Honeybees Thrive
in New York City

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Bears are nonexistent. Skunks are rare. Rats, pigeons and humans, though plentiful, are reluctant to approach.

New York City, it turns out, is a great place to be a bee.

``They do really well here,'' says David Graves, who has hundreds of thousands of honeybees in seven hives in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. ``There are so many parks and gardens and rooftop flowerpots. Even if it's dry, they can get the water they need from the East River.''

They mind their own beeswax, too, and don't go around stinging sidewalk-bound New Yorkers, Graves insists. The hives are on rooftops as high as 12 stories to keep them undisturbed.

``If you had a hive at street level, maybe somebody would knock against it or something, and the bees would get riled and sting somebody,'' he says.

Each of Graves' hives can produce 50 pounds of honey a year, which he sells for $5 per half-pound at the city's greenmarkets. His ordinary New England honey is $3.

Graves, 48, has been raising bees for 15 years. He got the up-on-the-roof idea one spring after black bears raided hives near his Becket, Mass., home.

``To avoid the bears, we put the hives up high,'' says his wife, Mary. ``My husband had been selling at the New York greenmarkets for five years, and he looked around and saw that one thing you have a lot of in New York is rooftops.''

The next step involved a specific New York City skill: cajoling the landlord.

``Sure, some people who said they'd love to have bees couldn't convince their landlords,'' Graves says. ``But it wasn't a big problem. I'd bring a package of bees to the greenmarket in the spring, put a sign on them, like, `We need a home. We are very gentle. We like to share our New York City honey. Do you have a rooftop?'''

He got twice as many offers as he needed and hopes to expand next year.

Of course, bees don't just fly up to where you want them and fly down when you want to move them. Like other tenants, they use the elevator.

Graves describes moving a hive so one building could repair its roof:
``I just put the hive in the elevator and brought it down, maybe 25,000 live bees in an elevator, 12 stories down. But the landlord was brought up on a farm, he knows they're not dangerous.''

Nobody else got into the elevator, he says.

On Wednesday, Graves took a visitor up on the roof of a summerhouse in a community garden on the Lower East Side to show off one of his hives.

Bees were everywhere in the garden, feasting on sedum flowers, drinking pond water from a lily pad. Hundreds swarmed around the boxy, wooden hive, awaiting their chance to enter with whatever bit of nectar they'd found in the Big Apple. Hundreds more took off, one by one like jets at LaGuardia.

Inside, with thousands more bees, was the sticky sweet stuff that Graves extracts and sells as ``New York City Rooftop Beelicious Honey.'' At Graves' ``Berkshire Berries'' stand at the Union Square greenmarket, the honey was displayed among the jams, jellies and maple syrup he brings down from his Massachusetts home twice a week. The New York honey has its own flavor, Graves said, but not because of any gritty big-city aftertaste.

``It's because of the different flowers and different sources of nectar,'' he says. ``It's very flowery, definitely a different taste from the honey that comes from the Berkshires. People who have taste-tested here, blind taste-tested, prefer the New York honey. It's sweeter.''

Graves' enthusiasm for bees goes beyond their honey, though; he's a bit of a defense attorney for the insects themselves.

``The hardest thing is to get people to understand honeybees and not be afraid of them,'' Graves says. ``They're not yellowjackets, not hornets, not so aggressive. You won't find honeybees on the peach you're eating or the Coke can in your hand.''

Next spring he'll get a chance to spread his enthusiasm. He recently set up two hives atop a public high school in the Bronx and hopes ``to show the kids how it's done, extract some honey, show how the bees work.''

``It's farming that can be done right here in New York City,'' he says. ``That's my whole goal, to try to educate people, turn people on to beekeeping here in the city.''

David Graves has hundreds of thousands of honeybees in seven hives in Brooklyn, the Bronxs and Manhattan. Each of his hives can produce 50 pounds of honey a year, which he sells for $5 per half-pound at the city's greenmarkets.

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