Beekeepers in New York City no longer have to worry about being slapped with a $2,000 fine, after the Department of Health amended the health code on March 16 to make apiary activities legal.
“The Health Department looked into urban beekeeping and found that responsible urban beekeeping does not pose a public health issue,” the agency said in a statement.
In the past, bees had been categorized as prohibited “wild animals,” which included everything from owls, crocodiles, anacondas … to “all venomous insects, including but not limited to, bee, hornet and wasp.”
All bees raised by people were banned as dangerous because of their ability to sting people. The Health Department was permitted to impose fines ranging from $200 to $2,000 on violators and on many occasions, beekeepers have been forced to pay the maximum.
But Queens’ resident expert on bees said legalization was the right move.
“The beekeepers that I know read, research, observe and respect nature and the environment,” said Amy Boncardo, executive director of the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park. “I think that beekeeping is peaceful.”
The city-operated farm has housed hives for 24 years. After extraction, the honey produced is sold there or in the Union Square Greenmarket. “This [bee keeping] is a hobby and it requires devotion,” Boncardo said.
However, some Queens residents are worried about the possibility of more bees in their neighborhoods. “I am not too happy about bees being all over because it’s easy for you to get stung while jogging or just walking your dog,” said Leah Guzman, a resident of Roosevelt Avenue in Corona. “It’s kind of scary when you think about it.”
The Voelker Orth Museum, a house museum, bird sanctuary and Victorian garden in Flushing, operates one of the few legal beehive exhibits that is geared to educate the public.
“There are different types of bees and sometimes people are scared of honey bees, which are actually mellow and friendly,” said Debbie Silverfine the museum’s director.
“We probably have a little more than 30,000 bees here and they are always around in our garden,” she said.
As an educational institution, the museum was exempt from the previous ban on beekeeping.
According to the Department of Health, the new code will allow residents to keep hives of the apis mellifera, or honey bee, which usually do not sting.
In fact, Silverfine said, “we need to have the hives around because they are important for pollination. We do not want to end up like China, where they now have to hand-pollinate their fruit trees.”
Parks such as Flushing Meadows, Astoria and Cunningham are large enough to support pollinators. The Queens Botantical Garden in Flushing has been raising bees for years.
“These parks are some of the few that can bring more bees and this is what we need,” said Jim Fischer, Gotham City Honey Co-op bee instructor. “Since the economy is tough, residents might want to grow their own food in backyards, and bees act as pollinators, which would make this possible.”
Silverfine, however, warned that inexperienced people can endanger the bees and the hives.
“If you don’t know what you are doing this can be a problem because we take care of our own hives,” she said. “Having a trained beekeeper assures that the bees do not become a nuisance.”
Throughout the five boroughs, classes are offered in beekeeping. Gotham City Co-op, located in Manhattan, offers free training in an effort to promote responsible handling of the insects and to encourage “a spirit of cooperation with beekeepers,” Fischer said. “The equipment for bee keeping is very expensive, so we have a shared facility.”
Mike Barrett from Astoria is a member of the New York City Beekeeping Meetup Group, which is designed to connect beekeepers and provide hands-on training in nearby bee yards, “I am a beginner and the classes are more than just informative, it creates a community of beekeepers who will help each other keep all the hives in the city healthy,” Barrett said.
He plans on getting his bees in May. “I expect the bees to increase fruit yields for roughly a one-mile radius around the hive,” Barrett said. “Some of my neighbors plant tomatoes, and I hope to get them more tomatoes per square foot this year.”
Other organizations like the Voelker Orth Museum have special educational programs for children and adults.
The Board of Health’s action to legalize the keeping of honeybee hives will be effective 30 days after being printed later this week in the City Record.
“I am so happy there is no longer a ban because bees are an important part of our lives. They should be cherished and preserved” Silverfine said.