This Lady Beekeeper In New York City, is doing her part to help save the species.
Governors Island is a 172-acre island in the heart of New York City Harbor. It's approximately 800 yards from Manhattan and 400 yards from Brooklyn and is accessible by taking a short ferry ride from either Manhattan or Brooklyn. Once on the Island, it feels like you have stepped back in time with its historic buildings, and even though its a stone throw from the city it's quiet and tranquil.
I was meeting with Carolina Zuniga-Aisa of Island Bee Project, who is not what you might expect a beekeeper to look like, she is young, pretty and a womenswear fashion designer.
Caroline's interest in bees started one random day in the office where she worked as a fashion designer. She was talking to her mother on the phone who was making plans for retirement and was talking about buying a plot of land, and growing flowers so she could help bees as they were dying off globally.
Before talking with her mother, Caroline had never had a relationship with bees or even thought about where her food came from. Her mother inspired her to look into bees and saw that many species were dying off at the hands of humans. Caroline realised that she had found her purpose, and it was not in the middle of a hectic endless cycle of work that was not doing any better for the environment especially fashion and textiles because the pollution it causes as well as exploiting people, “I felt like what am I doing here, this is not good karma." She made the tough decision to leave her full-time job and dedicate her time to saving bees, she returned back to fashion to work with an eco-friendly fashion line that also supports fair trade.
Caroline has been beekeeping since 2015, she first did a beekeeping apprenticeship where she met Stacey Vazquez, they became friends, and both wanted to continue beekeeping after their apprenticeship.
They found a space to continue beekeeping alongside Earth Matters, Compost Learning Center at the urban farm on Governors Island.
They presently have three hives and the space also allows the general public to observe bee behaviour and participate in their workshops that help to spread awareness of the global decline of honeybees and other pollinators.
"Beekeeping is fun, and every hive has its own problem-solving.” Caroline, says.
There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world (about 4,000 in the US), of that number only a small fraction is of the honey bee species.
Caroline works with the Saskatraz bees which she picks up from Pennsylvania, and they are breed in California. The genetic makeup of the bee comes from Canada. Caroline explains that she had previously been working with Italian bees, but over winter they did not survive. The Saskatraz bee has hygienic qualities meaning they get rid of mites that get stuck on them which would otherwise weaken their immune system of the bee and then the whole colony. They become acceptable to disease, and the colony collapses.
She is the smallest individual, in size, of the apiary. She hasa short abdomen, long wings, long proboscis and a sting. She has organs to collect and carry water, nectar and pollen and glands which, among others, produce royal jelly and beeswax. The worker is an incomplete female and has an atrophic reproductive system. In seasons of intense activity (spring, summer) she lives no more than 45 days, while in wintertime she lives up to 6 months. Basically, her chief mission is being occupied with all the work of the apiary, hence her name.
He is the male individual of the apiary. He has a short proboscis, big eyes, broad abdomen and thorax. In contrast to the worker bee, he doesn’t have a sting, or organs to collect food and to produce beeswax. His reproductive system is matured 12 days after his birth, and he produces up to 10,000,000 spermatozoa. His primary mission is to fertilise the queen bee. Therefore, when nectar becomes scarce, the worker bees drag the drones out of the apiary and they let them starve to death. He has a maximum lifespan of 2 months.
She is the largest individual of the apiary. The brighter colourings and the longer abdomen make her look like a wasp, and they make her easily distinguishable from the small worker bees and the stout drones. She has no organs for collecting pollen or wax glands like the worker bee. She uses her sting to kill her sister queens and almost never to sting humans.
The queen bee lives 3-5 years, and she never leaves the beehive. She only flies outside twice in her life; first to reproduce and then to swarm. If she finds herself outside the hive for a different reason, she cannot return to it. Each apiary only has one queen bee, who is the single perfect female individual and also the mother of the whole population. She doesn’t collect food or deal with other tasks. Her primary mission is to lay eggs and manage the apiary.