Friday, June 29, 2012

Re-moving the Whitney Bees - a performance piece

In case you did not know, the Whitney Museum, home to the happy hives of Let it Bee, is re-doing the entire roof its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue, and this means that the bees will have to vacate.
In case you thought this was a simple process, I am here to tell you otherwise.

This is how it went: First CSB had to build a bunch of new nuc boxes. Then we lugged them and plastic bins for honey supers and all our gear up to the roof. Then we suit up – but as we will discover, not enough suiting up for Chucker, as the bees stung him through his socks, and crawled all over the trapezoid of exposed back between the top of his jeans and the bottom of the jacket as it rode up while he worked.
Then he un-stacked hive #1. Once he started this process the bees became agitated, and then they became more agitated, and so they were flying all around us with more than their usual interest in our bodies. And once a bee stings you, she leaves behind her pheromones to alert her sister bees to this prime-and-ready-to-be-stung flesh. So imagine all that follows amidst thousands of flying and agitated bees.
CSB took out each deep frame, looked for the queen & then passed it to me to place into a nuc. We repeated this process about 30 times, filling up about 6 nuc boxes. Once each nuc was filled, I put the wire lid back over, and then CSB - barehanded in order to better manipulate the cordless drill – screwed the wire on to ensure no bee escapees. About 20-30 screws per nuc. I labeled each nuc with an X, except the one with the queen, which got a double XX.
Then the honey supers: CSB removed the honey supers, shook off the bees, and passed them down to me; I then brushed off the remaining bees and slid the sweet honey-filled frame into the plastic bin which I then covered with a Red Sox beach towel (ca. 1987), so the bees would not all return to reclaim their honey. This process was repeated 10 times for each bin, after which I put the lid on and taped the lid as tightly as possible.
We did this with 2 hives, of 2 deeps each, and about 4 honey supers full of 10 frames each. The plastic bins with the honey supers weighed about 40 pounds each, or 50, or maybe 60 pounds. A lot.

Then we carried everything from the hive location to the roof door on the other side of the roof, so we wouldn’t have to go through the utility room with its vents, AC’s, furnaces, pipes, knobs, valves, gadgets, and maintenance men who, despite our many cheerful and chirpy appearances, have not yet found a way to enjoy the presence of the bees on the roof.
We lugged everything to the roof door, but we didn’t open the roof door, because it is alarmed, and for this we had to call Delano, the chief of Whitney’s Physical Plant and the guy we see most every time we come in to see the bees. (Among his other talents, Delano is a painter and he just got married at about the coolest venue ever: The Housing Works Café) So poor Delano had to leave whatever else he was doing and hustle up a key for the roof door and then come up to the fifth floor and unlock and de-alarm the door so we can move everything from the outside (the roof) to the inside – very carefully. I cannot exaggerate just how insanely careful and frankly, a little OCD, CSB is about this, his determination that not one single bee should escape and enter the hallowed sanctum of the WMA. Then we carry everything down a flight of stairs – have I made it clear that we are talking about a few 100 pounds of bees and honey in aggregate? No? Well, then let me say again: these things are heavy, and I, for one, am a weakling. And finally, finally, we load everything onto the dolly and roll it out into the gallery featuring four mannequins dressed in museum guard uniforms (Guarded View, by Fred Wilson) and onto the elevator. Then we go down four floors, and roll everything out that we had just rolled in, we traverse the Whitney lobby, past the bookstore and the coat check, silenced on this Monday or Tuesday, since those are the days the museum is closed and when we service the Whitney bees.
Then we load everything in the back of our car, which already smells wonderfully of wax and honey and dogs, and return to Hastings, where we unload and install the bees in their new home for the rest of the season.
In case I have not flogged this dead horse enough, this was quite a lengthy and exhausting process, and needed to be repeated the following day with the remaining hives. So I had the brilliant idea of enlisting the aid of young hipster musician nephew to come and help, which he did, coming from Brooklyn to meet us at the loading dock, dressed in beekeeper whites and ready to document the adventure for his legions of FB fans. He may look like a hipster, but he is strong and did much of the heavy lifting and got his first bee sting ever, a badge of honor.
So for the next few months, the roof of the Whitney will be sadly bee-less. But the early season was a good one, hence the many, heavy, pounds of honey supers.


Lindsay said...


Mickey and Flea said...

Couldn't you have just let the queens go and watch the brood swarming away after her?