Urban beekeeper reveals his rooftop rescue — and a beef with Martha Stewart
In early April, while many New Yorkers were fleeing the city because of the coronavirus, Andrew Coté suited up in head-to-toe protective gear and headed straight into the heart of Manhattan.
Coté was on a rescue mission — to save about 600,000 bees, nearly half of the 104 colonies he normally keeps on rooftops from Harlem to the Financial District, including the Bank of America Tower and the Brooks Brothers flagship, both in Midtown.
“It wasn’t possible for me to have access to all these buildings anymore,” the 49-year-old beekeeper told The Post, referring to shutdowns due to the pandemic. “Some [building management teams] prefer that I not come and go. They wanted to limit access to the buildings to whomever they deem absolutely necessary.
“Like their wealthy human counterparts, many of the bees left the island of Manhattan and moved out to suburbia,” said Coté, who has written a new memoir, “Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper” (Random House), out now, about his urban apiarist adventures.
One of the toughest removals was the four hives on the 10th-story rooftop of the Brooks Brothers store at 44th and Madison.
“The issue with their apiary is that it’s up an elevator, and then some stairs, and then straight up a ladder, like a 20-foot metal-rung ladder that arches back slightly,” he remembered of moving the 200-pound hive houses to the Queens County Farm Museum. “It’s painfully etched into my memory.”
Coté’s memories of beekeeping stretch back to the 1970s, when he was a kid in Connecticut and started working with his first hive as a fourth-generation keeper.
Norm, his father, was a firefighter by day and apiarist by night — including caring for Martha Stewart’s bees for 20 years. He also scored invitations to her theme parties and even appeared on Stewart’s TV show, and Coté would sometimes accompany his old man to the domestic diva’s Westport estate for work.
Like bees, Stewart could be temperamental — she fired Norm three times. The last time, Norm told her property manager, “You tell Martha to just stick to baking the cookies and leave the beekeeping to me.”
As a young adult, Coté began keeping his own hives and selling the honey at local farmers markets while also working as a teacher. But eventually the bees called him home. He quit a classroom job after his employer didn’t love the press attention he was getting for his hobby.
After a few years collecting honey in Connecticut, Coté moved his hives to New York City, which made beekeeping legal in 2010. He gets to keep his bees for free on rooftops, and the buildings that allow it get the sheen of an eco-friendly appearance.
Alec Baldwin, Padma Lakshmi and Hugh Jackman are among his honey customers. Coté makes his living through honey sales, teaching seminars, working with restaurants that pay him to tend to their hives and collect honey, and even corralling bees for movies and TV shows such as “The Blacklist.”
Coté now lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, an accountant, and their two kids, ages 13 and 4, who can often be found at farmers markets with their dad. Normally at this time of year, he sells jars of his Andrew’s Honey — which is labeled with the neighborhood where it was produced, from Park Slope to Chelsea to Bed Stuy — at $25 for a 9 oz. jar.
But with the city on lockdown, he said, “Sales have slowed down 84 percent. We used to sell to a lot of restaurants.” However, online orders went “way up for about eight weeks,” by 450 percent, though they’ve since dipped.
He adds that, while the bees don’t particularly like being moved — and sometimes show it by lashing out and stinging him — the stress won’t slow their honey production.
“The bees have been around for 100 million years, they’re completely indifferent to human problems,” Coté said. “They are unconcerned with our doings.” He plans to return the bees to their rooftop homes as soon as the buildings reopen.
And the caretaker is ready for his next potential challenge: Asian “murder hornets” that are predicted to arrive on the East Coast in the next two to three years, which can attack humans and honeybees alike.
“I know it’s not an imminent threat, [but] it is a nasty, nasty hornet,” Coté said. “[Their sting is] like 100 times honeybee stings.”
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