City Gardens: The Bees’ Needs

By guest blogger Amy Freitag

Amy Freitag is the executive director of New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and maintaining parks and community gardens in under-resourced New York City neighborhoods.

It turns out that there is a lot to bees.

After the first of my three days of beekeeping school, we all left the room with our heads swimming in information about everything from waggle dances to Varroa mites. This 10,000-year-old form of agriculture is a humbling reminder of the breadth and diversity of the world of growing and harvesting.

Urban gardeners have been working with bees for a long time, albeit under the radar, until recent legislation made beekeeping a legal activity in places like New York City. My friend Patrick raised bees in his community garden plot in Philadelphia almost two decades ago, and I now I have renewed respect, even awe, for what he and his fellow city-garden beekeepers accomplish in these tight urban spaces.

Like many other gardeners, I am interested in bees because I worry that these incredible pollinators are under siege from both natural and manmade threats. City bees have to be especially tough: They need to be resilient and resourceful. They must be pacifists to survive amidst the humans least familiar with the natural world and most inclined to SMACK and exterminate them out of a fear of being stung.  Our urban gardens need bees to stay healthy and productive, just as we need gardeners and garden supporters to keep the natural systems of pollination healthy and supportive of our horticultural efforts.

New York Restoration Project has been in the business of building and supporting urban gardens for more than a decade. Our founder, Bette Midler, jumped into the fray in 1995 when then-Mayor Giuliani sought to sell vacant lots to developers, threatening the hundreds of community gardens that had grown up in those “under-utilized” spaces. NYRP had, in fact, come late to the party: Groups like the Green Guerillas and Greenthumb have been hard at work for decades supporting this burgeoning urban greening effort.  Today, we are honored to hold 55 of the more than 600 New York City community gardens in our Garden Trust.  The gardeners and their gardens are very much in our minds and hearts as we seek to support a greener and more vibrant New York City.

So, what does all of this have to do with bees? Beekeeping could be seen as a great analogy for our efforts to support NYC’s community gardens. Like bees, our gardeners are best left to do their own thing, supported with the basics: a great place to do their work, access to water and supplies when needed, and protection from periodic threats. At NYRP, our goal is to put our gardeners and their needs at the top of the list. A well-tended, beloved garden is an asset to its block, its neighborhood, and the city as a whole. We are proud of our partnership with our gardeners, and the exuberant association of New York City community gardeners.  My hope is that we can continue to support growing of all sorts, including beekeeping, as we become better and better stewards of these green assets.

Next year: chicken school!

And for a sneak peek at our green spaces, check out our video that highlights our committed community gardeners and the precious plots they tend to across New York City’s five boroughs!

Filmed by Greener Media

For more information on how to support NYRP’s mission of a cleaner, greener NYC, visit NYRP.org.

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3 Responses to City Gardens: The Bees’ Needs

  1. Bonnie March 29, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    Bee keepers are our heroes!

  2. Donna in Delaware March 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    I love it! It’s beautiful to see and it brought tears to my eyes. Keep up the good work! Wish I was a part of it.

  3. Lisa in Minnesota March 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Busy bees indeed! How the Urban Community Garden Began… The video was amazing and very impressive work by all involved! Thought you’d be interested in Gronomcis Elevated Gardening… Check us out on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/gronomics

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