Urban beekeeper Andrew Coté waited seven days before offering The Observer his phone number. He has no personal website, no business card.
“They’ll bother me,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working my bees.”
As the self-proclaimed largest single beehive owner in New York City, Mr. Coté has his work cut out for him. And despite his policy of privacy, Mr. Coté is constantly handling a swarm of media.
In a city dense with media companies in need of an expert source on the latest story, a local professional who submits to an interview runs the risk of becoming the spokesperson for their field.
Since a 2008 New York Times profile, Mr. Coté has had a hard time staying out of the news. In the past year alone he’s appeared on virtually every American news source, and then some, including: the Martha Stewart Show, NPR, PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, The Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out New York, AP and the BBC.
“Who else are you going to come to if you’re doing a story about New York City beekeeping?” Mr. Coté asked.
The middle-aged man isn’t exactly sure how the press — or even his clients, for that matter — know to contact him.
“The truth is I just happen to run the club,” Mr. Coté said, referring to the New York City Beekeepers Association (NYCBA).
Indeed, the Association’s website was how we had contacted the reluctant super-source, our interview request just one of the roughly 180 emails he receives each day.
“Please send me whatever questions you have and I will do my best to respond,” Mr. Coté wrote to The Observer, from a g-mail handle that includes the word “beekeeper”. He later asked for a sample of our writing.
MR. COTE DOES NOT vet his media requests, apparently, out of reluctance to talk. Once he granted us access, Mr. Coté was eager to give The Observer some good material. Upon learning that we had never been stung by a bee, Mr. Coté suggested we initiate ourselves to the club. It would make a good war story for the article.
We accompanied Mr. Coté, clad in grungy jeans and orange NYCBA tee shirt, to a housing complex in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. There we met Brooklyn Beekeeping Club President Mike “Mickey” Hegedus, who is gaining notoriety for his naked beekeeping videos. He would be Mr. Coté’s partner in removing a hive from an apartment wall.
Mr. Coté began the job by snapping pictures of the scene on his iPhone, on which 580 photos were already saved.
“Time is money!” shouted the apartment manager.
But Mr. Coté insisted the “Before” photos were protocol. He e-mailed them as attachments later that night with a written explanation of the job to those he thought might be interested.
Mr. Coté and Mr. Hegedus propped a ladder on the side of the building, climbed up, and – with help from two apartment contractors – pounded away the brick to reveal the bees’ hidden lair. Mr. Hegedus assured the contractor that he had brought an epipen.
“Did you hear that? Did you hear how prepared the beekeepers’ club is?” he noted to The Observer.
Then Mr. Coté discovered honey. With an exclamatory “Ah!” from his perch atop the ladder, he grinned down.
“I wanna taste it. It’s wall honey!” He filled his Nalgene water bottle with the sticky comb and climbed down the ladder to slice off pieces for the building employees and passerby who had gathered to spectate. He instructed us to eat the whole chunk at once, like a piece of gum.
We popped the light-colored honey and comb into our mouth. Immediately, the comb melted and an overwhelming taste of sugar, with a hint of mint, melted over our tongue as the comb shrunk.
A novice beekeeper in his twenties named Elie Miodownik came to observe the “swarm kings” perform the hive removal. Mr. Miodownik took Mr. Coté’s introductory class through NYCBA and is heading to veterinary school in the fall. He scrambled up the ladder, poking his veil-covered head into the hole to see the hive. When he descended, Mr. Coté offered the apprentice a copy of The Beekeeper’s Lament.
By noon the the comb had been cleared from the wall and the professionals let Mr. Miodownik try his hand at vacuuming the bees from the wall. Mr. Coté had escaped with just one sting near his elbow. (He believes the ear is the worst place to be stung.) The three then stopped for beers and to talk shop on the stoop of Mr. Hegedus’s Brooklyn home.