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He keeps his reasons for leaving the farm to himself. “They’re personal,” he says. He will say that fate and romance lured him (a 48 year-old, hyperactive beekeeper) into a city whose laws forbade it.
Years ago, Fischer met a personal trainer named Joanne at a bee keeping convention. Just as things got bad in Virginia, she called him up and asked him to come to New York for a drink. “I came on a visit and never left,” he says. They married last July and live together on the Upper East Side. Soon after landing in New York, Fischer decided to turn back the clock.
At one time in Manhattan, and New York in general, legitimate hives buzzed in the unlikeliest places. Hospitals kept them to sting arthritics back to health and the Museum of Natural History maintained a few as a curiosity. Bricks of sweet comb sat outside swank offices at Radio City Music Hall and newly arrived Ukrainians relied on large stores of honey to stave off culinary homesickness.
In 1954, the New York Times ran a story announcing that F.W. Gravely, the sole proprietor of New York City apiary equipment, believed Manhattan to be bereft of hives. Urban beekeeping had all but dried up — a curiosity for the rich and bored out in the boroughs and ‘burbs.
It persisted as a hobby of sorts – falling in and out of fashion over decades. “Beekeeping is the Kilimanjaro of gardening,” Fischer says.
“I’m not done with you all,” he said. “I’m just giving you time to release your bees and give them a chance to build some comb.” By 5pm, Fischer sat alone in the cavernous room, accompanied by about fifty thousand bees whose owners couldn’t make it in that day. Never idle, Fischer took up a brush and began applying white paint to three “supers,” the hive’s boxy exteriors. He planned to lug the trio up to the roof tomorrow, fill it with bees and use it as a teaching device for all those who had missed the class. In a year’s time, if the weather behaved, the hives would swell with a fat man’s weight in honey.
He and his wife hoped to take it easy in this early lull – he had been so busy. Fischer hoped that things would quiet down until the bees had drawn out comb from wax frames and they began building up their brood.
His exhaustion shone through in the quiet — as though he drew his wiry energy from answering an endless stream of questions. Fischer’s solitude did not last long. He was interrupted by the arrival of a stranger named Mike Hegedus. The trim young Brooklyn dad entered the room pushing his toddler in a pink stroller. Hedegus had learned to keep bees in a Midtown community garden back in 2004. A couple years later, he moved into a brownstone in Bed-Stuy and put them out back — the perfect spot. He had maintained his colony for five years without incident. Until today.