Hive Mind

Hive Mind(cont.)

SWEET HOBBY
Part of the allure of beekeeping is its relative simplicity. For about $300 to $400 (the cost of a hive and some bees), a little bit of setup, and some minimal poking around every few weeks, you may very well end up like Brooklyn beekeeper Amy Azzarito did: with enough honey to make nougat candy for Christmas and honey ice cream in the summer, and to give small jars away as gifts.

“It’ll make you very popular at work when you come bearing jars of honey,” says Azzarito.

Keeping bees and eating honey have been human preoccupations for centuries. When Dr. Howard Carter opened up the Tutankhamen tomb in Egypt, he found honey. (It’s antimicrobial, and lasts a long time.) Hieroglyphic cave paintings in France depict what appear to be beekeepers. The practice of keeping honeybees is found in almost every part of the world, from Nepal to Iraq to Zimbabwe, introduced by explorers where honeybees previously did not exist. Bees are not native to North America; they were brought over by Europeans in the 1600s. The Obamas now keep bees on their lawn.

The basics of beekeeping can be picked up in a class; Coté teaches one in New York, for instance, and helped his students score bees from Georgia. The information can also be gleaned from books like Beekeeping for Dummies. Though beekeepers do get stung (in one rare instance, Coté was stung hundreds of times), beekeeping isn’t as painful or as dangerous as you’d expect. Beekeepers learn little tricks for keeping the insects calm: Besides using the smoker, they avoid wearing perfume or eating bananas, the scents of which attract the bees.

Like a number of beekeepers with city hives, Christine Lehner has found a market for honey billed as coming from local, New York City bees. Hers is sold under the label Let It Bee, in a very visible (even flagrant) display at the popular Murray’s Cheese store in Greenwich Village. It has a slightly minty flavor. But does it taste different—more edgy perhaps—than honey from, say, Hastings-on-Hudson, where Lehner lives and keeps other hives?

“Not really,” says Lehner. “Blindfolded, I don’t think I could tell the difference.”

Ed. Note: Beekeeping was legalized in New York in March 2010.

Photographs by Galen Krumel

Lessley Anderson is senior editor at CHOW.