rest of them go in after her.  You shake the wooden box down, like it’s the last of the cornflakes and you just have to have them.  The worker bees all want to be with their queen because of – you guessed it – pheromones.  And it’s magic.  They take to the hive, they fly all around your head, calmly humming, orienting themselves, making big plans, taking magnetic field measurements and calculating the angle of the sun, receiving invisible messages from the queen and from each other (pheromones!) about what critical job to take care of next, immediately right now, so that the whole colony, all eleven thousand of them and counting, will thrive.

I shook myself out of a trance and glanced over at the elevated tracks, as the next J train pulled in and the passengers cocked their heads at the alien sight of us in beekeepers’ veils, standing in a cloud of honeybees.

To learn more about NYCBA's Urban Beekeeping Apprenticeship, please visit our program page or reach out to

Header photo by Maura Keating.

Discovering the Bee Sides of NYC: A Beekeeping Apprentice's Tale

Billie Hirsch

This post is the first of a series that captures the experiences of our NYCBA Urban Beekeeping Apprentices as they learn to care for beehives in the NYC area. Our beekeeping apprentice, Billie, shares her experience below.

I’m from here.
I’ve been calling Brooklyn home for four scorching summers. I come from a long bloodline that was raised on Metro North trains barreling south towards Grand Central.
And like a true New Yorker, I proudly wear the uniform of cynicism and suspicion. Occasionally the sides of my mouth climb into a smile that barely lingers on the city’s streets. Alert but aloof, I keep my head down with minimum eye contact. It wasn’t until I began keeping bees that I was inspired to look up and out across my city with an appreciation I knew dwelled inside of me but was suppressed by a learned mentality that screamed “sorry, I have places to be right now.”
Previously, I had never meditated on bees beyond worrying myself around their flight paths. To me, the city was a concrete jungle – an agricultural dead zone. Urban beekeeping was never a part of that reality. So it was a bit of a surprise when my hunt for a new hobby found me in the middle of an open beehive, thousands of bees buzzing curiously around my head.
The beekeeper I was with explained that worker bees have a three-mile foraging radius, as she handed me a frame boiling over with honey. I pressed my thumb into a section of capped honey and reveled in the sweet, floral taste. Immediately it brought me back to lying in the warm grass by the cherry blossoms in Prospect Park, which was close by. She smiled as she continued. Everything the bees need, they gather within a short distance of their homes. They won’t venture farther out if they don’t have to. 

Anyone could easily connect this short foraging radius business to an advocacy call for us to cultivate more sustainable lifestyles ourselves. It deeply resonates with me – sourcing close to home, buying seasonal produce, living within our means. This would be my new ideology, I thought, something to personally nurture – living like a bee.

It was then I knew I was committed to learning more about the behavior of bees, and that I wanted to spend as much time learning from beekeepers as I could. I had no idea how much bees would alter my assumptions and perspective, poking holes in my deep-seated New York skepticism. 

Through the NYCBA apprenticeship, I traverse the city, discovering parts unknown. I climb the rooftop of a ballet at dawn in the Flatiron, inspect hives atop a French bakery in Bushwick, and log hours atop the MoMa installing beehives. I herd baby sheep beside beehives in a Nolita church cemetery, wave to passersby on the High Line in my veil, and navigate public transportation with discreetly contained swarms. I contemplate the connections between Judaism and beekeeping high above homes in West Harlem, and sling honey at farmers' markets on the weekends.
En route to inspect hives at 5am, I inhale the smells that New York sweats before they’re meant to be shared with commuters. Warm rain residue climbing into the air. Flaked pastries cooling on a baker’s rack. There is something soothing about New York at this hour, as it yawns and stretches and prepares for a new day. Where I would normally rush past the blur of buildings in a hurry to get to my destination, I am stunned by the lack of commuters. I stop to watch the Union Square vendors sleepily unpack their farmers’ market produce. I cross a soundless Broadway, gaping at the barren intersections that will soon host a wild stampede. And I laugh aloud at my destination, looking out from the rooftop of a Chelsea building where we keep hives as I realize that after 26 years, it’s the bees that have shown me a side of my city I was sure I already knew.
Bees demand my attention and my patience. They slow me down and shake me from a predictable New York state of mind. Their three-mile foraging radius inspires me to explore living simpler and smaller. Through them, the city has opened itself up to me. Or, more accurately, I’m just seeing what was always there.

To learn more about NYCBA's Urban Beekeeping Apprenticeship, please visit our program page or reach out to

Photo by Billie Hirsch.

A New Year and a New Site!

Miss Molly

Hey, hey! We're pleased to announce the new website for 2015, which includes easier access to more information about NYCBA news, events and classes. Check back frequently to keep posted on our latest happenings! Wishing you a very sweet 2015!