New York City's beekeeping scene is buzzing.
Across the city there are 99 registered beekeepers and 261 hives, according to the NYC Health Department -- an impressive feat given that urban beekeeping just became legal here in 2010. Many of these colonies can be found high above the city's flowers and trees on rooftops, with active hives atop the Waldorf Astoria in midtown, the Google building in Chelsea, the Westin New York Grand Central, York Preparatory School on the Upper West Side, the Brooks Brothers' flagship store in Midtown and in the Brooklyn Navy Yard at Brooklyn Grange Bees, the city's first and largest commercial apiary.
In response to the growing popularity of locally-made honey, the first official NYC Honey Week is running now through Sept. 14, with events scheduled across the boroughs to celebrate the beekeepers and the honeybees themselves that call the city home.
The festival was born out of the annual NYC Honey Fest, held in the Rockaways for the past four years.
"The idea was to always create something that was city-wide," said Steve Rogenstein, co-producer of NYC Honey Week. "We have a local community that's all about the slow food movement, then there's the success of the last Honey Fests, and now we have a team that can produce something successful on all fronts, so it's the perfect storm to grow it."
One of New York City's pioneering beekeepers is Andrew Cote. The fourth-generation beekeeper manages about 50 colonies across the city, including at the Waldorf Astoria, which has 360,000 European honeybees in six hives on its 20th-floor rooftop. About twice a year, Cote harvests the sweet stuff from the hives, which is used throughout the hotel in food, for tea and, come October, a special honey-laced beer created by Empire Brewing Company.
Outside of the Waldorf, connoisseurs can find locally-made honey at the Union Square Greenmarket, where Cote, as well as artisans like Berkshire Berries and Wilk Apiary, sell honey harvested from New York City hives.
What the city's honey tastes like varies by season. It might have a minty flavor, thanks to the many linden trees that blossom in the spring, while in the fall the honey becomes darker, more complex and full of flavor from the copious amount of Japanese knotweed.
Beyond the sweet pleasure of eating honey, it can also be good for you.
"Local honey is extremely useful in fighting allergies," said Cote. "This is especially true in New York City, where there are very few indigenous trees and a great variety of tree pollen. So, honey produced by the industrious urban bees is more effective in fighting seasonal pollen allergies."
Even though the local bee scene is booming, it's not easy being an urban beekeeper, said Cote. For one, it's hard to find places to safely put the bees. Then you have to carry heavy equipment up and down stairs, ladders and fire escapes to and from the roofs, constantly look for parking and live with the fear that a beekeeper might mess up and a swarm will find its way into the crowd below (rest assured though, this isn't a common occurrence, said Cote).
So, whether you drizzle the golden sweet stuff on your morning yogurt, add it to a steaming cup of tea or mix it into a special dish, think about where your honey came from. After all, it could be right above you.
Ways to celebrate NYC Honey Week
There are more than a dozen events happening now until Sept. 14 as part of the inaugural NYC Honey Week. Here are a few to check out:
Honey-themed cooking class: Join Rebekah Peppler, author of Short Stack’s “Honey” issue, in a two-hour cooking class tomorrow at Haven’s Kitchen. Not only will you learn how to utilize the sweet stuff in the kitchen, but students will take home a copy of her book, too (7-9 p.m., $125; 109 W. 17th St.).
Honey tastings: There are several honey tastings happening during the week. Tomorrow, Marina Marchese of Red Bee Honey and author of “The Honey Connoisseur” leads a sampling of honey and cheese at Murray’s Cheese in the West Village (6:30 p.m., $70; 254 Bleecker St.). Then on Sept. 14, sample beer-infused honey and honey-themed foods at LIC Roots Community Garden, which also has some actual hives to visit (noon-3 p.m., free with RSVP, $5 suggested donation; 29-08 47th Ave., Long Island City).
Honey Fest: From honey tastings to foods laced with the sweet stuff to talks geared toward all things bee, Rockaway Beach 97 is the place to be on Sept. 13 to learn, sample and buy local honey (11 a.m.-6 p.m., free; 97th Street and the ocean, Rockaway Beach).
For more honey happenings during NYC Honey Week, head to nychoneyweek.com.
Where to get New York City honey
Want to try some local honey? Here are four New York City makers to know.
Andrew’s Honey: Get jars of the golden sweetness that Andew Cote makes from hives across the city, from the High Line to rooftops in Queens, every Wednesday at his stand in the Union Square Greenmarket. Starting Oct. 1, Andrew’s Honey will also be available online at Andrewshoney.com.
Berkshire Berries: At the Union Square Monday Greenmarket, Mary and David Graves sell city-made honey right alongside their Massachusetts jams and jelly. You can also order online at Berkshireberries.com.
Wilk Apiary: Tom Wilk, who apprenticed under Andrew Cote, harvests the goods from Long Island City, Ridgewood and Hellgate, among other areas in Queens. You can find it at Astoria Bier and Cheese and various farmers markets and online at Wilkapiary.com.
Queens County Farm Museum: Head out to Floral Park to get a jar of 100% raw Queens honey. It’s out of stock now, but small batches should become available by the end of September. For more information, go to Queensfarm.org.