Thousands of Honeybees Call a Tribeca Terrace Home Sweet Home

Wendy Chapman, left, with daughter Taylor, center, and son Dean, during an inspection of the hive they maintain on the terrace of their Greenwich Street apartment. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jul. 24, 2018

On the eighth floor of a Greenwich Street apartment building in Tribeca lives a very large, very industrious family. You may have run across some of them hard at work in a local park, or seen them taking off for chores at home. Sunrise to sunset, their job is never done.

“When they say busy as a bee, they’re not kidding,” said Wendy Chapman, whose family provides the hive for an estimated 60,000 Italian honeybees in a corner of their roomy terrace.

This is the third season that the Chapmans have hosted bees, and they have been generously rewarded not only with plenty of fresh honey but with a front row seat on their colonys fascinating, perfectly organized society.

Throughout the day the bees make countless round-trips between Downtown greenery and their wooden hive. From nectar and pollen collecting duties to life-sustaining honey making and 24/7 care for their queen (she can do nothing for herself but lay eggs), the work ethic and communal spirit of the honeybee is inspiring.

“We’re urban people. Nature isn’t something we think about a lot,” said Chapman, who lives with her husband West and their three teens near nectar-rich Washington Market Park. “So this brings you in touch with the fact that we are so oblivious to how incredibly hard these insects are working every day.”

It was a Time cover story a few years ago about the dangerous decline in the population of the insects, which pollinate many of the plants we eat, that sparked Chapman’s interest in honeybees. “I kept looking up how to help the bees and I came across the New York City Beekeepers Association.”

Chapman took a class offered by the group, not thinking she had the wherewithal to actually help raise bees. “But they kept saying you can do it if you have a place for the bees. I said, OK, I’ll order them.”

As required of those with terrace or rooftop hives, she registered hers with the city’s Health Department to become one of an estimated 500 beekeepers in the city.  Chapman said neighbors haven’t complained and friends still come over for potluck suppers on the terrace, dining in sight of the hive.

“When people first come over it’s frightening,” she said. “But after you’ve been here a little while you really realize that the bugs that are bothering us when we’re eating outside are never the honeybees.”

“I do tell the upstairs neighbor when we open the hive, so that they keep their screen closed,” she added. “Because when the bees are agitated, that wouldn’t be kind to the neighbors. But it’s surprising how easy it’s been.” (Chapman has only been stung once, and other members of the family have rarely—or never—been stung.)

Every three weeks or so, the family opens the hive to check on the queen and clean out excess wax. (See photos below.) But the rest of the time, the fun they say is to just sit back and watch them work.

“It’s a very calming thing to have a beehive in the background. Most people who aren’t exposed to bees wouldn't think that,” said Taylor Chapman, 16. “My dad likes to say he’s only in it for the honey. But every morning during the summer he pulls out a chair and watches them.”

“It’s a little more constructive than an aquarium,” West added.

Much to the family’s dismay, however, the first two seasons of bees did not live through the winter. Chapman is unsure whether the cause was the cold or an attack of parasitic mites. “I am a little frustrated that I haven’t been able to keep them alive,” she said. “It illustrates that even if you do your best, things are fragile out there.”

The Trib visited the Chapman family last month during one of their hive inspections.
Photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib