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The Colonies Expand

IT’S a busy time of year for bees. As the city’s flowering plants and trees reveal their sweet nectar, colonies go into reproductive overdrive as they build armies large enough to take in the spring flow. And the urban beekeepers tending to these exploding colonies are scurrying to keep pace.

The once-clandestine buzzing boxes on balconies and in community gardens, rooftop residences, schools and even hotels all over the city have been legal only for the past two years. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene puts the number of registered hives at 161 — up from 4 in April 2010 — but the actual number of hives may be three times as many.

The varied members of the beekeeping legions no longer have to keep secret their delight in the apiary underworld. Through apprenticeships and courses that have proliferated in the city, they are joined in a mostly intellectual pursuit, though some acknowledge that they took up beekeeping for the gear.

“As soon as I got into the suit, I was hooked,” said Ralph Gaeta, a medical device salesman who keeps hives in Brooklyn and Queens and takes pride in the fruit of his labor. His Mizz Beehavin’ Apiary honey earned him second place at last year’s New York City Honey Festival.

But in the tight confines of the city, some residents fear that good bees will not always make good neighbors.

B. J. Fredricks, a freelance choral singer in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, said she was lucky to be able to keep one of her hives in a neighbor’s yard.

Some others on her street have not been so eager, Ms. Fredricks said. But after she explained bees’ docile nature, as well as their importance in the ecosystem, the skeptics slowly warmed to the idea. Then, she sweetened the deal.

“I gave them some honey,” she said.

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