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Beekeepers Helping to Spread Word About Honeybees One Hive at a Time

 Beekeepers at Q Gardens lift beehive to check eggs of growing worker bees.
Beekeepers at Q Gardens lift beehive to check eggs of growing worker bees.
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Ignacio Lopez Moreno

PROSPECT PARK SOUTH — The bees arrived, like most New Yorkers, on the subway.

Approximately 50,000 honeybees are currently being tended by Q Gardens — a community farm that has sprung up in a vacant Brooklyn lot and placed the hives on a nearby rooftop — after arriving from Georgia in multiple boxes.

The neighborhood garden, whose main site is located on East 18th Street between Caton and Church Ave., purchased the box of Italian subspecies of honeybees from Andrew’s Honey, a local honey company run by beekeeper Andrew Coté, which brings them in packages for pickup at Bryant Park.

"I had no idea that people bring bee packages on the subway," said Anne Schoeneborn, the founder of Q Gardens, who kept her bee package overnight in her apartment. 

Q Gardens Beekeeping Instructor, Brittany Wienke says she and Schoenborn wrapped the bee package about three to four times before placing the container in a bag and heading onto the subway to bring it to Q Gardens.

"While the chance of a bee escaping is really low, it's still a chance and we didn't want to run that risk," Wienke said. 

With the help of a $1,200 grant from the New York City Citizen’s Committee, Q Gardens launched a pilot program in March. They hired two beekeepers and 12 beekeeping apprentices for a year-long project teaching students how to maintain and build a hive. The grant covered six beekeeping suits, the equipment to build two hives and a portion of the bee teacher's stipend. 

“People are obsessed with bees,” Schoeneborn said, adding that despite stinging fears, the honeybees are quite gentle to humans. “Yes, people are scared of them. I totally thought I’d get stung by now.”

Beekeepers use smoke to calm down the bees, halting their pheromone-based "alarm," they said.

"They communicate through the smell of different pheromones, but the smoke that you blow into the hive inhibits that ability, " Wienke said. "Working with them slowly, gently and calmly goes a long way." 

Currently, two of the hives are raising a new queen, organizers say.

“The queens actually fight and kill each other until there is only one left,” Schoeneborn said. “They duke it out with the rest.”  

Sarah Brunstad, 27, a Q Gardens beekeeping apprentice of Ditmas Park, enjoys nurturing the hive. 

"We watched these bees...grow out of their birthing cells," said Brunstad, who started volunteering at the garden in October of 2016. "It's a tiny picture of life." 

While beekeeping is popular in the city, organizers say it should be more accessible. 

"There should be more community projects so people without a backyard and without a balcony can learn about it," Schoeneborn said.

In the project's earlier stages, organizers hoped to house the bees in the garden, but opted to find a different site after neighbors expressed fears that the bees could harm dozens of feral cats in the area. 

“We don’t know how it would have gone,” said Schoeneborn, who found a nearby apartment management company willing to accommodate the bees. “The garden is so visible and close to the sidewalk, it would have caused problems.”

Schoeneborn declined to release the name of the management company, citing safety concerns. However, she says the landlord “loves” the honeybees and is “very supportive.”