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How to Keep Bees
1. Beekeeping requires both accumulated wisdom and a lot of gear. NYC Beekeeping offers free classes, mentors and discounts on bees and equipment. You’ll need a hive; an extractor to harvest your honey; a smoker to drive the bees down when you inspect the hive; and one of those Hazmat suits
2. Helpful, comprehensive books for novice DIYers include The Backyard Beekeeper, by Kim Flottum, and Beekeeping for Dummies.
3. Once you’ve found your garden or rooftop, face your hive’s entrance to the southeast for morning sun—they’re cold-blooded, and need to warm up sooner rather than later to get a day’s work in. But don’t face it towards areas with heavy (human) foot traffic: it’ll interfere with their flight patterns and they could sting. Better, in that case, to paint your hives dark for maximum sunlight absorption.
4. Order your bees by mid-February, to receive them by spring. The standard order is a couple thousand bees, and one queen; the mild-mannered and widely available Italian honey bee is best for beginners. Feed them sugar syrup in April to build up the honeycomb faster.
5. You may not get any honey in your first year: it takes a while to build up the honeycomb. But you’ve helped pollinate your neighborhood flora, and as long as the queen is still laying eggs—check every couple of weeks—it’ll come eventually.
John Howe kept bees in Fort Greene for many years, founded NYC Beekeeping, and sells The Brooklyn Bee honey every year.
Illustration Mike Force