Life Gets Even Sweeter at York Prep

Hardly had the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lifted the beekeeping ban in New York City, when five packages–each with 10,000 bees and a queen—arrived at York Prep to their future home on the school’s roof.

Seniors Jake Klarberg and Lucas Tatarsky (Student Government Organization president and vice president, respectively), together with Sam Gilman-Harts, Leah Mark, John Diamond, and Erin Mackey—the main student proponents for a “greening the roof” project—welcomed the bees on April 30 and helped assemble the hives.

To provide a more natural environment, York Prep students created a rooftop garden. The 7th grade Life Science classes planted seeds which were transplanted into garden beds made by the 11th grade Environmental Science classes. The Community Service, Environmental, and Gardening Clubs also pitched in.

Principal Chris Durnford has long been interested in apiculture. “Worldwide honeybee populations are struggling,” said Mr. Durnford. “Increased pesticide use, pollution, disease, and habitat destruction are taking their toll. We want to do our part to help the environment and, as we looked at various ‘green’ options for our roof, the bee hives offered an interesting and dynamic initiative for our students. The hives are interactive; the students can be involved in their care and upkeep; we have the opportunity to work with Andrew Cote, one of the foremost bee experts in the city; and we get to make honey.”

Andrew Cote is president of the New York City Bee Keepers Association, which promotes safe apiculture in New York City. Mr. Cote has traveled to Africa and the Middle East establishing hives and restoring apiaries in war torn countries in his role as a founder of Bees Without Borders.

After attending one of Mr. Cote’s lectures on urban beekeeping in April, Mr. Durnford was convinced that York would be a great location for hives. “Our proximity to Central Park and our low sheltered roof make the perfect location for bees,” said Mr. Durnford. Mr. Cote was equally excited about the prospect of locating hives near the park. The bees will play an important part in pollinating the plants and flowers in the neighborhood and will travel all over the city looking for pollen.

As York Prep’s beekeeper, Mr. Cote works with the school’s hives and teaches students (and faculty) the fundamentals of apiculture and the importance of bees to the horticulture and quality of the environment in the City.

The bees will produce honey—an estimated 500 pounds this fall—which will be shared with the York Prep community. In addition, the school hopes to use the honey to raise money for the scholarship fund.

The school did a check for students with bee allergies and found that none of the students have a severe hypersensitivity reaction to bees. Some students displayed concern when informed there would be a hundred thousand bees atop 40 West 68th Street. “The students are more scared by the idea of the bees than they are of the actual insects; once they get up on the roof and see how passive and easygoing the bees are, they get over their fear immediately,” said Mr. Durnford. “The more they learn about them, the more they realize how amazing the bees really are.”