How an Urban Beekeeper Spends His Sundays

Five years ago, Nick Hoefly picked up his first queen bee in Pennsylvania, and drove her, along with 12,000 of her buzzing subjects, to their new home — his home — in Queens.

Within months his bees had more than doubled, to 30,000. “It was terrifying to deal with them,” said Mr. Hoefly, 35. But it was exciting, too, he added. “It was the same exhilaration when you go over the first drop of a roller coaster.”

He ordered more hives, which produced honey, which Mr. Hoefly started to sell. What was once a hobby developed into a business. Now Mr. Hoefly and his wife, Ashley Hoefly, 34, a financial director at Columbia University, are the owners of Astor Apiaries, a full-service bee company.

“This will be a good honey year,” Mr. Hoefly said. “With everyone staying home, there was less disruption of green spaces and more forages for the bees. Bees don’t know there’s a pandemic. They just know the dandelions that are usually mowed down weren’t.”

The Hoeflys live with their son, Parker, 5, and daughter, Olivia, 3, in Astoria.

GREASY SPOON D.I.Y. I’m up at 7 because we hear the kids playing. My wife starts breakfast. I come down 15 to 30 minutes later and make coffee, black with sugar. Before Covid we’d go to the Neptune Diner or Mike’s Diner, which are in our neighborhood. I love diners. Now we have breakfast at home: pancakes, French toast or eggs and bacon.

RADIO LISTENER I get into my Toyota Camry. Bee boxes and tools are in the back seat. I drive down the B.Q.E., listening to whatever is on the radio for the next 40 minutes until I get to Green-Wood Cemetery, one of our clients.

ImageEn route.
Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

STACKED BEES I pick up equipment and clean up the bee room at Green-Wood, which can get sticky from all the honey. They have 20 hives that are in two areas. Their hive style is called Langstroth boxes, which are stacked on top of each other and look like filing cabinets. They own the bees and honey; I’m hired to take care of them.

Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

GEAR When I get out of the car I pull out my bee jacket. It’s not a full astronaut suit, but it does have a mesh veil attached to it that flips over my head and zips around my neck. I don’t have any aggressive bees so I’m not as worried about my legs.

IT STINGS My goal is to make bees, as opposed to honey, so it’s more of a hive nursery. I pull out frames and make sure the queen bees haven’t died and that she’s laying eggs, which can be 2,000 per day right now. I also check that nothing is causing disease. A lot can go wrong. I’ve been stung over 500 times. It always hurts. The sting is like a needle. The venom, when it goes in, is what causes the sting. I’ve not built up a tolerance, but I’ve gotten smarter. I don’t bump them or elicit anything that causes defensive behavior.

Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

HIVES AMONG TOMBSTONES During fall and winter, bees start to die so I drop off the unused boxes in the bee room. During summer we might have 50,000 to 60,000 per box. Right now it’s about 30,000. The hives are among the tombstones. I admire the architecture and art in the monuments, but there are no ghostly hauntings. People can walk up to a hive if they want, but I don’t recommend it. They watch me and take photos. I answer questions and explain what I’m doing. When the pandemic hit there was a huge surge of people who wanted to get out of their houses and walk around the cemetery. Now it’s normal attendance.

Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

HONEY ON THE MOVE On the way home I’ll deliver a case of our honey to one of the cheese shops that sell them, like Monger’s Palate or Murray’s Cheese. I’m also working with some bartenders for the Aberfeldy Gardening Giveback Project, which grows community-style gardens of herbs, flowers and plants for bees to pollinate. The bartenders use the herbs and honey in their cocktails. It’s hard to do during Covid, but it’s a good way to bring attention to pollinators. I drop off honey to them as well.

Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

CHECK-IN I’m home by 2. I check on the kids and kiss my wife, who, during this time, might have reorganized part of our apartment. She’s also getting her master’s, so she might be working on a paper. I’ll chill for a bit and make a ham sandwich.

ENERGY BURN Last month I started taking the kids to Astoria Park again to burn energy from 2:30 to 4. We live on a community block with older folks who are like grandparents to my kids. For months we’ve been standing on the sidewalk and speaking to them from their door. When Covid started, we ordered a monthly subscription activity box called KiwiCo crate. We’re trying to find ways to keep them motivated. Last week we built kites and flew them in the park. Or they ride their scooters on the walking paths.

Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

‘BLUEY’ AND A BITE My wife starts making dinner around 4:30 while we pick a family movie. My kids are really into “Jurassic Park.” Once the remote is in their hands they have “Bluey,” an Australian cartoon about dogs, on repeat. By 5:30 we sit down to eat. Maybe it’s hamburgers, meatloaf or baked chicken.

Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

ZEN OF BEES Sometimes I’ll sit on the roof for 10 to 20 minutes and watch the bees. It’s 100 percent relaxing. You can sit fairly close if you’re still and relaxed, and they will fly around you. It’s a cool feeling to be in the middle of a big cloud of bees.

WEB WORK I catch up on administrative tasks. I use a service called Later. It’s a social media tool that lets you upload images and captions and then automatically posts them at a specific time. I plan out three or four bee or honey posts. I run an online local honey directory for beekeepers, so if you want to find one in Cheyenne, Wyo., you can. I’ll work on that and I’ll reach out to my web developer.

TV FOR TWO By 9, my wife and I are on the couch watching a movie. We started watching “Schitt’s Creek” after all that blow up at the Emmys, or something trending on Netflix, like “The Social Dilemma.” We’ve fallen into the routine of getting news on our phones, so we’re on them, too. My wife falls asleep first, then it comes over me. Bees are exhausting. I’ll get up, and if she hears me we both go upstairs to bed at 10.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Nick Hoefly on Instagram and Twitter @astorapiaries and @nycbeekeeper.

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