The last photo ever taken of the late BG Bees, the morning of October 29th


Let me first direct you to this amazingly apropos video from Johnny Cash, the 35 second mark specifically.

He is describing exactly what was going on during October 29, 2012, in metro NYC.  After pleading with security guards to let him in to the Navy Yard, which had been locked down tight after the first high tide rose over its shores, Ben went to scout our bees at the apiary.  The apiary is — or rather, was — located on a pier at ground level, across the Yard from our farm.  We were on the phone with him as he arrived on the scene around 9:30am and asked him “how high’s the water, Ben?” “Rising as I’m speaking” was his reply.  But the hives were still intact after that first high tide, so we thought we might have a chance.  Ben took extra 2′x2′ concrete pavers left over after the installation of our farm to weigh the hives down.  Each paver weighs about 100lbs, so ratchet-strapping them to the tops of the bee boxes was our best option to prevent them from floating away.  All by himself, Ben lugged these concrete slabs out to the apiary and strapped them to the hives one by one as the water rose higher and higher, threatening to flood the pier on which he was standing.  Then the waiting game commenced.  News was saying that we’d see one to two feet higher storm surge than we did when Irene touched down in 2011, and the area that now hosted the hives had stayed dry then, so we held out hope.  A friend whose apartment overlooks the apiary area from a bit of a distance reported that she thought she could see the hives still intact at 9:30pm, which was just after the worst of the high tides.  That was really good news!  But alas…

The next morning Ben was back at the Yard around 9am.  What he found wasn’t pretty.  At the end of our pier is this giant cement processing factory on a ship.  The cement factory workers had to stay on the ship and let the mooring lines out as the water rose, and they described watching the hives start to float once the water had risen up a good 8-12 feet.  Once the water started to recede, it brought the hives with it, floating out into the river, some even being carried out to sea. What a surreal sight that must have been… We can only hope some of them make it to the UK.  A few of the hives happened to drift around and lodge under a big flatbed truck parked at the end of the pier, where they remained.  As Ben rummaged through the wreckage some survivors attempted to defend their homes by stinging his hands and arms.  We like to think they at least died with honor rather than simply being swallowed up by the East River.

A hive where it came to rest, wedged under the wheel of a flatbed truck

Soon after, Emily stopped by and went through the pile of equipment, sorting and cataloging, placing it all up on cement barriers to dry.  Unfortunately many of the amazing artist hives were amongst the missing, but we’ll salvage what we can and repair it for use next season.  And then, something amazing happened.

The destroyed hives, inventoried and organized

The wreckage of our once thriving apiary

When Michael arrived later that afternoon to survey the damage, he discovered that one of the hive bodies which Emily placed out to dry had a cluster of bees on top and filtering down inside.  It seems that at least one of the colonies had escaped their hive and sheltered somewhere nearby, only to return now that the weather had cleared.  Michael carefully constructed a full hive around them to give them a fighting chance.  We are not sure yet if there is a queen with them, but if there is, we’re going to do everything we can to ensure they survive the winter.  Hurricane Hive, we got your back.  Here’s a video of the survivors moving into their new home!

Hurricane Bees from Gwen Schantz on Vimeo.

Now for the damage assessment.  The worst loss was the bees themselves.  Not in economic terms per se, but in emotional cost.  Yes, we became very attached to our girls.  It might seem odd to non-beekeepers, but they really do have hive-specific personalities and tend to be extremely gentle creatures.  These hives specifically were purchased from a retired beekeeper in PA and had been thriving for years.  We even created new hives, decorated by various artists, into which we transferred each colony.  Even with all the upheaval of being transported from a field in PA — their country digs — to a pier in NYC, in smartly-outfitted new high rise hives, they produced an amazing amount of honey this season, almost like they were saying thank you.  Our apprentices learned everything from these hives: caring for them, transferring them, growing into beekeepers of their own.  And the Kickstarter supporters who donated to our apiary campaign last spring were able to name drones and have their names painted on a hive, so a lot of folks felt a real connection to these bees!  It felt like this whole thing was just meant to be.  But beyond the emotional cost, we also lost a lot of physical property.  All told we lost about $10,000 worth of bees and equipment.  That’s just the raw replacement cost, not the loss in honey production we will experience next year with new hives, nor the severe blow to our selective breeding NYC genetics program.  The genetics program aimed to yield bees that were clearly well suited to the NYC environment by breeding the fittest of our critters with one another.  Starting with such hearty genetics from one specific apiary was a huge stroke of luck.  Now we have to start from scratch, probably adding a couple years onto the process.  We have insurance, but it will only cover a maximum of $1,000 — if we’re lucky.  Now we have to raise the funds to make up the difference.  At the same time, we are working with friends in the industry to secure wholesale pricing on equipment and bees, possibly even donations of equipment and bees, so we are doing whatever we need to come back stronger than ever for next season.  If you would like to connect us with equipment and/or bees, please let us know too!  But know this: no matter what happens, we will be back next season.  Giving up is not an option.  This is a curveball that nature has chosen to throw us.  We will knock it out of the park.

That being said, we should all remember that there are a great many individuals, families, and businesses that have lost so very much more.  Of course this is a huge blow to our farm, but it will be rebuilt and replaced.  There are many who have experienced irreplaceable loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to them.  In times of need like these, we should always reserve consideration for how we can help others.  And we can think of no other city on earth that intuitively understands this like NYC.  If you want to lend a hand with storm relief, we urge you to check out the NYC Service page or Occupy Sandy organizers to see how you can pitch in.

Our once-buzzing apiary after the storm, the morning of October 30th

-Chase Emmons, Chief Beekeeper, BG Bees

Posted in Farm Log, General Farm Updates, Navy Yard