Middletown’s Darren Mays wears many hats: police officer, dad of three — and official beekeeper for the NYPD.
Yes, even in the concrete jungle, honeybees have a stronghold. Urban rooftop beekeeping grew popular in 2010, when New York City lifted a ban on the practice. An unexpected side effect: Occasional swarms of about 20,000 honeybees would bring foot traffic to a stop on bustling city streets. That’s where Mays and his partner, Warwick native Michael Lauriano, step in and gently collect the bees with a low-power vacuum. The bees are then rehomed in an apiary, either on the rooftop of the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood, Queens, or at Lauriano’s or Mays’ home, to live out the rest of their honey-making lives.
Mays hasn’t always appreciated honeybees. In 2008, he learned that his buddy Richard took up beekeeping.
You don’t need to be a beekeeper to care for these busy insects. Here are some tips for attracting honeybees to your garden and keeping them healthy:
• Plant native flowers, plants and trees.
• Provide an adequate water supply. A “bee bath” can be made with a shallow container of water, with pebbles for the bees to land on while drinking.
• Encourage others. “Not only do we want to see bees visiting, we’d like to see butterflies, hummingbirds, and other wild native flying insects and pollinators,” says Mays.
“I thought, ‘Who takes beekeeping classes?’” Mays said. He teased Richard until visiting his apiary in Massachusetts.
“My first thought was, I didn’t want to get stung, so I kind of kneeled far away,” but as the little bees went about their business he crept closer, watching in amazement. “Pretty soon, I was two feet from the hives, kneeling for an hour, watching them fly back and forth like it was an airport.”
Mays was hooked.
That Christmas, Mays’ wife Lisa gave him a beekeeping kit and membership to a beekeeping association in Orange County, not far from their home. He bought bees from a supplier in Milford, PA, and harvested 80 pounds of honey from that first hive.
“I don’t expect the hornets to make it here,” Mays assures. “There have only been two sightings in Washington state thus far, and those two have been eradicated.”
If a threat does develop, Mays advises beekeepers take simple precautions like keeping hive entrances small, “so only the worker bees will be able to get in and out of the hive, and it’ll be too small for the hornets to come in.”
When the police department’s official beekeeper retired in 2014, and a new keeper was needed, Mays’ colleagues said, “Hey, I know a guy…”
“Bee season” generally starts in May, and the beekeepers answer about 20 calls a year. As far as the sweet stuff goes, Mays said that this year has been especially bountiful: He expects to harvest 1,000 pounds of honey from his hives.
“I’ve been stung over 400 times, and yes, it hurts,” Mays said. “Bees look scary at first, but they can produce the sweetest thing in the world. There’s nothing like the taste of the Hudson Valley.”