New York Beekeepers Buzzing About Uptick In Production

The Wall Street Journal    By Larissa Zimberoff    September 12, 2014

In New York City: Local Bees Have Been Extra Busy This Season

As New York City hosts Honey Week with its honey infusion workshops and apiary tours, local beekeepers say they have an added reason to celebrate this year.

Their bees have been extra busy.

"It was the best year in my last 10 years," said Andrew Cote of Andrew's Honey, a full-time beekeeper with about 50 hives in Manhattan.

Mr. Cote expects each hive to produce 100 pounds of honey this year, up from roughly 80 pounds the year before.

An abundance of the sticky stuff is a surprising turn of events since local beekeepers had reported hive losses because of the long, cold winter.

Staff at apiaries credit the uptick to a confluence of weather-related factors: snowfall and rainfall that went deep into the root systems, a high pollen count and a mild summer—neither too hot nor too cold.

A piece of dark honey comb. Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

"Usually when you see a particularly good year of honey, it's just about the weather," said beekeeper Howland Blackiston, author of "Beekeeping for Dummies." "Lots of bad weather and the flowers don't bloom, it means less honey."

Beekeeping as a hobby—maintaining hives where bees deposit honey made from nectar collected from nearby flowers—has picked up briskly since 2010, when the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lifted the ban against it.

Today, the city has 101 registered beekeepers with 277 hives, according to the department.

HiveTracks, a free online tool available for beekeepers to report and track their hive statistics, lists 365 active beekeepers in New York state. The state Department of Agriculture said there are about 45 commercial beekeepers with about 50,000 colonies.

After the heavy snowfall, the beekeeping community was concerned about bee losses. 

Ruth Harrigan lost five of her eight hives in Queens.

"Just when spring looked promising, the temperature took another dive and did them in," she said.

National averages for bee losses after the brutal winter were about 23%—an improvement over the 30.5% average of 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For Ms. Harrigan and her fellow beekeepers, though, the winter thawed into a great spring and summer. She added 17 colonies and was surprised to see how much they produced. Her three mature colonies from last year also did "exceptionally well," she said.

"I've never been busier," she said.

Brooklyn Grange, a set of rooftop farms in Long Island City and Brooklyn, has already matched its 2013 numbers even though it lost 70% of its winter hives, said Chase Emmons, the grange's apiary director.

"The strong winter weeded out the low performing hives," he said.

"We got about 700 pounds from approximately 35 hives, and this year we've already pulled that much honey from 38 hives with a sizable fall harvest ready to be pulled," he said.

The heavy production was the talk of Honey Week events, with beekeepers and distillers commenting on it at events such as the Queen Bee Cocktail Classic, held Monday at NY Distilling Company.

There isn't complete agreement about why the flow is so good for some apiaries this year.

Nicholas Calderone, professor emeritus of the Department of Entomology at Cornell University, points out that apiaries separated by even just a mile can have different yields.

"Although we beekeepers love to speculate about those things, no one really knows for sure what determines the strength of a nectar flow," he said.

Tom Wilk, of Wilk Apiary, has 12 hives in a mix of locations in Queens.

Still considered a hobbyist based on the numbers, Mr. Wilk also saw a big loss coming out of the harsh winter—dead bees with honey still in their hive. But he is already pulling in a great harvest, which he attributes to the dense linden bloom, which is what most New York honeybees forage in the spring and summer, preferring Japanese Knotweed in the fall.

Mr. Wilk has so much honey he has started working with local breweries to use his honey in their seasonal beers.

With roughly 300 hives in the Catskills, Claire Marin of Catskill Provisions saw a 10% loss in hives over the winter, but because its hives are insulated, the number was below the national average.

Ms. Marin has been splitting hives to keep up with the growth, noting her summer harvest was about 15% higher than last year's crop, good enough to launch a second passion: distilling spirits from honey.

"Nature is perfect," she said. "We persevere."

Read at...