This morning I had the privilege of meeting some of New York’s smaller and rarer denizens. David Graves, owner of Berkshire Berries and one of Greenmarket’s Producers, keeps hives on some carefully selected (and assiduously permission granted) roofs in New York City. From these hives he has been gathering and selling New York City honey for eleven years.
David was kind enough to take some lucky Greenmarket staff to visit one of his hives. This meant an early morning start for me, but I can’t complain as most of our market managers have to get up well before my 5:30 wake up hour this morning. We walked up more floors than I generally care to and stepped out into brilliant sun with a few bees.
The bees increased drastically in number as David opened the hive and pulled out a comb, but they mostly ignored us, aside from the stray bee or five which kept thunking into my hair. (I am glad to have enough hair that my scalp is sheltered from a bee running into it.) The first hive Davide opened is nearly ready to be harvested with nearly fully combs. David let us sample some of the honey – it was incredibly clear, with very little color a complex flavor that I am at a loss to describe. Not as overwhelmingly sweet as some honeys can be. When asked about air pollutants, David responded that the nectar in flowers is so deep down into the flower that it is mostly protected from stray dust etc., and that if a bee gets into anything nasty, it will probably die before it makes it back to the hive.
David told us that honey bees are rare in the city, but that when introduced, they keep down the populations of wasps and yellow jackets. Amusingly, David passed on that these city bees seem to have picked up city habits, they work from early morning through until 8pm, unlike his country bees up in Massachusetts, who, he says, kick off right at 5pm.
After examining the first hive we went to a different part of this roof to take a look at a second – it needed to be “re-queened”. The old queen had either died or flown away and the colony needed a new queen to keep it going. David showed us the queen bee he had ordered in the mail (yes, you can ship lives bees through USPS – they have bright green stickers that say “Live Queen Bees” on them – and come in a little wood box with screen mesh on one side to all good air flow).
He opened up the top of the second hive, pulled out another comb and showed us where some of the worker bees had started trying to make a new queen. This hive definitley needed the new queen. After sliding the new queen, still in box (where she’ll stay until the bees eat the “candy plug” which keeps her in), into the hive, he set up a quart jar of home brewed nectar to fee the hive, making sure that the queen would see food coming into the hive and begin laying eggs to keep the hive’s population going (David said these worker bees only live for 35 days, so for a hive to survive the queen needs to keep pumping out new ones). David’s home brew for the bees is a mix of honey, sugar water and mint – sounds like a lovely beverage to me!
You can check out my gallery for a full set of photos from our visit. You’ll notice a lack of any protective gear – David described the bees as “very gentle”. I guess humans just aren’t too interesting when there are flowers to find.