“It’s an old story,” said Andrew Coté as he prepared burlap smokers for the day’s honey harvest, “the country bee makes it in the big city.”
Looking at the six hives atop the Waldorf-Astoria’s 20th floor roof patio with an unobstructed view of the Chrysler building in the background, I was impressed. Not bad real estate, for a honeybee.
Coté (whose father, Norm, was Martha Stewart's beekeeper for about 18 years) installed the hives in April at the request of Waldorf-Astoria head chef David Garcelon. Between them, they’re keeping the Waldorf’s honey bee operation as local as possible. From the construction of the cases and frames to the carefully painted ‘Waldorf-Astoria’ insignia, every part of the honey production has been on site. The hives are part of Garcelon's slow food vision, which includes future plans to install rooftop boxes for herbs, edible flowers, and strawberries that will act as some part of the honey bees fodder.
Even better, the Waldorf’s rooftop hives will be open for guest tours so you can eat the honey, and tour the hives, too.
Because the late-June harvest was the hives’ first, the flavor profile of the honey should be lighter, almost minty, Garcelon says. Later harvests, when the bees have had a chance to forage from the rich late-summer blooms, will be darker and more intense.
While real home-harvested honey, manufactured by the Waldorf hives and flavored specifically by the fauna of New York city terrace gardens and Central Park, is all well and crunchy, the roughly 120-150 lbs. of sweet sticky nectar from the hives very first harvest is hard to focus on when 300,000 bees are flying through the air. As it turns out, bees don’t like particularly enjoy giving up their honey. After all, ‘harvesting’ is truly just a polite word for stealing.
But the swarms didn’t seem to bother Coté, who preferred to handle the honey comb frames bare handed so as not to crush the bees. Don’t worry, the Waldorf provides veils and gloves for the more cautious. (Coté did however walk away with a few stings on the hands and behind the knees. A cautious Whole Living blogger’s sting count? Zero. Score one for the wimp clothing.)
The harvest started with the calming of the hives, and a fair amount of protective clothing (for some). Hives are calmed by pumping used burlap bags, which used to contain coffee. (Never potato bags, which can contain unwanted chemicals from fungicides.) The smoke mimics a forest fire, which drives the bees back into their hives. After that, the process is simple. Open the cases, remove the frames, and brush off the bees. Down in the expansive Waldorf kitchens, the wax ‘capping’ bee cover combs of honey with after it has reduced to a roughly 16 percent moisture content is removed with a hot knife. The frames are then spun in a centrifuge and the resulting honey is strained and jarred, ready for use. Eventually and in true slow food style, the honey Waldorf guests consume will be directly hive-to-table.
Who knows, someday these bees could be used for more than making honey. Just ask this guy.
Photos by Nina Lincoff