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In Bryant Park, 3 Million Bees, Sold From the Back of a Truck

April 13, 2018

Corey Kilgannon, The New York Times

Three million bees were delivered to Bryant Park in Manhattan on Friday, most for sale but some for the park’s apiary. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

“They’re coming,” Christina Blaustein said to her 4-year-old son, Reife, who was practically jumping out of his white beekeeper’s suit just after dawn Friday in Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan.

Reife pulled off his mesh hood and ran to meet a box truck bearing a mural on its side of animated bees buzzing in front of the New York City skyline.

The truck’s back door opened to reveal its cargo: 3 million Italian honeybees.

They did not seem that happy after having endured a 15-hour drive up from Georgia, but Reife was delighted, as he examined the hundreds of wood-and-screen boxes, each one holding more than 10,000 bees.

He picked out two boxes. His mother paid the bee man $150 apiece for them and drove them off to Long Island, where the family keeps hives.

They were among roughly 150 beekeepers who flocked to Bryant Park for the bee delivery, to replenish hives across the city and the region: on building rooftops, in small urban backyards and sometimes even indoors.

Reife Blaustein, 4, wore a beekeeper’s suit to claim his boxes of bees.CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

“I know someone who keeps a hive in the living room of his apartment” near an often-open window, said Gregg Hubbard, a makeup artist from Chelsea who keeps bees in the backyard of a friend’s apartment building in Harlem.

Beekeeping in New York City was long a furtive hobby. It has become more popular since the city made it legal in 2010 to keep hives. For many of the estimated 500 beekeepers now in the city, the annual bee delivery has become a springtime ritual, said the bee man, Andrew Coté, founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association.

Every April, Mr. Coté brings up millions of bees to sell — nearly at cost, he said. On Friday, he brought 9 million, a third of which he would sell in Bryant Park.

One by one, the beekeepers stepped up to claim their purchases. They ferried the buzzing boxes home by car, train, bus and bicycle. Each box had straggler bees — beekeepers call them hobos — buzzing outside along the screens.

The daunting parcels were placed in shopping bags, cardboard boxes, and in the case of Spencer Davis, 33, of Brooklyn, a backpack made from the hide of a water buffalo, which held two boxes as Ms. Davis cycled back home to Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Lindsay Stephens, a beekeeper, showed off some of Bryant Park’s resident bees.CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

Ray Sage, 65, an electrician who keeps his bees on the roof of a Lower East Side community center, strapped two boxes of bees to the rack of his bicycle.

“You just have to ride gently and avoid the bumps,” he said, adding that his hives produced some 30 pounds of honey last year.

Like many other beekeepers at the park, he said that his bees often survived the winter, but not this past one, most likely because of the fluctuating temperatures.

Mr. Sage said he began keeping bees to help pollinate the many community gardens on the Lower East Side, since bees work within a three-mile radius of their hive.

He said he had been stung so many times that it no longer bothered him, but rather educated him about his physiology.

Boxes of bees awaited pickup inside a truck owned by Andrew Coté, a beekeeper who drove the bees up from Georgia. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

“I enjoy getting stung, actually,” he said.

Charlie Kramer and Charles Mohacey said they would take the M11 bus to bring their two boxes of bees back to roof of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea.

Mr. Kramer said the church sold jars of honey after Sunday Mass and used it to sweeten the sacrament it bakes to use for the host.

Ben Hom, 48, a schoolteacher from Brooklyn who tends a farm near Oneonta, N.Y., during the summer, bought six boxes because bears destroyed his hives last spring. They devoured the honey and killed the queen bees.

“Once the queen is dead, it’s all over,” said Mr. Hom, who has built elevated hives this season.

One box was bought by April Greene and Arthur Meacham, a married couple from Brooklyn who have no children.

April Greene and her husband, Arthur Meacham, prepared to bike back to Brooklyn after picking up their bees. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

“Now we have 10,000,” joked Ms. Greene, who said the bees would be kept in an observational hive in their kitchen, with a tube to a nearby window to provide outdoor access.

She lashed the box to her backpack with bungee cords and prepared to bicycle home.

As David Glick, 33, from Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, picked up three boxes of bees, he kept his 10-month-old daughter, Genevieve, on FaceTime on his phone so she could follow the action too.

Mr. Glick, a health care consultant, said he kept his hives on the roof of a commercial building in Brooklyn Heights, a deal he sweetens with free honey for people at the building.

After the sale, Mr. Coté’s assistants added thousands of bees to the apiaries opened last spring at the northwest corner of Bryant Park, where Mr. Coté gives occasional free classes on beekeeping.

Then Mr. Coté headed off to bring bees to 40 hives he maintains, mostly on rooftops, around Manhattan. The apiaries help produce honey for his company, Andrew’s Honey.

Mr. Hubbard, the makeup artist from Chelsea, said he hoped his buzzing box of bees would help him command some respect on the subway up to Harlem.

“I’m going to take them out of the bag and just sit them on my lap,” he said.

“Good way to get a seat,” Mr. Meacham said.