All abuzz on a city rooftop. Photo courtesy of AndrewsHoney.com
It’s a busy time of year for honey. The New York Botanical Gardens hosted an exhibit on a recent weekend called Honey & Harvest, and The High Line matched donation dollars earlier this month, inspired by a generous donor passionate about protecting the productive pollinators who provide the stuff.
And a huge contingent of New Yorkers just celebrated what might be honey’s signature holiday: Rosh Hashanah, where the custom of dipping apple slices in honey inspires hope for the Jewish New Year. A recent trip to the Union Square Greenmarket mirrored this apian frenzy.
At one of the most popular stands at the market, Andrew’s Honey, it was difficult to discern whether there were more bees or customers thronging the golden jars on display.
Andrew Cote, a Connecticut native, comes from a family that has been keeping bees since the 1800s, at Silvermine Apiary. His family is still an integral part of the business: his father, Norm, makes regular appearances at the market; his mother, Polly, still helps keep the books; and his brother and nephew help with the hives.
And those hives are myriad: he still has colonies in Connecticut, but the main draw at the Greenmarket are his signature New York City honeys, harvested from rooftops, community gardens, select balconies, and even from cemeteries, where the sprawling grounds give bees a little more elbow room. Not that they need much: bees are locavores, usually not flying more than a a few miles from their hives.
And for this, city bees have avoided much of the havoc wreaked on rural hives. Cote is frequently asked how bee populations are faring, what with the all the attention recently given bees and their mysterious demise. Lucky for him, and for those of us who love honey, while it might seem counterintuitive that bees living in the city would suffer less imminence than their bucolic counterparts, evidences show they are. City bees are not exposed to the pesticide use and nefarious mono-cropping practices of big commercial agriculture, which are two of the most pernicious causes of colony collapse.
Mono-cropping, which focuses on cultivating a single commodity on a farm’s acreage, offers a stingy variety of pollens for bees, and pesticides can be as harmful to bees as they are to the insects they are targeting. Two other factors, climate change and mite infestations, do affect hives in the city, but responsible beekeeping can counter some of the latter. The former, of course, is a mammoth issue, and the direction that current action and legislation are taking isn’t helping.
In fact, among the many curious practices in which bees partake (like the Waggle Dance, a sort of mating mambo), climate change may be having a deleterious effect. Not ones to soil their own stomping grounds, bees they basically “hold it” all winter, until the weather warms and they reenergize out of their quasi-dormant, cold-weather mode for a long awaited “potty break” often referred to as an elimination flight. This occurs as soon as the weather warms, sometimes false-starting the bees into action only for them to be struck back by a sudden cold snap. Thus, erratic temperatures further jeopardize already challenged bee populations. And the overturning of legislation enacted by the Obama administration — by permitting increased use of pesticides and eliminating measures designed to curb global warming — could cause multi-faceted damage on hive health.
Fortunately, Cote may be the city’s preeminent beekeeper, by being passionate about responsible beekeeping and by doing his part to encourage healthy bee populations. It is he, along with two NYPD officer beekeepers, who the city calls to capture rogue swarms. There were quite a few of these this summer, with swarms ranging from equal to the size of a grapefruit to a backpack-sized behemoth composed of half a hive’s worth of bees — upwards of 30,000 little buzzers. Cote has a special vacuum that gently and safely sucks up the swarm, which he then transports to one of his less populous hives, where the bees continue to produce their delectable honey.
Andrew sells a variety of honeys at his stand, and online at www.andrewshoney.com. His best-sellers are a thick, centrifuge-whipped honey that is creamy and spreadable — amazing on toasty rusks. Other favorites include an incendiary ghost-pepper-infused honey (terrific with roast chicken or drizzled on goat cheese), and an array of signature rooftop honeys, with hives spanning four of the five boroughs, and well into Westchester and Connecticut. As fall ushers in its new strains of flora and subsequent allergens, Cote’s stand gets even busier with hordes of the afflicted seeking relief through his hyper-local honey. What’s produced closest to where you suffer the most is said to be the more effective, since the honeys are derived from the same pollens causing you anguish.
So whether you’re augmenting your holiday feast, seeking an alternative to Claritin or just sweetening your tea, Andrew’s Honey offers a premium product, and allows you to support a local business, and a guy who really cares about bees.