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Urban Beekeeping

Aired May 13, 2012 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it begins as a hobby and maybe it might work up into a small business and then it's just an obsession and then there's no turning back. It's like crack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put them in, shake it. I don't know what's so obsessive. I just enjoy doing it. I enjoy doing it, very much, almost every aspect. Even the stings have their place. They humble me and remind me of who and what I am.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ACHOR: Urban beekeeping.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's exciting and scary at the same time.


GUPTA: It's a surprisingly addictive trend taking over rooftops from Chicago to Shanghai. A few beekeepers have the global reach of Andrew Cote.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andrew has been instrumental in establishing bees in the city of New York.


GUPTA: From the heights of New York's most luxurious hotels to the far reaches of the African bush.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've kept bees for millennia, thousands and thousands of years.


GUPTA: He's spreading his love of these remarkable creatures to people throughout the entire world. Andrew Cote is a man with a mission and today he's taking us along for the ride. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta and this is THE NEXT LIST. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREW COTE, BEEKEEPER: I have my hands in many hives. I help run the New York City Beekeepers' Association. I help run bees without borders. I am a paid consultant, by restaurants and hotels.

I have my own private hives, from which I extract and bottle honey, and sell at Union Square. You need to kiss a beekeeper. That's what you need to do. I sleep from time to time. My name is Andrew Cote and I'm a beekeeper.

Many, many businesses have approached me to put bees on their roofs. But I only work with those whom I feel truly embrace the concept of wanting to be greener, wanting to help the environment, wanting to raise awareness of the environment, and bees seem to be a very good way to do that.

DAVID GARCELON, EXECUTIVE CHEF: Today, this is the first phase in the (inaudible) Chef's Garden. We're installing six beehives today and hope to be harvesting honey within a month.

COTE: A lot of people do wrongly assume cities are places with no flowers, no trees. But here we are in Manhattan and you see what's around me now. Central Park is right over there. It's almost a thousand acres of green. We have more parks than I can count in New York City, in the five boroughs

ADAM WEPRIN, OWNER, BRIDGE CAFE: I have wanted to do - to have bees on the roof and grow honey for years. And when the city council finally repealed the law, I was like, my God! I don't know how.

And that's how Andrew and I got connected. I sent a virtual stranger, who is head of the New York Beekeeper's Association, an e-mail. I think it was two weeks later, we had hives up here after I took his course.

COTE: This is the third year that we've been able to keep bees legally in New York, since the '90s. And the New York City Beekeeper's Association had a substantial role in bringing about the legalization.

I sat in with VOH when they were talking about making beekeeping legal. I helped write the best practices guide for urban beekeeping.

We have close relationships with law enforcement, NYPD call us, NYFD call us.

NOAH WILSON-RICH, PH.D., CHIEF SCIENTIST, BEST BEES COMPANY: The New York City' Beekeeper's Association also has a very unique challenge, because beekeeping was illegal for so long and many people didn't know how to properly work a beehive.

COTE: I'm just one of the drones who help run it. I'm one of the founders. Our mission is to promote healthy, good, responsible beekeeping in New York City. As perhaps a poster boy for urban beekeeping, I almost hate to say it, but I don't know that it's terribly important for urban beekeeping to exist.

There are 258 times of feral bees flying around New York City without our, so in terms of pollinating community gardens, I don't think that they're necessary, but I think they greatly enhance our lives here.

I have maybe a dozen or 15 customers in New York City. Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the best thing that we can do to make them most likely not sting us?

COTE: That's a good question. And many more in Westchester and Fair Ophelia Counties, spring and early summer, I'll visit hives once a week.

Usually in the winter, I'll do something like go to Africa and volunteer to teach beekeeping in some remote place. So I keep busy. This is always my last stop of the day.

So this is my favorite stop, because I know that my 14, 15, 18-hour day is at an end. Adam? If we're going to keep two hives, right, one, two, or do you want them spaced for any aesthetic reasons?

WEPRIN: Not aesthetic reasons. Wouldn't they do better if they were spaced apart?

COTE: They'll be spaced apart, but I think I like having them both being able to look at the bridge.

WEPRIN: They need a view?

COTE: That's what they deserve.

RICH: There are no bodies found. How can we find out how something died without a body? So there's a bit of a mystery to it.




RICH: The declining numbers of honey bees is a global problem. The beekeeper goes into his hive, he'll find a queen, but the bees are gone. That's what we call colony collapse disorder. It's hard to determine the causes of colony collapse, because there are no bodies found. How can with we find out how something died without a body?

So there's a bit of a mystery to it. There have been some obscure hypotheses ranging from cell phones to aliens. Aliens is my favorite hypothesis. Because the bees disappear, the aliens would be taking them, for all we know.

There are some more well-supported hypotheses, due to lack of nutrition from habitat loss, we have fewer flowers around. There are also diseases that that affect honey bee health negatively.

And now here in the United States in 2012, we have a lot more talk in the news among scientists and researchers about the effects of pesticides on honeybee health, specifically with regard to the this neonicotinoid class of pesticides.

COTE: There are some people who think that urban bees are going to be the answer CCD. I'm not in that camp at all. It's true that there are no or there are few pesticides being sprayed in urban areas, but as far as urban beekeeping being the answer to any great global dilemma, I do not think so.

A few of us have that much space in Manhattan. So I maintain what is Connecticut's smallest farm. It is legally a farm, on 0.23 acres of land, over there in the nutmeg state. That's where I run the operations.

That's where I keep my supplies, where the bottling happens. The majority of my bees are in Connecticut and in Westchester County, New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing it teaches you is patience, because once you're in a beehive, you can't rush what you're doing.

COTE: Papa, I got a nice -- I'll put this in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is nice too.

COTE: They're both nice. Put yours in there.

What got me hooked, in the first place, is that I love my father, and he worked bees. And that was a way in which I got to spend time with him and almost have his undivided attention.

NORMAN COTE, ANDREW'S FATHER: I think he was 7 or 8 years old. Well, I only had about three or five hives then, so he tended those highs, but he also worked with the honey, build the beehives, so he had a grasp of the whole thing.

COTE: Good luck with them.

This time of the year is the busiest, because this is the beginning. It's spring. We'll sell about 8 million bees.

The season started for me around April the 6th, when I had to drive out to Otter creek, Pennsylvania, to pick up some full-blown hives from a fellow out there.

Then on Friday, we got a huge shipment of bee packages from Wilbanks Apiary. First we had a distribution that morning in Norwalk and then the next morning we had a distribution at Union Square.

We'd never done the distribution at Union Square before, but we've had them in Manhattan. I think this is the fourth time and it's normal we get a lot of people.

One package for this gentleman. He'll fill in the paperwork. There you are.

BRYAN WETZEL, BEEKEEPER: I read about Andrew's New York City beekeeper class in "Time Out" magazine a few winters ago, the middle of February, I was bored and I said, this sounds like fun. I took the class and the next thing you know, two beehives.

Basically, we take this off and there's a metal canister in there that they're all around right now. It's a sugar syrup. It's got holes poked in it and that's what's kept them alive from the trip to Georgia.

And take this out and inside there is a little box that has the queen in it. Use a thumb tack and string and we'll drop here into the hive. And once she's in there, we basically dump her in.

They'll know her scent and they'll know to go in there. It's amazing how quickly you discover how many friends you have once you have a harvest of honey.

COTE: It was fun, I think. It went smoothly considering millions and millions of bees were driven up in a pickup, right on to Union Square. I don't think anyone was stung, other than the beekeepers.

So, we'll start, who is in the beehive? There are three characters in the beehive. You know, the places I have in Kenya, they're not even on the maps.




COTE: You know, the places where I was in Kenya, they're not even on the maps. We went to visit the Somburu, in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't even on their maps. We unofficially started with bees without borders in the '90s.

NORMAN COTE: Every year, we go to a third world country and we teach the poorest of the poor people beekeeping.

COTE: We've been to Haiti, Ecuador, Fiji, Maldova. We've been to Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda. We've been around.

NORMAN COTE: This last trip, we were in Kenya, and they weren't using any of the other bee products. They were just using the honey.

COTE: The Somburu are cousins to the Masai. They've got a few goats, camels. Their bees happen to be more aggressive than ours.

ELLIUD MULI, PH.D., NATIONAL CENTER OF INSECT PHYSIOLOGY AND ECOLOGY: Kept bees for millennia thousands and thousands of years.

NORMAN COTE: A lot of them, they still used the log hives. Those hives they usually harvest just once a year, because they were so high in the trees. COTE: Very traditional method of beekeeping is to take a log hive, populate it with bees, pull out all the honey and brood, usually take the honey and eat it. And that's not really beekeeping, to my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the gentleman that comes to introduce and visit us and say something about your group.

COTE: We gathered everyone here this morning, because we need to begin at the beginning, just to go back to basics.

So with we'll start, who is in the bee hive? There are three characters in the beehive.

And we tried to teach them that you could use wax, you could make candles, you could use the pollen. There are many parts of the hive.

There are five products inside the beehive. They were unaware of the five products, honey, pollen, jelly, and wax. They were only aware of honey. So that's only 20 percent of what was available to them.

We're dealing with the langstrof hive, which is relatively new to Africa. This is hung in the tree to keep honey badgers away.

MULI: The biggest challenge for this community is drought. The other one is the honey badger. This is a small animal that knocks hives and feeds on brood and basically destroys the whole colony.

COTE: This hive over here a honey badger attacked and tore the metal lid right off of the hive. They're nasty creatures, they're nasty. They're the bane of the existence of the African beekeeper.

The Samburu were extremely receptive to everything we brought them, especially the gear.

MULI: Here it is very dry, the environment is very harsh. The bees are as harsh as the environment. They sting a lot.

NORMAN COTE: They would go and work the bees however they could. They would get stung a lot, because a lot of them didn't have any protection on their legs. There were no shoes.

COTE: Here we are, with your name.

In a community like this, to receive a full bee suit is life changing in terms of how a beekeeper can function. The back of those jackets, we painted our logo for bees without borders. So they're coming at you, you'll see the general sponsorship, and if they're running away from the hive, you'll see that they were hour recipients.

I did receive a goat today. I did. I received a goat.

NORMAN COTE: We were presented with a goat, I think, as a gesture of appreciation for what we were doing, or trying to do, in aspects of beekeeping with the tribe.

COTE: Well, from the goat's perspective, the story ended badly. MULI: We went to slaughter it and share the meat amongst ourselves, and among the community members. It is to start a friendship, which we hope will last for a long time.

COTE: From our perspective, we were honored that the Samburu sacrificed a goat in honor of our visit and our classes.

NORMAN COTE: After they sacrificed a goat for us and cooked it outside over open flame, we sat in a circle. The tribesmen, the wives, the beekeeping team and I just felt it was a real honor to even be asked to sit in a circle with these tribesmen. It was just a great, great honor.

COTE: It doesn't take a lot to make a big difference in the lives of the rural beekeepers in Africa or even to the urban beekeepers in some of the underserved communities.

NORMAN COTE: I just wish that we had time to do more. Maybe have more volunteers with "Bees Without Borders" to pick up what we can't do.

COTE: I mean, "Bees Without Borders" has pretty much been run out of my 311 square foot lower east side apartment. But I think that we have the potential to grow much larger, and I don't know that that's my ambition, but I welcome the conversation.




COTE: New York City honey is, to my mind, some of the best in the world. There's such a diverse selection of nectar for the bees, and they vary by parts of the city. Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, Prospect Heights, Brownsville, any of these places where I have hives, the honey tastes different.

Actually, I do have one sample. That one I've got. I think that, really, my favorite has been a fall honey from the high line, because it was just so dark and complex and spicy. I loved it. I got 40 pounds, it's gone. I miss it. It's gone.

It's like the flower itself. It blooms and then it's gone. I do know a lot of people who would fancy themselves beekeepers, and particularly urban beekeepers, who spend a great deal of time self- promoting, building websites, and yet when it comes to very simple matters, are completely befuddled as to what to do.

That's all well and good, but really when it comes down to it, this is hard and there's a lot more to it than pontificating over a microbrew. In a cool, ironic setting of a bar in Williamsburg, there's a lot more to it than that.

One of the problems, as I see it, with urban beekeeping here in New York City, is that when the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene made it again legal for us to do it, it was a good thing.

But where they lacked ambition was in zoning out areas where only so many hives could be. So now we are areas that are oversaturated. We've seen that in the East Village and Green Point. Areas where there are just too many beehives.

RICH: Urban environments are terrific for bees. For one reason, they have a lot of different food available to them. But you feed to you said what the caring capacity of the land is. How many individuals that area can support, and then make a decision. Bees, luckily, can fly for many miles from the hive. So they're not limited to one particular garden.

COTE: The biggest problem with being a beekeeper in Manhattan is marking my truck. It really is. It's expensive and I end up getting tickets. And the second biggest problem is traffic.

I mean, I just, I can't haul this stuff around on my back or on a bicycle. So I have to drive. So I have to do this early in the morning, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 in the morning.

NORMAN COTE: I'm very proud of him, of what he's accomplished. He's accomplished a lot more than I have. I think has benefited beekeeping in general. He's promoted it in a very positive light.

COTE: Working with bees is not hard. It doesn't matter if I'm on top of the Waldorf Astoria or in a community garden on the lower south side, that part is the best part for me.

NORMAN COTE: My hopes for Andrew are that he doesn't lose the spark that he has now, for beekeeping, and for helping other people in the world.

COTE: I don't want to jinx anything, but you're looking at a content man. I don't have ambitions to grow the business. I like the way things are. I have my bees in the city, I have my bees in the country, I sell a couple of days at the farmer's market. I get to spend time with my family and it's good. Life is good.


GUPTA: Andrew Cote has found his passion. And by sharing it, he's making life a little sweeter and a little greener for all of us, and that's what earns him a spot ON NEXT LIST.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for joining us. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We'll see you back next Sunday on THE NEXT LIST.