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Nevertheless, Ascher is no honeybee hater. He considers beekeeping culturally valuable, educational and potentially lots of fun. He wonders about their urgency, however. “People aren’t growing large monocultures of crops in New York City,” Ascher said. “So, it’s debatable whether we need a wide-scale beekeeping operation.”
Fischer has met with local non-profits and gardeners who insist on the need. In talks with Just Food and East New York Farms (both of which are petitioning New York City to get on the bee wagon) Fischer argues that a lot of local vegetable crops just aren’t popping.
Moreover, he’s hoping to figure out a way to help manage and distribute solitary bees to smaller gardens. The Gotham City Honey Co-op’s website offers visitors the option of ordering bee eggs packed in tubes no longer than your arm — once keeping them becomes legal, of course.
In general, though, Fischer doesn’t care what motivates people to keep bees — something about the activity is just in him — and he wants it in others, too.
So he has been spreading the good news like a Pentecostal on a snake bender. When he’s not doing that, he checks in on hives kept on Long Island and on rooftops all over the city. He continues to develop and sell various gadgets for the expert beekeeper: an odorless repellant for safely harvesting honey, a sensor that monitors the comings and goings of bees at the hive entrance, etc. He also makes sure the Bronx Zoo’s African Bee-Eaters (little plumed birds with formidable beaks) stay well-fed.
If he came across a suitcase full of money tomorrow, Fisher would buy a house down in the Caribbean, he says. But there would still be one or two hives out back.
Keeping bees is just something he must do, he says.
"I was a bad physicist," he says. "So AT&T made me a manager." Fischer ran a team out of the company’s campus in Greensboro, North Carolina trying to develop a marketable version of UNIX. The company gave up — the operating system had already been widely distributed for free. One day, Fischer was told to close down his whole division, and received a nice lump of cash in exchange.
So he bought land in rural Virginia and taught himself to keep bees. Fischer knew nothing about bees when he moved to Virginia. He recalls his learning process as fairly straightforward. “You get a bunch of books and you read 'em. And you get confused because the books are contradictory. And you go to a beekeeping meeting and a bunch of old dudes laugh at you and say ‘Son, the books don’t mean nothin'; come with me.’ It’s a mentoring process. It has always been a mentoring process.”
He split every hive in sight each spring, doubling his yield, annually. By his 15th year in the business, he says he maintained between 500 and 600 hives. And then he started life all over again.