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NYC beekeeping: embracing a once banned activity

Because he lives in a 21 story building and “bees don’t like high rises too much” (too windy), Guillermo Fernandez keeps bees in a tiny public garden below Wall Street, next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. He named his queen “Bee-atrix” after the ceremonial head of the Netherlands and as a nod to New York City’s roots as a Dutch trading post.

“White man’s fly”

“When the Dutch originally settled New York they arrived with their bees- they had their hives and their little gardens- and this was probably one of the locations where one of the little Dutch homes had its own hives.” Beekeeping was so routine among European settlers, explains Guillermo, “that Native Americans used to call bees, or the European honey bee, ‘the white man’s fly’’”.

Bees as dangerous animals

When Guillermo started beekeeping, it was an illegal activity in New York City and bees were “listed on a big list of dangerous animals including tigers and snakes which was absolutely silly. One in three bites of food we eat are pollinated by bees. We really need bees.”

Ban lifted, beekeeping skyrockets

In March of 2010, the ban on keeping bees was lifted in since then the number of beekeepers in New York City has quadrupled. Membership for NYCBeekeeping (Guillermo is a member), has grown from around 325 to more than 1,300 people.

Ever since the phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD), says Jim Fischer, mentor-in-chief of NYCBeekeeping, “Bees have replaced penguins or whales as the fashionable environmental cause. You can’t see tangible results from recycling but bees pollinate and make local honey.”

In this video, we visit Guillermo’s hive one summer morning as it warms up in the Manhattan sun. He talks about the history of bees in NYC, his Cuban grandfather’s legacy (he kept his bees in a hollowed-out log) and the magical world of bees.