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City bees are all the buzz

Beekeeping gains in the concrete jungle, despite some concerns.

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Veteran beekeeper Jim Fischer consults with a newcomer.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor

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Honeybees may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think of Brooklyn. Yet here’s Yeshwant Chitalkar, high on a rooftop in the Red Hook section of the New York borough, opening a bright blue hive to check on its queen. The vista is a mix of parks, light industrial areas, and housing projects. Dr. Chitalkar works methodically, barehanded, carefully lifting out the hive’s frames, which are covered in a velvety, undulating layer of bees.

He is one of a growing number of urbanites who keep bees in cities across the country. Their motivations vary: Some are worried about the environmental impact of fewer bees to pollinate food crops. And some are urban gardeners who want to make their gardens more productive. Others say beekeeping is a way to connect with nature even in the heart of the concrete jungle.

Oh, and there’s the honey, too. Counterintuitive as it might seem, urban hives are generally as productive and healthy as rural ones. In a good year, one hive can produce up to 200 pounds of honey.

Urban beekeeping isn’t all sweet, though. It can be hard, dirty work and the challenges are many: jittery neighbors; vandals; city ordinances banning the activity; and problems, such as mites and parasites, that vex beekeepers everywhere.

But that doesn’t daunt those who want to keep bees. This year there are at least 30 new hives in community gardens, on rooftops, and in backyards across New York. Most are the result of a series of beekeeping classes taught last winter by Jim Fischer, a veteran beekeeper who lives in Manhattan.

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