A Personal Thanksgiving

NYC Bee
NYC Bee

In 2010, the UK elected a coalition government, Bradley Manning contacted WikiLeaks, an Icelandic volcano erupted, BP spilt oil in the Gulf Of Mexico, Spain won the World Cup, Greece went bankrupt and beekeeping was legalized in New York City. Astonishing, isn’t it ?

If anyone loves New York more than I do, it’s my wife, Sarah. Bustling through the vaulted melodrama of Grand Central station to take the downtown line to 14th Street-Union Square subway station, we were in our element.

Central Park
Central Park

We were due to attend the New York City Beekeepers Association (not to be confused with the breakaway New York City Beekeeping Association) meeting at the nearby Seafarers’ International House in a few nights time to hear Master Beekeeper Steve Lepasky talk about Urban Beekeeping, so we thought that we could get our bearings with a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket and stretch our legs on the High Line.

Bee On Grapes Union Square Greenmarket
Bee On Grapes Union Square Greenmarket

The iconic Union Square Greenmarket is populated by regional farmers, who travel an average distance of 90 miles to an earthy, uncomplicated jumble of organic this’s and that’s in the northwestern corner of the square. Folksy, but not twee. From wool to vegetables, from quinces to ashwagandha roots, the quality of the produce is outstanding. “London doesn’t really have this sort of market”, Sarah observed.  Too true. And then we came across Andrew’s Honey stall.

Andrew Cote
Andrew Cote

Who do you go to in New York City to talk about bees and honey? I had asked Nils Simon in Berlin: “Andrew Cote”. I had asked Nikki Vane in London: “Oh, definitely Andrew Cote, Dale”. I asked Google, and the York & District Beekeepers Association replied: “Andrew Cote”. Pronounced “Cotaay”. OK, I got the message. So here we were at last.

Andrew's NYC Honey
Andrew’s NYC Honey

Andrew’s stall is brightly-coloured and busy. No wonder. He reckons that they have footfall of almost 100,000 people thorough the market on long summer days. Not wanting to get in the way, I hovered. Then I asked if I could take some photos. Next was the honey-tasting, on wooden paddles, with a battered wooden box with a round hole on top as the receptacle for used honey-sticks. Thank you. Then I asked a question about the location of his New York City hives. We talked bees and honey for a quarter of an hour.

Andrew's Varietal Honey
Andrew’s Varietal Honey

I could tell from all the prevarication that he was English”, said Mr Cote, describing our meeting at his stall to the roomful of NYC Beekeepers attending the Monday night talk at the Seafarers’ International House. A ripple of appreciation stirred in the audience. They know their Brits in the Big Apple. And they know their bees, too. Andrew Cote, a third-generation beekeeper, was up front, dispensing wit and wisdom in equal measure, answering beekeeping questions and sharing the stage with Steve Lepasky, a second generation beekeeper. Then there was me, a first generation beekeeper – and  I was up next.

DJG Presenting Bees Cant Eat Kind Words at NYCBKA
Dale Gibson Presenting “Bees Can’t Eat Kind Words” at NYCBKA

It was a great pleasure and a distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the NYCBKA. The meeting was informal and informative, the room was full of beekeepers of all stages of development. This is a vibrant, intelligent, open group of like-minded people. My topic was the unusually high density of honeybee colonies in London: I explained that my home apiary has 644 more apiaries in a 10 kilometre radius – estimated to total around 3,000 hives.

3-Mile Radius Around Bermondsey Street
3-Mile Radius Around Bermondsey Street

My message was that, for this to be sustainable for healthy and happy bees in London, we need to add forage at every opportunity (planting; replacing; green-roofing), hence my mantra: “Bees Can’t Eat Kind Words” and my enthusiasm for the 32 green roof environments which we visited on top of the NYC Parks Department on Randall’s Island, which could inform the future of our London green roof projects. Sole purpose of visit.

NYC Parks Green Roof Access
NYC Parks Green Roof Access

Once Steve Lepasky had given the assembled company a masterclass on Overwintering beehives, we went back to Shades of Green. Not, as I had originally feared, an achingly cool wheat-grass-and-spirulina smoothie joint in the Union Square mode, but a traditional Irish pub which readily accepted greenbacks as Guinness vouchers. And we talked about bees some more, with a group of bee-enthusiasts, as nonchalantly cosmopolitan as an Ellis Island passenger manifest: David Glick, who made all the technology work; Marie Claire Legroux, all the way from the Luxembourg Garden beehives in Paris; Maura Keating, a new NYC beekeeper; Tim Cerniglia Jr, ultra-local beekeeper at www.beekindfarms.com; Ellie Andrews, a sociology student from Cornell University, Jimmy Johnson, the Narrows Botanical Garden plantsman, Tom Ryan, blacksmith and budding beekeeper and Jo Greenspan, an ex-pat beekeeper, about to return to England. To name but a few…

Dale, Sarah & Andrew
Dale, Sarah & Andrew

My only regret was that the weather closed in, for the one and only time that week, just as we were due to inspect Andrew’s hives on the 20th floor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Who knows, if l dawdle englishly by Andrew’s stall on my next trip to NYC, he might even renew the invitation…

This U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to express my own gratitude to my hosts Andrew Cote (and he and his wife’s new arrival) as well as Artie Rollins and Max Lerner from the NYC Parks Department.  You made our trip to NYC a very special one.

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