Standing on the roof of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Jersey City, beekeeper Joseph Lelinho placed a smoker near one of the five beehives he tends there.
“When the honeybees see the smoke, they think there is a forest fire and they start to eat honey,” he said. He was explaining his craft to 16 teachers from 12 Jersey City schools who had come to the Hyatt Regency for a week-long education program on technology presented by (no pun intended) the Honeywell Corporation.
The Hyatt installed the first hives in 2012 in part as a way to produce fresh honey for their guests.
Lelinho, from North Caldwell, serves as the hotel’s official beekeeper. He was joined for this lesson by state apiarist Tim Schuler, the top bee expert at the Department of Agriculture.
The bee colony has good instincts, Lelinho pointed out, as he continued to pour smoke into the hive. In the event of a natural disaster like a forest fire, they take in honey so they can make the wax they need to set up a new hive outside the disaster zone.
In this case, said Schuler, the smoke makes them seek the deeper parts of the hive and allows the beekeeper to open the top and show the teachers how the hive is constructed.
Three years ago, Hyatt set up the hive program with about 36,000 honeybees. That number has expanded to 150,000 with the addition of three more hives.
Beekeepers keep the bees alive
Beekeeping is a huge issue in New Jersey. The bees not only make honey, but in the process they pollinate a wide variety of plant life, including blueberries and cranberries, two of New Jersey’s largest crops.
There are thousands of hives throughout the state tended by a number of professional beekeeping firms (mostly in Southern New Jersey) that hire out their services to farms. There are also many more privately-owned hives (abundant in Northern Jersey) with a few backyard, or in Hyatt’s case, rooftop locations.
The honey bee is so efficient a pollinator that a significant portion of beehive companies move their operations to California each year to help the crops there.
“When the honey bees see the smoke they think there is a forest fire and they start to eat honey.” – Joseph Lelinho
The Hyatt’s honeybees, said Lelinho, are the first in New Jersey to make a hotel rooftop their home. Oddly enough, this is no hardship, since bees tend to swarm upward after they leave their hive in order to travel. In this case, they simply fly off and begin hunting for the pollen they need. They will go as far as two miles from the hive and still retain a memory of how to return to the hive. This includes the greenery at Liberty State Park and Hamilton Park.
“They return to the hive and tell other honey bees where they’ve been so the other bees can go and collect there, too,” said Schuler.
Each hive makes about 100 pounds of honey a year.
“They need about 70 pounds for themselves,” said Lelinho. “We take about 30 pounds. But the bees’ needs always come first.”
Bees need honey to survive winter. They hibernate. The center of the hive generally stays over 80 degrees throughout the cold months.
Although honey bees tend not to be aggressive, they can be when they feel threatened.
“The bees know who their friends are,” Lelinho said, noting that bees get familiar with the scent of humans that regularly take care of them.
Unfortunately, during this presentation, the bees stung one city official and swarmed around another, chasing him from the roof.
Honey bees are organized like ants and termites. Each bee has a job. Although these hives have a queen bee, if the queen bee fails to do her job, they other bees overthrow her and get a new queen who will, Schuler said.
The hives are housed in a pair of wooden structures, each about the size of three milk crates stacked atop of one another. Holes at the bottom allow the bees to come and go as they please.
Each hive contains about 32,000 bees.
Honeybees are New Jersey’s state insect, will assist in pollinating a wide area around the hotel, which includes nearby farmlands. The successes of many state-produced crops are dependent on honeybee pollination, including apples, cranberries, cantaloupe, watermelon and blueberries, the state fruit.
One lesson in many
The beekeeping event was just one part of a weeklong educational forum sponsored by Honeywell called the Honeywell Institute for Ecosystems Education. The program, which also taught educators about other urban environmental issues, is a partnership of the New Jersey Audubon Society and Honeywell, the American multinational conglomerate. This year, the institute is working with Jersey City’s Board of Education.
HIEE seeks to empower Jersey City teachers to spark students’ interest in identifying and addressing local environmental issues, creating more sustainable communities, and becoming scientists, inventors, or engineers. The program uses local resources, technology, and other avenues in a modeling approach to education.
“As one of the world’s leading technology companies, Honeywell is committed to creating the next generation of scientists and engineers through engaging, life-changing programs,” said Mike Bennett, president, Honeywell Hometown Solutions. “In partnership with New Jersey Audubon and Jersey City Schools, Honeywell Institute for Ecosystems Education offers an exciting, hands-on program that also inspires students to take a more active role in creating sustainable schools and communities and becoming the next generation of environmental stewards.”
The teachers also spent time in Jersey City’s Lincoln Park to understand habitats, land use, and factors that affect the ecosystem. They also visited St. Paul Lutheran Church to see a community-based sustainability project the church is using to control storm water runoff and provide locally grown-food in collaboration with Sustainable Jersey City.
Honeywell also will provide each teacher with a $500 mini-grant to support classroom sustainability projects based on the lessons the teachers learned.
“Our team here is proud to be a part of sharing and developing our environmental efforts along with our neighbors,” said Michael Hickey, general manager, Hyatt Regency Jersey City, concerning the hotel’s urban rooftop bees. “We are happy to partner with Honeywell, New Jersey Audubon, and educators of Jersey City to spread the word about how our bees help keep our city green and provide delicious honey.”
The 17 participating teachers represented 12 Jersey City schools: Dr. Michael Conti School, Franklin L. Williams Middle School, Henry Snyder High School, Hudson County Community College, Innovation High School, James J. Ferris High School, Joseph H. Brensinger School, Learning Community Charter School, Ollie Culbreth, Jr. School, Jersey City Public School No. 34, Saint Peter’s Preparatory School, and William L. Dickinson High School.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.