Hidden Hives of New York City

New York City has outlawed the keeping of bees — but some folks are doing it anyway. In fact, you can often follow the buzz to one of the Big Apple's secret hives. Reporter Kate Hinds reports.

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The work is hot and often painful, not to mention illegal, but according to its local practitioners, it's absolutely addictive. Reporter Kate Hinds introduces us to the secret life of New York City's honey bee keepers.

KATE HINDS reporting:

Sidney Glaser is getting ready to check in with 40,000 residents of Hell's Kitchen. Although he says they're quite gentle, they have a bad reputation in some circles, so he's armed himself with protective gear and keeps his smoker at the ready.

Mr. SIDNEY GLASER (Beekeeper): We're going to take the bricks off. We're going to take off the outer cover, the inner cover. We're going to lift one or two frames to see what the bees are doing as far as constructing cells.

HINDS: Inside, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of worker bees crawling over the frames. Glaser lifts a frame out and gently shakes it to remove the bees so that he can see whether they've begun to build honeycomb. He's a tall man, a former school teacher and Peace Corps volunteer whose regard for bees isn't hampered by the fact that he must keep an epinephrine auto injector within reach at all times due to a serious bee sting allergy.

Mr. GLASER: They're fascinating, absolutely fascinating. You know, there's all the functional aspects of it, you know, but I just look at it as it's just a great thing to do.

HINDS: Glaser's second-in-command is Mike Hegedus. Originally from Western Canada, Hegedus recently moved to Midtown.

Mr. MIKE HEGEDUS (Beekeeper): I'm an actor, so I have a lot of time to keep bees, which is great.

HINDS: He saw volunteering at the garden as a good way to get to know the neighbors.

Mr. HEGEDUS: The second reason was I just started taking dance classes, and I heard honeybees love to dance, and they do have a little dance that the scout bees have when they go back to the hive.

The zigzag and the round dance. Are those the two dances, Sid?

Mr. GLASER: The figure eight and a round dance.

Mr. HEGEDUS: Right.

HINDS: Honeybees use movement to share information, like the distance to a good nectar source or a potential location for a new hive and, perhaps, the phone number of a good attorney because New York City health code prohibits the keeping or harboring of bees. A spokesperson for the city said that these are wild and poisonous animals and that beekeepers might be risking their neighbor's health and safety. But she admits complaints are rare. According to Mike Hegedus...

Mr. HEGEDUS: The only time we get complaints is when we don't produce honey.

HINDS: Maybe that's because of the way it tastes. Beekeepers in other parts of the country can tout their Tupelo, citrus or clover honey. Laurel Rimmer, who keeps bees for the Wave Hill gardens in the Bronx, says that her honey has the delicious and complex flavor of whatever.

Ms. LAUREL RIMMER (Beekeeper, Wave Hill): We would call it wildflower honey, which means you're not really sure what it's coming from. But very often, it's Lyndon trees, which bloom in June. It could be black locust trees or sephora trees and any of the flowers in our garden or one to five miles away.

HINDS: The city says there are no plans in the works to revoke the prohibition against beekeeping in the five boroughs. But for New Yorkers like Sid Glaser, the joys outweigh the risks.

Mr. GLASER: It's hot, it's sweaty, it's painful, it's dirty, and it's just delightful.

HINDS: For NPR News, I'm Kate Hinds in New York.

(Soundbite of bees)

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