Andrew Coté, NYC Beekeeper, on Urban Apiculture (And Getting Bees in His Nose!)


Last week, the Voice brought you news of bees(!), which have been swarming New York with the onset of warm weather.

If the thought of thousands of stinging insects flying around the city en masse sounds scary, fear not! We had the chance to catch up with Andrew Coté, often billed as the city’s “busiest beekeeper,” via e-mail and ask him a few questions about urban apidae — namely, whether the bees are trying to kill us.

(They’re not! But if you see them swarming, you should contact him ASAP!)

Coté is a fourth-generation beekeeper and founder of The New York City Beekeepers Association and Bees Without Borders, a non-profit that teaches impoverished people in developing countries how to produce honey for income. So what did he have to say?

Village Voice: How did you get into beekeeping — and specifically, how did you get started with it in the city?

Andrew Coté: I started keeping bees with my father when I was about ten years old; so, I have been tending beehives for over three decades. I was born 30 minutes outside of New York City. I have lived all over the world, and worked with bees in most places where I have been. I started to keep bees in NYC because I moved here.

VV: We keep hearing about swarming. It sounds scary!

Coté: Swarming is a natural tendency for honeybees and the manner in which they propagate their species. A properly maintained hive can usually have the swarming instinct suppressed. It generally happens in the springtime, April until June, when the bees hardwiring tells them to multiply.

VV: Is swarming dangerous?

Coté: Honeybees are in fact at their most docile when they swarm. They are filled with honey for a long flight and they tend not to sting. Though they may appear intimidating to the civilian population, they are in fact extremely tame at that juncture.

VV: Generally speaking, though, are honeybees dangerous?

Coté: Honeybees pose no imminent threat to most people, and in fact honeybees greatly enhance our lives in many ways. Pollinating a great percentage of our food supply, providing us with delicious honey, are just some of the ways. Of course, if a person is anaphylactic, it could be an issue to be stung by a honeybee, but those people are few and far between, and ought to know, and carry epinephrine pens.

VV: What are some of the biggest challenges with urban beekeeping?

Coté: Truthfully, finding parking, and not falling off of the roof when a bee inserts herself into my nostril are the biggest challenges I face. And making time to answer reporters’ never ending questions.

VV: How is beekeeping in a city different than doing so in the country?

Coté: Swarm prevention must be more aggressively attended to in the city; since a swarm in a densely populated urban environment is a larger threat to the PR aspect of legal honeybees in the big city than it is in the country. Aside from that, making sure that the area has the proper amount of foraging is a bigger challenge in the city than in suburban or rural areas.

VV: How many beekeepers are there in New York?

Coté: No one knows for certain, but the New York City Beekeepers Association pegs it at something like 300.

VV: What’s the city’s take on urban beekeeping?

Coté: The NYCBA fought and failed to get more restrictions on urban beekeeping. We wanted a licensing procedure, mandatory classes, and a limited number of permits issued. The way things turned out, anyone can toss a hive onto their roof, and as such, we have seen a tremendous uptick in swarms, mostly from these cowboy and cowgirl so-called beekeepers.