Sisterhood of the Working Bees

Our first story for 2019 starts in an unusual place. It is 2017 and we are on the very highest point of the Starrett-Lehigh building, the 22nd floor roof. It is a Saturday morning on a spring day and we are about to embark on an adventure to see if we can produce Starrett-Lehigh Honey. You might be asking yourself, why honey? It came from two very different places. First, I saw a YouTube video showing the future of a typical grocery store without bees. The shelves were bare; bees are a fundamental part of our food chain. Without pollination, the human population would have a difficult time sustaining ourselves. At the same time, one of our RXR executives asked if I wanted to install a beehive as he also understood the plight of bees on planet earth.

This is where the story begins. On this spring Saturday morning, we install six hives, close to a million bees. I check the hives every morning to see how they are doing. Within two months, I see dead bees on the floor and shortly after that, none of the bees survive. The hives were infested with a larva. I was devastated and needless to say very disappointed that our journey together ended so abruptly.

RXR agreed to give it one more attempt, and in 2018 we hit liquid gold! We purchased one hive and moved it to our rooftop garden on the 10th floor. We planted flowers the bees would like. Thanks to the effort of Geraldine, our beekeeper from Brooklyn Grange, we produced 30oz of “Inaugural Starrett-Lehigh Harvest” in 2018. This year we are going to try for second attempt and install an additional bee hive.

Here are some interesting facts I learned along the way.

  1. Each honey bee produces 1/12 teaspoon of honey.
  2. The peak population during mid-summer is 60,000 to 80,000 bees per colony! In the winter time, that drops to 15,000 to 20,000 bees.
  3. A bee’s life cycle is about 6 weeks. Yes, during working season, honey bees live for about 6 weeks. 3 weeks working inside of the hive and 3 weeks outside of the hive (mainly foraging for pollen and nectar).
  4. How do bees create honey? The process is pretty complex! Here is a great well, rounded description. In short, foraging worker bees visit flowers and collect nectar, store it in their honey stomach, and once full they return to their colony and pass it on to their worker bee “sisters”. They reduce the water content through their digestive enzymes and evaporation processes, then store the honey in cells (honeycomb) and cap it to store for later consumption.
  5. The optimal temperature inside a hive is 93 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter, once the temperature drops below 55 degrees F, bees cluster together to keep this temperature. Outside of the cluster, the temperatures start progressively dipping to the 70, 60s, 50s, etc as you move away from the primary cluster.

This story is setting the stage for more sustainability efforts at the Starrett-Lehigh Building. Stay tuned they are just around the corner. But if you’ve caught the buzz and want to join in on the fun, you can take your own beekeeping class this February with Brooklyn Grange! Sign up here!