The Borough’s First Commercial Apiary Puts the “Bee” in “Brooklyn

Brooklynites have developed a voracious appetite for local honey, which can sell for over $30 a pound.

So why not breed bees to thrive in New York City conditions?

That’s the plan at a new apiary at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Brooklyn Grange—which has already won agricultural accolades for its 40,000-square-foot rooftop farm in Long Island City—is building another at the Navy Yard, which has lately started to buzz with environmental businesses. But while the Grange’s first farm has four beehives, its second boasts 30.

Why the increase? Grange beekeeper Chase Emmons says that, when he was negotiating the rooftop farm deal, one of the Navy Yard officials asked casually, “Do you guys do bees?” Emmons’s eyes lit up. “How much space do you want to give me?” he asked quickly.

The result: Brooklyn’s first commercial apiary, training for would-be beekeepers and an ambitious plan to breed queens especially acclimated to the city’s climate.

Getting good bees is an obstacle for BK beekeepers, as almost all bees sold commercially are bred in the South. Not only is it a problem getting them up here (though they can be mailed, many beekeepers make the long drive down to Georgia or Kentucky and back), but once here, they often struggle to make it through the winter, forcing the beekeepers to buy new bees year after year.

But because Brooklyn Grange is starting with 30 hives at once, Emmons is pretty sure to have some that will make it. By using those bees to establish new hives, and then using bees from the most successful hives to establish still more, in a few years Emmons should have sturdy Brooklyn queens that can be bred and sold to other beekeepers in the borough.

And that hands-on experience? Brooklyn Grange, which already trains farming apprentices, is starting a Kickstarter-funded apprenticeship for would-be beekeepers. The pay-it-forward program, run by Emmons and Borough Bees’ Tim O’Neal, offers a summer of free bee training; newbie beekeepers agree to come back next year to help teach the next crop of interns. In return, Brooklyn Grange will give them everything they need to set up their own hive.

When he and O’Neal put out the word earlier this year, Emmons discovered that Brooklynites are as hungry for beehives as they are for honey. For 12 internship spots, the company got hundreds of applications, more than 200 of them from people with at least some previous beekeeping training or experience.

We may not have urban milk production, but if this enthusiasm keeps up, Brooklyn could become the land of honey.

Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm.



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