Beekeepers and conservationists will be buzzing with excitement on Saturday’s National Honeybee Day, when the winged workers’ importance is celebrated with hive tours, talks and more across the city.
Honeybees are at risk — about 40 percent of beekeeper colonies in the United States were lost this past winter, according to Bee Informed. That is the highest loss recorded in 13 years. But honeybees have found respite in New York City, despite the miles of concrete and extreme weather conditions, according to Guillermo Fernandez, the executive director of the Honeybee Conservancy, and Carolina Zuniga-Aisa, the co-founder and beekeeper of Island Bee Project.
New York City is a haven for hives with hundreds of community gardens and dozens of bee sanctuaries, with the honeybees crucial for our local veggies, they say.
"New York City has over 700 community gardens and farms producing nutritious food but without local bees, we can’t have locally grown food because it is completely dependent on pollination," Fernandez said. "One out of every three bites of food we eat is thanks to bees. Without them, we’d lose 100 percent of our almond crop."
Over at Governors Island, the Island Bee Project cares for seven hives at the Urban Farm, which is a true bee sanctuary, Zuniga-Aisa said. The whole island is planted with native flowers and is free of pesticides.
For Zuniga-Aisa and her co-founder Stacey Vazquez, honey, while it comes in small batches, isn’t the main focus. It’s about the bee colonies’ health.
"When the bees don’t make it [over the winter] it’s a very sad feeling to lose something you’ve been taking care of for so long – we build a relationship with them, or at least we think we do," Zuniga-Aisa said. "We’ve made it our focus to be more sustainable about keeping bees in an urban environment. Honey is important but it is more important to be responsible beekeepers making sure they survive and become a stronger strain [of bee]."
New Yorkers can help, too. Zuniga-Aisa and Fernandez suggest planting as many flowers and plants as possible and getting involved in community gardens.
For National Honeybee Day, Zuniga-Aisa and Vazquez will be at the sanctuary on Governors Island with the Honeybee Conservancy on Saturday to host a free afternoon celebration with Zarbee’s Naturals, which will be giving out samples of its products made with dark honey, and giving a look inside the hives.
More ways you can celebrate honeybees include:
The Conservancy is heading to the Staten Island Zoo for an event that introduces visitors to the zoo’s bees and teaches them how to make a bee "chalet" to take home. On Sept. 4, they’ll be at Washington Square Park, which has four pollinator gardens, for a Pollinator Party, where there will be fun, educational activities and honey tastings.
Also on Saturday, five New York City bars are serving cocktails in honor of National Honeybee Day that will benefit local bee conservancies. For every drink purchased at the Lobby Bar at The Williamsburg Hotel, Jams at 1 Hotel Central Park, The Hunterian, American Whiskey and Holdfast, 12 bees will be donated in the customer’s name.
The cocktails themselves are different across the bars, except they all contain honey and Aberfeldy Scotch Whisky.
The Brooklyn Grange, which has 40 honeybee hives on rooftops throughout the city, is also hosting a beekeeping tutorial on Aug. 25, which is sold out. However, another event titled "Nectar of the Gods: Honey & Mead Tasting" is set for Sept. 29. The grange has regularly scheduled farm tours, too.
You can also take a free tour of the hives atop the Javits Center by appointment. The 6.75-acre green roof is used to house beehives, which have produced thousands of ounces of honey since 2017. Just sign up on javitscenter.com.
And on Sept. 14, the Ninth Annual NYC Honey Festival takes place in Rockaway Park, where beekeepers and bee enthusiasts can come together for demonstrations and to share and purchase products.
The Honeybee Conservancy also has four bee sanctuaries (in addition to the one it helps manage on Governors Island) at the following NYC locations:
- BeeVillage at The Battery, where you can see live hive inspections on Sundays from 11 a.m. to noon.
- The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which creates "divine honey."
- The Fashion Institute of Technology, which has two hives that the students work with and also get inspiration from.