Imagine responding to every emergency call into 911 about swarms in New York City - across all five boroughs, including Times Square! Well, imagine no more because, today’s guest, Darren Mays was the Official beekeeper for the New York City...
Imagine responding to every emergency call into 911 about swarms in New York City - across all five boroughs, including Times Square! Well, imagine no more because, today’s guest, Darren Mays was the Official beekeeper for the New York City Police Department up until he retired.
Darren worked nights as a regular police officer, responding to the calls all police officers responded to. Robberies, domestic disputes, prisoner transports, and everything else. In the morning, he’d go home to sleep, but he was always on call for the 911 for honey bees and swarms… When he’d get the call, he’d head back into the city, collect the swarm, and take them home. All in a day’s work!
When you think about swarms and honey bees, it is natural to think of green fields, apple trees and blue skies. Not… a security camera on 42nd and Broadway on Times Square in bustling New York City! This was Darren’s world.
It is said that New Yorkers have seen and are used to seeing, everything. But not honey bee swarms. These stopped people in their tracks and caused quite the commotion. Darren would arrive and with the calmness of an experienced beekeeper (or movie cop hero) save the day by removing the bees letting the city continue in its day.
We hope you enjoy listening to Darren’s experiences as the official NYPD beekeeper as much as we do!
Also in today’s episode, Ed Colby returns with a story from his book, “A Beekeeper’s Life: Tales of a Beekeeper”, titled Granny. Granny wants bees on her land… but she off the beaten track. It’s a conundrum that only Ed could get himself into!
We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.
Thank you for listening!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their sponsorship of Bee Books: Old & New with Kim Flottum. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry. Check them out today!
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a regular podcast featuring interviews with leading bee and insect researchers in the world of pollination, hosted by Dr. Kirsten Traynor.
We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments in the show notes of this episode or: email@example.com
Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com
Thank you for listening!
Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.
Sherry: Hey Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honey bees.
Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.
Jeff: Thanks, Sherry. Thank you Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and we know you'd rather we get right to talk about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the transcripts, the hosting pieces, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders, they enabled each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been a magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.
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Hey, everybody, welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast. If you're listening to this on the day of release, it's Memorial Day. It's a day in the United States we honor the veterans who have given their lives in service of the country. If you have served or a member of your family has served and or sacrificed their lives, we thank you and honor them. We have a great show ready for you today. Beekeeping is a hobby that tracks people from all backgrounds and professions.
Today, we kick off something of an occasional series featuring people who keep bees who you normally wouldn't consider being a beekeeper. You know what I mean, don't you? There are some people who you know are beekeepers and you think, "Yes, yes, yes. They're a beekeeper. I can see that. That doesn't surprise me." Then there are others you may meet along the way, perhaps at a party, at a PTA meeting, a place of worship, or even work and you're surprised to find out they keep bees too. You're like, "Holy, what? Really? They keep bees? No way."
Today, we have as a guest on the podcast Officer Darren Mays, retired, of the New York City Police Department. Not only was he a New York City policeman, he was the official NYPD beekeeper. Think of that. Across the five boroughs in New York City Darren was the officer on call to respond when swarms reported to 911. Urban and rooftop beekeeping has grown up big time in the past few years. Have you ever wondered if those bees swarm? Well, you know they do. It's springtime, bees do what bees do. Bees are swarming everywhere. In the country, they're hanging off lilac branches. In the city, they're hanging off parking meters. People see bees, they dial 911. Darren would get that call and would respond. It's a fun discussion, we hope you enjoy.
Speaking of swarming season, have you picked up any swarms yet this year? I thought I was going to get through the season without any of my colonies swarming, but no. Fortunately, they didn't get far, in fact, returned to the front of their hive making it easy for me to sweep them into a waiting hive buddy. I was lucky. Over on our other podcasts, Honey Bee Obscura Jim too had a bit of a different experience with a feisty swarm. He and Kim talk about that on their latest episode. Give it a listen over at honeybeeobscura.com.
Let's get going. Up next Ed Colby visits with more from his book A Beekeepers Life. Tales from the Bottom Board, with an amusing story about Granny. It is one, I believe, many of us can relate to.
Ed: Last year, Granny politely asked if I might put some bees on her property for the garden. She wants more raspberries and bigger apples. "Sure, we'll talk about it," I murmured, hoping she'd forget. Granny wasn't offering space for a 30 colony bee yard understand. She wanted one hive out behind the shed or on the vacant lot next door that she doesn't own to pollinate her fruit and garden blossoms.
Granny lives in Carbondale but I don't. While I keep some bees farther up the road near Aspen for a few weeks in the spring, after that I hardly ever get up that way. Honey bees require care and supervision. I wasn't about to drive 45 miles every two weeks to tend a solitary beehive. A couple of months ago, Granny brought it up again. I wiggled. Then last week she called. She turned on the charm like she does when she wants something. I sensed an obligation. After all, I passed many a summer evening fishing in her place. I never turned down a meal when I dropped in unannounced. Plus, Granny and I do go back some.
Long ago she ran the Snow Chase Lodge, a ski bum flophouse at the base of Aspen mountain. I stayed in the bunkhouse outback. Then she granted me kitchen and bathroom privileges when I moved into a nearby abandoned ski- lift shack. When my shacks coal stove blew up in my face and I thought I might go blind she drove me to the hospital. When I shot a four-point buck she instructed me to hang it by the cellar door and taught me to butcher. When my dog trotted over trail rider paths and turned up in marble Granny picked her up. She claimed she taught me to ski. Actually, we did ski a day together at Buttermilk once, and she did bark out tips.
When she moved from Aspen to a house on Highway 82 outside of Carbondale, the deer carnage on the road bothered her. For a time when she'd hear the screaming tires and telltale thud in the night, she'd go forth in her nightie with her Winchester 3030. Stunned drivers and sometimes entire families watched in disbelief as Granny dispensed her mercy and then drag Bambi down to the garage.
At some point, she changed her name from Mrs. Mac, never her real name, to Granny. Only complete strangers and her very closest friends call her Pam. Her diet centers around Coca-Cola, a particular brand of sherry, and meat. She harbors strong opinions about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. She holds strong opinions in just about everything. Granny hops around in the garden cussing and setting traps for vermins. She straightens her ball cap and squints into the sun and takes a hard hit buffer unfiltered Pall Malls .
"There aren't damn bees around here anymore," she says. "That apple trees to hum with bees at blossom time." I knew I owed Granny but I didn't want to pay up. I decided to pass the book. When I called Kay in Carbondale on a Sunday morning she was reading in bed. She said she was down to three hives. I own 80 and I was about to run down to Collbran to check on some. Kay said she'd never met Granny but she found Granny's property location intriguing. "Plus," she said, "I like old people." I spared her some details. She'll learn soon enough. There won't be any helping Granny out of bed or keeping her pillow straight. Kay might get to help her dispatch the pesky skunk though, and please just don't step on Granny's snakes. She really does love her snakes. Kay thought she ought to move a hive over to Granny soon before it got too heavy with honey. I liked the sound of this. Kay didn't actually commit but she did take Granny's number.
When I called Granny and told her all this she chirped about more and better fruit and veggies and said she wouldn't wait for Kay to call. Granny said she'd call Kay right away. Like a a prayer answered later that day, I got a swarm call from Carbondale. This gave me an excuse to bug Kay again. "Look," I said, "you could hive this swarm and drop it off at granny's, save you for moving one of your heavy hives." Kay hesitated but she didn't say no. She could have sounded more enthusiastic, but maybe she was still reading that good book in bed. "I haven't had a lot of luck with swarms." She said, "It seems like they die out or just leave the hive." I said, my luck was the opposite. I said, swarms, provide a free to increase your holdings. Mine generally proved gentle and productive. Kay sounded skeptical but said she'd phoned the swarm caller. One way or another, Kay is going to take Granny some bees.
I know she will.
She has to.
Otherwise it's up to me.
Jeff: [laughs] Thanks a lot, Ed. Hey everybody, Ed's book, A Beekeeper's Life. Tales from the Bottom Board is available wherever you buy your book. Up next, our talk with Darren Mays, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
StrongMicrobials: Hey, beekeepers. Many times during the year, honeybees encounter a scarcity of floral sources. As good beekeepers, we feed our bees, artificial diets. A protein and carbohydrates to keep them going during those stressful times. What is missing though, are key components. The good microbes necessary for a bee to digest the food and convert it into metabolic energy. Only SuperDFM-Honeybee by Strong Microbials can provide the necessary microbes to optimally convert the artificial diet into energy necessary for improving longevity, reproduction immunity, and much more. SuperDFM-Honeybee is an all-natural probiotic supplement for your honey bees. Find it at strongmicrobials.com or at fine bee supply stores everywhere.
Jeff: Hey, thanks a lot. Strong Microbials. Hey, everybody. While you're out there, make sure you click on and subscribe to the Hive. The regular newsletter full of useful beekeeping information and product updates. Hey, everybody. Welcome back. Sitting across the virtual Zoom Beekeeping Today Podcast table is none other than Darren Mays, retired beekeeper for the New York Police Department. Welcome, Darren, to Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Darren: Thank you. Thanks for having me as a guest.
Jeff: It's our pleasure. I'm so excited by having you here. I couldn't even get it out of my mouth. Now we're started. I can settle down.
Kim: Nice to meet you, Darren.
Darren: Likewise, Mr. Flottum,
Kim: I would guess that you have a lot of interesting stories to tell from most people who don't live in New York City, but let me go back to the beginning. How did you get to be the beekeeper for the New York Police Department? How did you get into bees?
Darren: I'll start with how I got into bees and it was, I guess I would say it found me. I have a friend, Rich who lives in Massachusetts and he's from England and when he moved here several years ago to the United States, he was the type of guy who wanted to start every hobby that he could think of. He wanted to be a weight lifter. He wanted to be a blacksmith. He tried everything, but every hobby, he tried only lasted maybe two weeks. One day my wife came home and said, Darren, guess what Rich is doing now and she's laughing. I knew it was something funny. I was like, "Tell me, what is he doing now?" She was like, "He's taking beekeeping classes." We both busted out laughing because I thought it was the funniest thing, like, who take beekeeping classes? Bees they just sting people, why would you want to do that?
I immediately called him. He said, "Yes, Darren, you heard, I'm taking beekeeping classes to raise honey bees. You're going to make fun of me, right?" I said, "You right I'm making fun of you. Why would you do that? You understand bees sting?" He said, "Well, they produce honey." I said, "I never like honey anyways. I don't think I would like bees." I realized that once he harvested some honey and shared it with me, it tasted totally different from what I had growing up because I never had the real stuff. Parents used to buy the little plastic bottles of honey and I guess I thought that was real.
Moving forward was, one weekend I went to his house and before I could get out of the car, he came to the door, ushered me in his backyard, and was like, "Darren, come look at my bees. You want to see my bees." I was like, "Rich, I don't want to see your bees. I don't want to get stung. I'm not interested." I didn't want to make him feel bad about his newfound hobby. I went out there and support him and I stood maybe 50 yards away while he's standing right next to the hive, like, "Darren, could you see what these bees are doing? They're going out, they're coming back and they're bringing in pollen and they got these cool pollen sacs on their legs." "50 yards away, Rich. I can see what they're doing. Chill. I can see the pollen sacs on them." He was like, "No, you got to come closer really, take a look at it. It's cool. You see where I'm standing, I'm not getting stung." I said, "Maybe because they know you better than me."
I moved maybe another 20 yards closer then I see the bees flying back and forth from the entrance, but still couldn't see the pollen sacs but I told him I could. He was like, "You're lying. Just come closer. If you get stung, then you don't have to worry about it no more." I moved closer. I got within 5 feet and I noticed it and like an airport, I see all these bees coming and going, coming and going. I saw the pollen sacs on their legs.
Before I knew it, I was on one knee with one arm resting on his hive for an hour and didn't realize I was outside for an hour until I heard some laughing coming from his kitchen window. I looked up, he wasn't near his hive no more. He left, went inside the house. Now his wife, himself, and my wife are looking at me laughing because I was fixated on these bees. Once I was fixated and I heard them laughing, I jumped up embarrassingly like, "Oh no, they caught me having a good time watching bees." They said, "Oh, you interested in this. You like this, right?" I nonchalantly said, "No, it's not my thing. I want nothing to do with them."
He harvested honey later on and I tasted it and I was, "Man, these bees really make this stuff." I said, "Ok, that's cool." but I thought nothing else of it. My wife bought me a kit for Christmas containing a starter kit with the hive, the suit, the veiled, and everything. I knew nothing. I knew nothing about bees or where to go. She said, "I signed you up to join an association, a club where you can join. I did a research, I found a guy who sell packages of bees in the spring. He lives 20 minutes away from us. I got everything set up. I got you some books and you could also watch some YouTube videos." I joined an association. She bought that Christmas, that January. I went to my first meeting and I was the youngest guy there. Everyone there was happy to show me and teach me everything I knew. That's how I got hooked on it.
Kim: That's not an uncommon story for a lot of people is, I want nothing to do with it until you see what's going on and then you can't stop me. I like hearing that story from lots of people because it's refreshing and at the same time, it's really common.
Jeff: To have immediate support from the family, that's novel and that's fantastic.
Darren: Usually, the women or the wife wouldn't want nothing to do with them because their fear of getting stung and everything, but she pushed it on me and here we are.
Kim: How long ago did that happen?
Darren: That spring of 2008 when I visited his hive. Christmas of 2008 is when she got me the gear and stuff for Christmas. 2009 is when I joined the association and got my first bees.
Kim: The first year you had one package? You got one-
Darren: I had one package.
Kim: -package. How much honey did your package make that year?
Darren: That first year I think I may have gotten close to 40, 50 pounds.
Kim: That's a nice harvest, first-year package.
Darren: That was one good year,
Kim: I guess so. Now you're a beekeeper and you're also a policeman in New York City at the same time, correct?
Kim: I'm not even sure how to ask this. What were you doing as a policeman? What was your role? Your assignment?
Darren: I was a regular patrolman, a policeman. Where work I answered domestic jobs. I answered, what you call it? Any 911 calls, whether the domestic police accidents. It could be what we call EDPs and mostly disturbed people where someone didn't take their medication, they're a little off their rockets, we had to respond to jobs like that. Or if we had to sit on hospital prisoners or whatever it took to answer 911 calls.
Kim: Never a dull day, right?
Darren: Everything changes every day. It's the most exciting job in the world.
Jeff: [laughs] It would be like the standard TV or movie vernacular, you were in the black and white, right?
Darren: [laughs] Yes.
Jeff: For someone who doesn't live in New York City and only knows it through the TV, you'd be that guy
Darren: Almost real life.
Kim: Now you're a beekeeper and you're a policeman and somewhere in there you became the person that they were calling when they had trouble. Let me go back a half a step. What is the legal ramifications of having bees in New York City?
Darren: Beekeeping was legalized in 2010, prior to 2010 it was illegal to have honey bees, but you had people keeping honey bees but they didn't find them anything, but it wasn't as much prevalent as it is now because it was legalized in 2010. After 2010, we saw a big fluctuation of swarms happening in New York City.
Kim: I can't imagine a swarm in New York City.
That's go to be 10,000 people pointing up at the sky and petrified and waiting for you to get there. Let me go back a half a step. Did the police department come to you because they knew you were a beekeeper?
Darren: No, what happened was they always had one, beekeeper, always had one for the department and he retired in 2013, and they needed a replacement for spring of 2014. When he retired I was beekeeping in 2009 for myself, so the guys I worked with knew I was beekeeping. One gentleman, he was getting promoted and he overheard some of the higher-ranking officers talking at a meeting that they needed a replacement beekeeper because the one that they had retired and everyone they tried to contact through department records, what they put on their profile, what they'd done prior to policing, they were exterminated. They didn't want those because they knew they would kill the bees.
The gentleman that I worked with he overheard the two high-ranking officers talking, after they finished talking he pulled one of them aside and said, "I have somebody who would be a good fit for you. This guy I work with, he's beekeeping. I think he'll be a good fit for you." He got the lieutenant's card and the Lieutenant told him, "Have Officer Mays, call me ASAP at eleven o'clock the next day, which I did. He said, "You know what, you're going to be my guy. I need you."
Jeff: You're recruited
Darren: I was recruited
Kim: That fast. If you're on duty, you're driving a car?
Darren: Usually, what happened was I worked midnights. I worked overnight. I worked from eleven o'clock till eight o'clock in the morning, so when there was a swarm coming over, I was home sleeping. Immediately when they call, you're on call 24/7, wherever or whatever I was doing, I had to get up or stop what I was doing and I would respond to the city and go. I was responding in my private vehicle because we're not allowed to take the department cars home. I live an hour and a half north of the city, so I would drive my private vehicle in and respond to the location.
Kim: You had all of your gear with you all of the time,
Darren: All the time.
Kim: Yes. That makes life a lot simpler, less complicated anyway.
Jeff: I was thinking that instead of a paddy wagon, you would have a bee wagon.
Darren: [chuckles] That would've been nice but I didn't get one. The first guy he had one, they gave him his own personal vehicle
Jeff: That would've worked out well, you could load up all your gear, have it all set.
Darren: Yes, but I kept it in my car. luckily they gave me an easy pass, which made it good, and then gave me the gas and everything like that to alleviate the cost.
Jeff: That's good.
Kim: You're at home some Tuesday morning, about ten o'clock, 10:30 when someplace in New York City there's a swarm, or I'm going to guess you handled things other than swarms, correct?
Darren: I did. Also, if they had those bald-faced hornet nests I would remove them as well.
Kim: Okay, but mostly swarm season was your busy season.
Darren: It was my busy season for the police apartment.
Kim: Did you ever have to deal with situations where there was a beekeeper who had bees on a roof or on a balcony or someplace, and they were causing problems to neighbors that you had to intervene in?
Darren: Usually not. We were not allowed to wrangle bees or rescue bees from private property. That's the one thing they didn't allow us to get involved with.
Jeff: Domestic disputes between bee owners and their neighbors that was--
Darren: Yes, that was out of our hands. I didn't answer unless another police officer who went and they would tell them basically if the bees are on their property then they're not bothering you, they're honey bees, just let them go. Let it be
Jeff: That's really good. That's quite the position. You wouldn't think that a big city police department would have that approach to honeybees. I'm glad to hear that. That's very cool.
Kim: When the swarm came from someplace and landed on something that wasn't private property, it landed on a mailbox, or it landed on a street lamp. What about a storefront?
Darren: Storefront we would get it. We had the infamous one that landed on the hot dog stand in Times Square.
It landed on a hot dog stand. When I was doing it, I found another gentleman that helped me. He was a beekeeper as well, and I found him, so it was two of us doing it. He got to call like they remove some bees from a hot dog stand.
Kim: I'm trying to think of what was the most exciting swarm removal event you were part of?
Darren: Father's Day I had a swarm in Times Square on a police camera in the middle of Times Square.
Kim: When you say a police camera, you mean that's one that's watching the street.
Jeff: Who reported that? Was it self-reported by the officer who's monitoring?
Darren: Part of it was by Intel, the Intel office they said, "We got a bunch of bees on our camera,"-
-and there was a few 911 calls made as well.
Jeff: That's fun. I bet you had videos of you cleaning that.
Darren: I did.
Jeff: Did they send you videos of you up there brushing bees off their lens?
Darren: Yes, they sure did.
Kim: Did you have access to a vacuum?
Darren: I did. I bought a Colorado Bee Vac. Few years prior to when I knew they would need me, in the off-season I bought one.
Jeff: Hey, I'm glad you brought up Colorado Bee Vac because our sponsor Betterbee, has a special right now on Colorado Bee Vac.
Darren: Oh, wow.
Jeff: Let's listen to that right now.
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Kim: Taking a step back. You're still a beekeeper and you still got bees back home. How many colonies are you running right now? About?
Darren: A dozen,
Kim: A dozen. That's a good load dozen that keeps you busy on your off days.
Darren: It does.
Kim: How's the honey crop out there this year so far? It's, what is it about the 20th of May today? Something like that.
Darren: The 19th of May it's coming along. We're getting a nectar flow right now, but just coming in the bees are keeping that for themselves was not able to put a honey super on yet.
Kim: It makes sense. That's good. Is it an average flow? Better than average?
Darren: It looks better than average.
Kim: Better than average that always makes the rest of the season look good. One hopes.
Darren: It does.
Kim: Do you have any other problems out there with your bees?
Darren: No, no more than a bear, occasionally,
Kim: Occasional bear. That's a big problem. [laughter]
Kim: Do you have them fenced?
Darren: I have them fenced. I have an electric fence.
Kim: Let me go back to you, again some of the exciting swarms that you had. You don't do private property, so basically, what you were doing was sweeping swarms off and you had a police camera swarm. Most of these, I guess, were probably pretty routine except you were very often probably blocking traffic someplace.
Darren: Yes, the traffic or even a sidewalk, and New York City being a heavily populated area especially Times Square which they call the crossroad of America, everybody, the tourists, who most people there are tourists and they're watching. They're walking and watching what's up in the sky, they keep their heads up looking at the tall buildings, and not realizing I can be working to remove a swarm. It could be on that police camera. I've even had them in Times Square on flowerpots, recycle bins, and stuff like that. People just walk with their heads up. They walk through the caution tape. They just don't understand or see what's going on because they're busy looking in the sky.
Kim: You don't have caution tape all over the place or enough caution tape, maybe I should say, to keep them out of there. You go in and you got a swarm on a mailbox and you've got something that you're going to either vacuum them off or brush them into, where do the bees go after that?
Darren: I bring them home.
Kim: You get to keep the bees.
Darren: I get to keep the bees, that was the first thing I asked when I had a sit down with the brass, I was like, "What happened with the bees?" They say, "Oh, you get to keep the bees as part of your reward for saving them."
Kim: Oh, that's fair.
Darren: I said Oh, yes. That is fair.
Kim: Absolutely. Wow. I'll go back to you, again complaints about bees. There's a story a bunch of years ago in New York City about bees visiting a candy factory and making candy factory that made, I want to say red candy for Christmas, and the bees were making red honey from-- Do you ever have that kind of-- where the bees are bothering some business someplace?
Darren: I never had a call at a business, but last year, a swarm that I removed,that was in the recycle bin and the recycle bin when I opened it up, they were all in it because it was like maybe July, mid-July and it's because they were after those soda cans that were in the receptacle.
Kim: Food and certainly water, I would guess that water is also an issue in the city. You would run into issues where they were at somebody's-- I'm not going to say a swimming pool, but somebody's water source, someplace that they didn't want them there?
Darren: Yes, they complain all the time about, "Oh, you got these bees. They're in my water." I was like, "Listen, they just need a drink." Actually, one of my neighbors three, four houses away from me who has the most extravagant backyard in a big array of flowers, he complained one time because he said, "Oh, your honey bees are in my birdbath." I said, "I can't control where they're going, but as you can see at my house, I do have a water source for them. If they're out foraging and they're going to see water, if they want to stop to your birdbath to get water, there's nothing I can do about it." He wasn't happy. To make him happy, one of the first thing they tell you, give your neighbor some honey, and that sweetened the deal.
Jeff: That worked?
Darren: It worked.
Jeff: Good. That's probably what he was just edging for.
Darren: Probably. He didn't want to be direct, but indirectly, yes.
Jeff: That's right. "No, I can't ask him directly for honey, but I can complain about the bees in the bird feeder." [laughs]
Darren: There you go. I haven't thought about that.
Jeff: It sounds like you had several calls to Times Square, did you ever locate the source of where those bees were swarming from?
Darren: I did. The president of New York City Beekeepers Association, he has hives on top of the Bank of America building, which is on 42nd in Sixth Avenue. Where I was retrieving the bees were on 42nd or 41st Street or Seventh Avenue in Broadway, so right in the vicinity, within two city blocks or less.
Jeff: Did he ever say, "Yes. Okay, those were probably my--?"
Darren: He denied it but it wasn't like he was at fault or anything. We all understood what bees does.
Kim: Most of the bees in the city are on the roof of a building someplace?
Darren: Yes. Believe it or not, they are on a roof. What I was going to add was a lot of them are on these high rises, like these big buildings that have 20, 30, 40 stories high.
Kim: They don't have a problem with wind that high?
Darren: I'm sure they do. He admitted that he doesn't get much honey from them, but I guess it's a showpiece for corporate. When they had their meetings, they could show they have bees on their rooftops and stuff.
Jeff: I keep thinking about the Times Square. Did you keep a map of all where you picked up swarms over time, and you knew where geographically, there must not be any bees down there because I've never done in that area, but they're all generally around in this several block area?
Darren: I didn't keep a map but most of my hand calls were definitely in Times Square. They have bee spread throughout the city. The guy wants to be the president of the Beekeeping Association, he's got them everywhere. In SoHo, Downtown, Midtown, Upper East Side, Lower East Side, everywhere, they spread out. Pretty much every part of Manhattan I've recovered bees, but most of the hotspots or the majority was in Times Square.
Kim: There's a rule about that, the most people and the most swarms.
Kim: One of the things that I read and one of the articles I read about you was back in 2019, you were, I don't know, as elected, appointed, or honored by being what they call cop of the year?
Darren: Yes. In my command where I worked in the 104 precinct which is in Ridgewood, Queens, we have five boroughs. We have the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens. Did I name them all? Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn. Those are the five boroughs.
Jeff: You leave work and see how quickly you lose things that you just [crosstalk].
Darren: Yes, very quickly. I work in Queens in one of the precinct in Queens and I was elected police bee in my command.
Kim: Oh, congratulations.
Kim: It's quite an honor-
Darren: Thank you.
Kim: -I would guess, in an organization, I'm guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 policemen.
Kim: That's quite an honor. Congratulations for that. What have we missed, Darren? What adventure has the New York--
Jeff: I want to know what his fellow policemen, what his nickname for him was? You had to get a little ribbing. You can't--
Darren: They call you a bee man, that's the easy one or-
Darren: -you hear the candy man or-- What was the other one? Usually candy man, bee man, and the honey guy, yes, the honey guy. Then there was people when you go to respond to a swarm, sometimes you call the precinct and have them meet you there and they be like, "Who? What? Who are you? A beekeeper? What is that?" They didn't know what it was. I'm telling you, out of 35,000 cops, maybe 300 cops know what a beekeeper is.
Jeff: Did you have the letter bee in your badge number?
Darren: I didn't have it. The 4352 was my badge number, but I had the cool patches put on my bee veil, and when they saw that, they were blown away.
Jeff: Oh, that is so cool, Darren. I know that's a rough job. I'm sure it could be a rough job many days, but having that to fall back onto and think about, I'm sure really lightened your day and those around you.
Darren: The beekeeping in my day is much better. If I got beat up at work, I had a hard day, or just a rough night I come home the next morning and I pop over these hives and I hear their humming, it takes everything away. It just wiped every problem I had away.
Jeff: The aromatherapy, the warm beeswax, and the smell of a hive and everything is very calming.
Darren: Yes, just everything, the sound and the way they work, if we could work like that in unity and harmony, we'd be great.
Jeff: Yes. Absolutely right. You said they're looking for a new beekeeper for the police department. Any takers? Are they hopeful for anybody?
Darren: They have one. His name is Robert Travis. He was there when I was getting ready to leave. I was the point guy, the primary guy and he was there. If I wasn't available then he was in the wings waiting.
Jeff: When you handed over the official smoker of the department, did you have any words of advice for him?
Darren: We didn't do that.
Kim: You mentioned the five boroughs. Does each borough have a beekeeper?
Kim: You were it?
Darren: It was it.
Darren: It was it. No. One beekeeper or if we happen to have two. We were lucky to have two for three years, myself and the other gentleman Mike Loriano who caught the bees off the hot dog stand in Times Square. Lucky to have two of them at one time.
Kim: Just one beekeeper for all of New York City. Whoa. [laughs].
Darren: Yes. It's very few in between.
Kim: Did you ever have any incidents, a truck turning over, or any road accidents?
Darren: Not in New York City with bees coming through there. I've read about plenty of those happening but I never was fortunate to respond to something like that. Just on Monday, I responded to a prison here, Fishkill Correctional Facility to remove some honey bees that swarmed.
Kim: You say you were fortunate not to have to deal with a truck accident. You're exactly right.
Darren: You dealt with one before I'm assuming, yes?
Kim: Yes, that can get really exciting.
Kim: You're now, I'm going to say unemployed by the police department and you're running your own beekeeping business?
Kim: You got a name for that?
Darren: Yes. Amazing Apiaries where I use part of my last name.
Kim: Very clever. There you go. Very clever. Good. You're selling honey retail out of your house or farm market, or?
Darren: Out of my house and also markets where we have honey festivals. There are a few around that I'm doing in farmers' market, not in stores yet.
Kim: Well, really good. You'll get there.
Jeff: What have you learned that you want to share with other beekeepers who are just now considering may be getting in the farm markets and selling their honey?
Darren: I tell anybody who's a beekeeper because you get a lot of first-year beekeepers who want to put everything in the market and sell. The first thing they come to me, "Oh, can you help me get started?" I tell them join an association. Join a club. Learn the craft. It's not a hobby, it's a craft. Therefore, learn from some old-timers, some people who can show you the ropes and show you where to go instead of logging in and watching YouTube videos, and all of a sudden you become a beekeeper. Learn the craft from an older beekeeper who's had time.
Jeff: Wise words. I like that.
Kim: Find a mentor.
Jeff: I do. Find a mentor.
Kim: Oh, yes, it's good advice. Darren, I think I asked you. I started to ask you a little bit ago, what haven't we covered that you think is important for folks to know about what you did and what you get out of all this?
Darren: I got lucky, I would say, because when I got into beekeeping I never knew the police department had one. When beekeeping became legalized in 2010 that's when they had a big influx of swarms happening. Once I saw it on the news and everything then I said, "Wow, they got a beekeeper for this?" I said, "I'd love to do that." I knew I had no shot at it because they had the one who was taking care of everything, but when he was close to retiring, he actually reached out to me because he heard about me from other fellow corps that I was doing it. He was like, "Tell Darren to call me. I could set him up where he could be the next guy because I'm retiring." Him and I are still friends today.
Jeff: That's great. Is he living near you?
Darren: He's in Queens and I'm in Hudson so we are like an hour and a half apart.
Jeff: Oh, that's really cool. I need to ask, and please forgive me. Did you carry a bee gun when you wore your bee suit?
Darren: I'd say my bee--
Jeff: Okay. I'll cut that out. I'll edit that out.
Darren: No, it's cool. Anytime I respond to a swarm I always had my service weapon on me as well as my hive tool.
Jeff: There you go, your hive tool.
Darren: [laughs]. The hive tool.
Jeff: [laughs]. That is the most important thing when responding to a swarm call. Darren, it's been fantastic having you on the podcast. It's a great meeting other beekeepers from different backgrounds and meeting you. Being an NYPD official beekeeper in Manhattan is wow. That's something that's really spectacular. It's an honor to talk to you.
Darren: No. It's an honor for me to be on your show because I tell everyone beekeeping found me, I didn't find it. It's been a blessing and that's what made my transition to leave or retired from the police department after 20 years much easier. The bees made my transition easier and I'm happy they found me.
Jeff: I think we can leave it at that.
Kim: I think we can. You can't add to that. That's as good as it gets.
Jeff: Thanks, Darren.
Darren: Thank you. I'm glad you guys invited me on to the show. It's been a pleasure to talk with guys.
Kim: Yes, it has. Darren, thank you for visiting with us and good luck with Amazing Apiaries.
Darren: I appreciate it, Kim. Thanks a lot.
Darren: Take care, gentlemen.
Jeff: I enjoyed having Darren on the show. I enjoy laughing. He seemed like a guy and a typical beekeeper happy with beekeeping and happy with where he is with him. That's fun.
Kim: It was. I'll say this carefully, he didn't take himself too seriously. He had fun on the job, on the beekeeping part of the job, and working with the people that he got to work with and the adventures that he had. I think New York was lucky to have him.
Jeff: I absolutely agree. I've been in Downtown Manhattan on a hot day and I just can't imagine responding to a swarm call on an afternoon full of people and the noise and the commotion and dealing with a swarm call. That takes a special person and you'd have to have a positive attitude like Darren did. Kudos to him. NYPD lost a good guy there. [laughs].
Kim: I think they did. It's good to see that he took that and took it home and now he's running bees and making money and having a good time.
Jeff: Yes, he is. I've enjoyed talking to him. It follows in what we're trying to do this year. As this season closes out, and we're looking forward to Season 5, yahoo, we're looking to talk to beekeepers with different backgrounds. In a couple of weeks, we'll be talking to a professional cyclist who also keeps bees. A professional bicycle racer who keeps bees. We're searching high and low for those unusual regular pay-the-bill job people who also keep bees. Stay tuned folks.
Jeff: That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcast or wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find this quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any web page.
As always, we thank Bee Culture the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at globalpatties.com. Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast. Check out their probiotic line at strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com. Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of Bee Books Old New with Kim Flottum. Check out all of their books at northernbeebooks.co.uk. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to leave us comments and questions at leave a comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:49:23] [END OF AUDIO]
Sideline beekeeper. Columnist, Bee Culture magazine "Bottom Board" column since 2002. Author, A Beekeeper's Life, Tales from the Bottom Board. (https://www.amazon.com/Beekeepers-Life-Tales-Bottom-Board/dp/1912271885)
Actuarial tables indicate I should be retired, but I continue to be obsessed with Apis Mellifera. I live in western Colorado with the gal Marilyn, the blue heeler Pepper, 15 chickens, three geese, four lambs and way too many bees.
I joined the NYPD on July 2, 2001. I worked as a beat cop for 20 years, primarily patrolling NYC borough of Queens. I became the official beekeeper for the NYPD in the Fall of 2013.
I got into beekeeping after making fun of a friend of mine. I went to his house a few weeks after he got his bees and became interested myself. Growing up in South Carolina, I remembered knocking over a couple of hives in an apiary as a young teenager. As a future beekeeper, I realized how stupid that was.
As a beekeeper for the NYPD, I had the task of removing swarms from all 5 boroughs of NYC. I removed countless swarms from Times Square, Staten Island Ferry and Yankee Stadium. After wrangling many swarms throughout my police career, I decided to retire on August 30, 2021 to spend more time with my family during the Spring and Summer months. Now that I'm fully retired, I manage a dozen colonies with the hopes of expanding to a maximum of 50 colonies.
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