Beekeeping is now legal in the Big Apple

The buzz in the Big Apple: Keeping bees is is no longer illegal.

Mary Altaffer/AP
David Virgil, farm manager of East New York Farms! in Brooklyn, checks on his honeybee hives. Keeping bees is no longer illegal in New York City, the health board decided this week.
Suzanne Ma/AP/file
This photo was taken last year, before the ban on beekeeping in New York City was lifted. The rooftop beekeeper in Brooklyn asked not to be identified, since the practice was considered illegal.

Urban beekeepers in New York City no longer have to keep the honey of their labors a secret. The city's health board voted Tuesday to overturn a longtime ban on beekeeping within city limits.

Previously, the city's health code had placed honeybees in the same category as about 100 other creatures deemed too hazardous to be kept in town, including ferrets and poisonous snakes. Bees do sting, after all, and their venom can be dangerous to some people with severe allergies.

Yet, over the years, the ban was both little-known and lightly enforced. Some New Yorkers have secretly tended hives on rooftops and gardens for years in either defiance or ignorance of the regulations. [Click here to read the Monitor's article on urban beekeeping – City bees are all the buzz – which was published before the ban was lifted.]

And lately, bees have picked up political cache among a growing number of green-minded folk interested in seeing organic agriculture return to big American cities. The movement to end the ban picked up after Michelle Obama had a hive installed on the South Lawn of the White House.

"The bees are a great way to start that conversation," said David Vigil, a coordinator at the urban agriculture group East New York Farms!, which conducts seminars on beekeeping and has two hives at its youth garden in Brooklyn.

A hive can produce as much as 100 pounds of honey per year, he said, and the bees are useful for pollinating all sorts of crops.

"There are very few instances of people being stung," he added. Honeybees "are naturally defensive, but they are not aggressive at all."

People interested in starting a bee colony will need to register their hives with the city, but no license will be required. Health officials said the register will mostly be used to help resolve any complaints that may arise.

Previously, the city had investigated a few dozen complaints a year about illegal hives, and issued fines to some violators as high as $2,000.

The city lifted the ban for only one type of bee, the honey-producing Apis mellifera. Wasps, hornets, and other types of stinging insects are still banned.


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