Anna released some smoke into the hives, which, for unknown reasons, calms the bees down. On Memorial Day weekend she added a third “super” (a drawer, which she built herself) to the hive in the back.
“There is no question that they are a wild creature. You have to treat them with a certain amount of deference and respect, because they sting. In their mind, I’m the equivalent of a bear—well, I’m a little more gentle than a bear.”
Anna Thea Bridge has been interested in bees almost as long as she can remember. But only once beekeeping was legalized in New York City last March, did she install two hives on the roof of her house in Sunnyside Gardens.
Beekeeping, Anna says, is so versatile that it is impossible to tire of it. “This month I might be interested in watching them bring pollen back and learning about different kinds of pollen, at another time in hive design and the history of different hives. It keeps your interest potentially for a lifetime,” she says.
Currently, Anna enjoys how present and mindful she has to be when working with the bees. She compares beekeeping to meditation and Tai Chi.
A litigation attorney, Anna often works long, stressful hours. But on the weekends she puts on her beekeeper’s suit and climbs to the roof, where she moves thoughtfully and slowly to not agitate the bees. She inspects the hives, feeds the bees sugar water and makes sure that the Queen is happy and the hive has enough space. This Memorial Day weekend, Anna added another “super” to one of the hives. The supers look like drawers and contain several frames in which the bees store their honey. When it gets cold, the bees cluster in the hive’s center to keep warm, and some of the supers may have to be removed, because too much space is difficult for the bees to heat.
Each of Anna’s hives houses up to 50,000 bees, mostly female workers and male drones, and one queen, the hive’s central character. Affectionately, Anna has named her first two queens Queen Alice and Queen Bernadette, their initials corresponding to the first two letters of the alphabet, presumably the beginning of a tradition.
Each hive can produce up to 100 pounds of honey a year. Some of that honey will help to reward Anna’s neighbors. “They were nervous at first that there are going to be bees in their yard all the time. But bees have a three-mile radius,” Anna says. “And they don’t all leave because the queen is inside and they are bonded with her.” In fact, I was surprised how calmly the bees came and went while we were on the roof for Anna’s weekly routine.
Sunnyside, with its linden trees, its abundance of flower boxes and its proximity to several cemeteries—bees love the patches of clover that grow there—is the perfect environment for bees. While Anna agrees that bees are wild creatures that have to be treated with deference and respect, she also thinks that their virtue is underestimated. “People don’t really think about pollination but it’s really important,” she says, mentioning the city’s recent push to plant more apple trees in the Big Apple. “If you don’t have any bees you are not going have any apples,” she explains.
So if you see a bee in your yard or on the cemetery, be kind to it. Maybe attach a tiny little letter to its pollen sacks, thanking Anna for helping to pollinate Sunnyside’s flowers and fruit trees. In return, you will soon be able to buy “Sunnyside Honey” at the local farmers market.
In the podcast Anna talks about the perks of beekeeping and her decision to buy a house in Sunnyside.