Brow Beat

In the Aftermath of Irene, Brooklyn Really Out-Brooklyns Itself

Photograph by Jake Beinecke.

As Brooklyn residents steeled themselves for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, they were told to prepare for flooding, broken windows, loss of power, and fallen trees. But a bike ride through the borough’s Fort Greene Park on Sunday, when the worst of the storm had passed, revealed a subset of Brooklynites with a less practical sort of concern. On the southeast corner of the park, a branch had broken off from a large tree and fallen to the ground, where it had been cordoned off with caution tape. The real danger, however, lay in the jagged outcropping that remained attached to the trunk, high above the ground: a huge beehive that had been built in a hollowed-out portion of the branch.

A sensible response to the realization that you are within a stone’s throw of an active beehive would probably be to shield your face and be quickly on your way. But the crowd that had gathered around this broken tree branch (not in and of itself a crowd-worthy site on this blustery, post-Irene day), didn’t seem concerned about getting stung; in fact, they were huddled directly beneath the colony. The hubbub made this reporter curious enough to nervously edge closer to the scene.

The concern shared amongst the gathered onlookers was not how to safely remove the hive, which was situated at only a short remove from a playground and near a busy intersection, but rather, who had rights to add it to his or her personal beekeeping operation. Beekeeping (along with DIY endeavors of all varieties) has experienced a real renaissance in Brooklyn, especially since the New York City Board of Health voted in March of 2010 to lift a ban on the practice. The beekeeping community, though, is generally perceived as collaborative—as in, I’ll trade you some of my honey for some of those eggs your pet chicken laid on your roof this morning—not territorial.

But the vibe among these amateur beekeepers was bordering on hostile. As a city contractor made phone calls, several people in yoga clothes and a twenty-something cyclist with a moustache argued over who had spotted the hive first. A man in a beekeeping suit, sans hood, pondered preempting them all by scaling the wet, slippery tree trunk and snatching it, seemingly with his bare hands. And alongside them, a man in a tee-shirt that read “New York City Beekeepers Association”—whom Google has revealed to be Andrew Cote, a third-generation beekeeper and local expert who sells his honey at the Union Square Greenmarket, teaches beekeeping classes, and runs an organization called Bees Without Borders—stood by, shaking his head in bemusement at the bizarre and un-neighborly circus that was unfolding.