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15 May 2010
Acquiring 3 lbs of bees, or, how bees are like liquid nitrogen

Me: "I'm a BEEKEEPER!"

Dave: "Well, I'm a beekeeperkeeper."

Me: "..."

Him: "You can be a beekeeperkeeperkeeper if you want."


I ordered my bees through the Gotham City Honey Co-op, which had them ready for pick-up on May 9th. With my friend and her 7yo, I went to the bee pick-up location, rewatched this video on how to install a package of bees, got a bunch of advice from the folks organizing the order, and picked out our package.

The 7yo was super excited. At one point, she giggled and said she felt like she already had bees inside her pants. We laughed, and asked her what the anticipation felt like. “Like tickling!”

A few moments later, she cried out and pulled up her pants. We saw something sticking out of a little swelling near her knee, which I immediately scraped off. She was obviously in pain. A splinter? Could it be a stinger? Hard to tell… but oh, yes, the area was swelling and reddening a bit, and it sure looked like a stinger. The organizer asked if she had maybe kneeled on the floor and somehow gotten it stuck in her pants that way, and she had, so maybe.

The 7yo was a bit teary, but not much. She was really chill about the whole thing. She got up, looked at the stinger, and talked about it with great interest. No problem.

A few moments later, it occurred to me that perhaps we should shake out her pants in case anything else was stuck in there. And what did we find? Oh, the dying bee inside her pants that had stung her!

MORAL: When a kid laughs and says it feels like there are already bees in her pants, there ARE already bees in her pants!

Apparently there had been a few strays, no one was really sure how, but so it goes. My friend and her 7yo took the pants!bee safely back to the tarp where the last few packages were waiting. As I asked the organizer all my remaining practical questions, they sat near the tarp and played with the strays.

I was very impressed - they just calmly hung out and encouraged bees to walk all over their hands. I told them they could go to the pharmacy and get some Benadryl without waiting for me if need be, but the 7yo didn’t feel like she really needed any, and was having plenty of fun.

Here she is, cheerfully showing off the place where she was stung:

So we loaded up in the car, the bees sitting in their cage in an open-topped box between me and the munchkin in the back seat. I fretted over the driving: “Please don’t get into an accident while we have 10,000 bees in the car! It would be the worst fender bender EVER!”

Really, it reminded me of the time Dave and I got some liquid nitrogen to make ice cream with up in Boston, back in 2005 or so. We carried it back to his apartment in a $3 styrofoam cooler we’d bought at the supermarket, sploshing around between us in the back seat of a cab. It was terrifying. Driving around with 10,000 bees humming in a box between me and the 7yo felt pretty similar.

(In the midst of making the ice cream, we experimented with safely sticking our hands into the liquid nitrogen with help from the Leidenfrost effect. If you go in slow and smooth and calm, an insulating pocket of vapor forms around your hand. If you move too sharply, you risk breaking out of that air pocket and burning your hand with the cold. Similarly, if you move calmly and carefully when opening up your hive, the bees won’t mind you. If you’re nervous and hasty, you’re more likely to squish and upset them, and get stung.)

Anyways, we finally arrived safely at the shul, where a couple of weeks earlier the Talmud Torah kids had helped us build the supers for the hive.

<img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3581/4555453033_186ec5b68f.jpg".

Everything was set and ready for us. After all, we already spent a day weeks ago building all fifty of the frames I’d ordered.

Nothing left to do then but get everything up to the roof and install the bees into the hive.

14 May 2010
A quick recap on NYC beekeeping and the law

In 2005, I got it into my head that I wanted to take up beekeeping, which was illegal in NYC at the time. I reached out to Roger Repohl, who very kindly invited me to come up and help him out with the hives he keeps in the backyard of his church.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to keep bees illicitly, so I set about trying to change the law.

I can’t help but feel giddily proud of this. Just Food ran the campaign since 2008, but it was winter 2005-6 back when I first ran into then City Council Member David Yassky and asked him to work on legalizing beekeeping. He laughed at first, but when I explained the issue in terms of urban agriculture and sustainable food and environmental issues, he took it seriously and started doing his own research. With his help and the combined efforts of a huge group activists, we finally got NYC Health Code Article 161 amended in 2010.

What a wonderful taste of successful activism!

According to the amended NYC Health Code Article 161, beekeepers in the city now have to file a notice with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with their contact information and the location of the hive. Via the NYC Beekeepers Association, here is the form you need to file in order to keep bees legally in NYC.

As for me, I’m now the resident beekeeper up on the roof at East Midwood Jewish Center.