Around Bee Rescue, Honey and RancorAug 30th, 2011 | Category: Bee Science
Tropical Storm Irene moved through New York City on Sunday knocking out power, causing flooding in some neighborhoods and knocking over many trees.
In one corner of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, the storm also set off a fight — over bees.
In a gale wind from the storm, a hollowed-out branch of an enormous tree was ripped off, exposing a hive of 30,000 to 40,000 honeybees. The hive’s discovery was a jackpot for the beekeeping community and word spread quickly on Facebook and Twitter that a feral hive was up for grabs.
Two beekeepers jumped at the chance to claim the bees, unknowingly setting off a feud between two of the city’s main beekeeping groups.
One of the beekeepers was Margot Dorn, an arts teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn who had taken a class at New York City Beekeeping, a nonprofit group that offers free courses, workshops and gatherings for beekeepers. When she discovered the hive, while taking a stroll through the park on Sunday morning, she called the group, and James Fischer, her former teacher, immediately drove down from the Upper East Side.
But he was not alone.
Another beekeeper, Liz Dory, a cinematographer, noticed a message sent out on Facebook by another beekeeping group, the New York City Beekepers Association, informing followers that it had a team at the ready to rescue any endangered bee swarms.
Ms. Dory contacted Andrew Coté, a prominent beekeeper and president of the association, who went to the park on Sunday to deal with the imperiled hive.
Mr. Coté and Mr. Fischer had once attended beekeeping functions together. But Mr. Coté had a more ambitious plan for a professional beekeeping association and started his own group in 2008.
Because Mr. Coté’s group regularly worked with the health department and the New York Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit on such rescues, he said he was able to secure a police van with a crane, a chain saw, and the services of the Police Department’s resident bee handler. Mr. Coté oversaw the rescue work.
As throngs of beekeepers and the curious congregated within the thin piece of yellow caution tape roping off the area around the tree, tensions rose. And even as the wood chips were flying, the two beekeeping groups squabbled over how the rescue should be conducted and who the rightful owner of the bees was.
“It was as though I brought the North and South back to the Mason-Dixon line again,” Ms. Dory said about the dispute.
The six-hour rescue operation involved hoisting the Police Department’s beekeeper, Anthony Planakis, known as Tony Bees of the N.Y.P.D., 30 feet in the air wielding a chain saw.
Mr. Fischer said he tried to halt the operation on Sunday because the high winds trailing the storm added to an already potent combination of stinging insects, heights and chain saws. But when his words were not heeded, he left the park.
“There was a lot more testosterone floating around than common sense,” he said.
But Mr. Coté defended his decision to carry out the mission.
“I was happy to be a bystander if someone else could handle the situation,” he said. “I only moved ahead with my methods when no one else could manage the job.”
That a swarm of bees would draw a swarm of people reflects the growing interest in beekeeping, or apiculture, which has been expanding since the city legalized it in March of last year. Although there are no statistics on the number of beekeepers in the city, some involved in the practice estimate that there are over 200 keepers tending hives on their rooftops or in their backyards. (Beekeepers are required to register their hives with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but it’s likely not everyone does.)
Mr. Fischer, who teaches about 100 students each year, said he was amazed by the number of young mothers and teachers, like Ms. Dory and Ms. Dorn, who had been drawn to bees.
“Five years ago the beekeeper demographic was an old white man who had retired after working 30 years as a machinist somewhere,” he said.
Beehives are the new ant farms, it seems.
And in the end, who would claim the Fort Greene bees? A compromise, of sorts, was reached.
As the sun went down on Sunday, Ms. Dory and Ms. Dorn loaded up a truck with the bandaged tree limb and a back seat full of bees and took them to a community garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the hive rested for the night.
On Monday, the comb was carefully excised from the branch and the bees were transferred to wooden frames in a procedure that involved a vacuum, serrated bread knives and rubber bands. Mr. Fischer was on hand to settle the bees on the top of Ms. Dory’s brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens after successfully introducing the new queen to the hive.
Ms. Dory will house the bees and, if they survive the winter, she will give half of them, in what is known as a “split,” to Ms. Dorn.
And, in an effort to maintain good relationships with her fellow beekeepers, she called Mr. Coté to thank him for efforts. Without his help, she said, her hive would not have survived.