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Bees in the City

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On a sweltering afternoon last summer I visited Wilk Apiary on a rooftop in Queens, NY to document the honey harvest.

Tom Wilk, the head beekeeper dressed all in white and carrying a metal smoker leads the way as we climb a staircase to a scorched roof under the Queensborough Bridge, Empire State building just visible off over the East River. The sky is a bleached out baby blue to match the pastel palette of the hives that sit in rows. Apart from distance traffic whirs it’s quiet up here, you can almost here the beee buzzing up to the hives if you get close enough. Tom pulls out the wooden frames one by one and examines the honey.
The intricate network of comb they build is fascinating. Not to mentioned how far they will travel for pollen, or the vast variations on types of honey purely through sourcing in different areas.
These little guys play a significant role in food security through pollination and it makes me sad to think that, although people are embracing urban hive keeping, the population still decreases year on year.

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A few hours and one of those typical humid thunderstorms later, I’m back talking with Tom, this time at a Big Alice Brewery down the road in Queens checking out the extraction process. The frames are pierced with a spiked roller to break the comb’s hard surface before being slotted into the extractor. This looks a bit like that Dorothy tornado machine from Twister and works with centrifugal force to pull the honey from the comb to the outer edges. It takes more than a few hands to hold the extractor down as it rocks around madly like an old washing machine at full power. From there in runs down and through a tap into a bucket or jar, or onto eager sneaky fingers. After sampling a honey beer I leave with a little tiny jar of hops-infused honey Tom has made, feeling inspired to learn even more about beekeeping so that eventually I can keep hives of my own someday.
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