Antonio Quinlan didn’t get into it for the honey. He got started raising bees because of his allergies.
“Honey helps with the allergies, he said. “It’s homeopathic medicine but you have to take it every day. And it has to be local honey.” To Quinlan, who lives in North Bergen, you couldn’t get more local than his own backyard, and he found that honey produced there worked best.
“Bees will travel 28 square miles around the hive to gather pollen,” he said. “What they gather is the local irritants, the local pollens, the local nectars, the local flora. Basically what you’re doing is you’re ingesting the poison that’s irritating you, but homeopathically. Your body’s just developing a more natural immunity to it.”
Starting his first hive about nine years ago, Quinlan became fascinated in the subject and began adding hives. “I got more and more interested,” he said. “I took courses. I want to start my own Hudson County chapter” of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
Neighbors were soon asking him for honey and as his colonies grew, Quinlan started a business, Hudson River Honey, to sell locally.
It’s not a cheap hobby, he cautions, and can be a lot of work. The hives require constant maintenance, and one needs to be able to read the bees – to know when conditions are overcrowded or when there are problems with a queen.
Each bee colony has one queen, which lays between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs a day.
“Mine all died with Sandy,” Quinlan said. “They got blown away, literally. Each hive is 50 to 100 pounds. They just went away. This year because of all the cold in the past year the queens have been weaker and weaker. I lost them all again.”
A hive itself is a series of wooden casings piled atop one another like boxes, but without tops or bottoms separating them. Bees enter through the base and climb upward through a series of parallel hanging frames. The bottom boxes are where they live and breed. Honey is generated and stored in tiny cells, which are then sealed with wax.
Removing the honey is a process that requires carefully scraping off the wax with an uncapping fork, then extracting the honey from the frames. Quinlan bought an extractor last year, a large unit that holds 20 frames at once. The extractor works as a centrifuge, spinning the frames to remove the honey. Then it goes through a clarifier and multiple filtration passes to make sure it is pure.
It’s a laborious – and sticky – process. Nonetheless, Quinlan perseveres. He’s got the bug.
Home is where the hive is
Nancy Doyle lives on a quiet street in Secaucus. She read about Quinlan in a story in the Reporter and contacted him to ask about setting up a beehive in her yard. In her case it wasn’t allergies that drove her to beekeeping. It was vegetables.
“I got interested because I have a vegetable garden and I really wasn’t getting much out of it,” said the very active, 70-year-old retiree. “I thought maybe if I have some bees it’ll pollinate the garden.”
It worked. That was three years ago. Quinlan brought over one of his hives and set it up in the evening, after the bees were done foraging for the day. It flourished, and so did the garden.
Until Sandy washed it all away.
Doyle established a new hive in Sandy’s wake and then a second, expanding to a third when the bees grew overcrowded. Rather than extract the honey herself she gives the frames to Quinlan for processing, generating about 50 pounds of honey from one hive.
She credits her location, bordering on the Meadowlands, with the success of her hives, since the bees can forage endlessly in the area.
Hive with a view
Joe Lelinho got interested in beekeeping almost 20 years ago. He started a business, Hilltop Honey, selling honey and other bee byproducts like lip balm, candles, and hand cream made with beeswax.
Then the Hyatt came calling. The Jersey City hotel was interested in buying honey from Hilltop. Lelinho had a better idea. Why not establish their own hives on the hotel rooftop and generate their own honey?
Currently Lelinho and his business partner Eric Hanan maintain four hives atop the Hyatt through their company Bee Bold Apiaries. They have hives at more than 60 other business and residential locations, including corporations and hospitals, as well as the bee exhibit in the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.
“Right now there’s probably about 40,000, 50,000 in this hive right here,” he said, opening one of the Hyatt hives, for which the season begins in April or May. “The peak will come around Aug. 15. After that the queen begins to slow down and the hive begins to get ready for winter. Usually in September we go through our last honey flow.”
Lelinho will leave about 70 pounds of honey inside the hive at the end of the season. That’s what the bees will eat through the winter, when they rarely leave the hive.
The bee colony is highly structured, with one queen that lays between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs per day, and many thousands of workers, 97 percent of which are female. There are guard bees to ensure only bees from the colony enter. There are undertaker bees to whisk any dead bees away. There are house bees to collect the nectar, others to chew and mix the nectar with enzymes to create honey, and still others to beat their wings over the mixture and evaporate the moisture.
“Each bee contributes a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life,” said Hanan. “So you need thousands and thousands of bees.”
“The honey looks and tastes significantly different each year depending on the sun or the rain or the wind or whatever’s going on that year,” he added. “It’s literally a taste of the land for miles in every direction.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.