Making their own sweetness

Making their own sweetness

Beekeepers care for hives on the roof of Miriam Apartments in Clifton

Wearing full beekeeper suits, Miriam Apartments II Manager Linda Emmer and Eric Hanan of Bee Bold Apiaries check on the progress of the hives installed on the roof of the apartment building. Caren Speizer

The Jewish year 5775 is shaping up to be the sweetest ever for residents of the Esther and Sam Schwartz Building (Miriam Apartments II) at the Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute in Clifton.

That’s because each of the 150 tenants received a Rosh Hashanah jar of honey made by the honeybees that live in the hives on the roof of their building.

This was the first harvest from Bubbe’s Bees, as the program was dubbed by marketing and development director Caren Speizer. It was her idea to install the hives last spring after she learned that honeybees are endangered. That means that the flowers that depend on pollination also are at risk of disappearing.

“We have many flowers in our 13-acre complex, and tall buildings, so I thought this would be a great fit, though it took a while for me to sell our board of trustees on the idea,” Ms. Speizer said.

Linda Emmer, the general manager for apartment services for the Miriam Apartments, admits that she also was skeptical until she understood that honeybees are vital to the ecosystem – and that they seldom sting.

Any remaining concerns were put to rest when Joe Lelinho and Eric Hanan of Bee Bold Apiaries in Essex County came to Clifton to give a presentation. The two men install and maintain hives for businesses, nonprofit groups, and educational organizations throughout northern New Jersey and New York City.

“They showed us a working hive, and it was so cool,” Ms. Emmer said. “To watch it come to fruition was even more amazing. Eric came every month after installing the two hives with a ‘starter’ set of bees, and after a while we could see the white, clear honey being scraped off the combs. The honey took on more color as the months went on, because the bees were collecting nectar from different surrounding plant species.”

Mr. Hanan took photographs every time he came to check on the hives, and the pictures were shown on the lobby television screen so that residents could watch what was going on up on the roof. There are plans to install a camera there permanently.

“I look at the hives like apartment houses. One of the hives had so many bees that they added another level,” Ms. Emmer said. “Before Rosh Hashanah, we collected 200 one-and-a-half ounce jars of honey, about 60 pounds – pretty good for the first attempt. Everyone loved it when we gave out the honey to the whole building.”

Jars of Bubbe’s Bees honey were also gifted to the members of the board – by now wholehearted supporters of the venture – with a message wishing them a sweet new year.

Ms. Speizer explained that the Esther and Sam Schwartz Building was created in 1979. It was developed as part of a pilot program, run through the office of Housing and Urban Development, to offer “congregate services” geared to allowing seniors to maintain their own homes for as long as possible. Congregate services combine shelter and services for the elderly, particularly for those who are no longer fully capable of maintaining completely independent lives. They offer meals, housekeeping services, and assistance in one or more of the activities of daily living.

“Being able to provide an educational experience for the tenants as well as reaping the practical bounty of the honey, while also doing something that benefits the wider community, is directly in keeping with the center’s mission,” Ms. Speizer said.

“The recent decline in the honeybee population has become an international concern, and every hive has become important. The hives on the roof of Miriam Apartments II have not only survived, but thrived, producing a larger harvest than initially anticipated.”

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