During the week, Douglaston’s Ruth Harrigan works full-time for a Manhattan investment firm, but on the weekends she oversees more than 10,000 workers.
For the past year, Harrigan tended two hives of bees that she kept in a neighborhood friend’s backyard. Last fall, she sold honey produced by the bees at the Douglaston Village Arts Festival.
“I have four kids and I work full-time,” she said. “The hour that I spend with the bees is very meditative. There’s a constant hum. It brings me back to earth and grounds me. It’s relaxing.”
Harrigan originally became interested in the hobby two years ago after she stumbled upon the New York City Beekeepers Association.
“I took a crash course on beekeeping and, after that, I was able to purchase two hives,” she said. “Location is key. Ideally, they should have a southeast exposure. My friend’s backyard happens to face that way, so it works out nicely.”
Harrigan purchased 10,000 bees and a queen bee for $100. The insects were sent to her in a screened box that includes a separate cage for the queen.
The bees produced 20 pounds of honey for Harrigan last year, so she set up a booth at last fall’s arts festival, selling 40 half-pound jars at $8 apiece.
“I was sold out in two hours,” she said. “I’d love to do it again if I have a good crop. It’s like getting an allergy shot when you take a spoonful of honey. It’s a homeopathic way to cure allergies.”
But Harrigan said both hives of bees died during this year’s harsh winter. So, she has ordered two more sets of 10,000 bees and a queen that she expects to arrive next month.
A majority of the worker bees in the hive are females. The male bees primarily exist to mate with the queen and then they die.
Harrigan said her hobby is not as dangerous as most people are inclined to believe. She does not wear a full beekeeper suit while tending the hives.
“People have a lot of misconceptions of bees,” she said. “But very few people die from bee stings and not that many people are actually allergic.”
However, Harrigan has been attacked by the insects on several occasions and was once stung 18 times in one day.
“I’ve been stung many times,” she said. “Once, I wore the wrong outfit. I had on a black sweatshirt and that attracted them. If one stings you, it sends off pheromone that tells the others to attack you. But venom is very therapeutic. One of them stung me on my wrist and it got rid of a pain in my shoulder that never came back.”
Harrigan wears a light jacket, gloves, boots and jeans during her visits with the bees.
Once her new shipment of bees arrives, Harrigan plans to enter local competitions, but just for fun. Last year, she submitted her honey for a tasting in Brooklyn.
But she is most excited to restock her own supply, which she said is dwindling after her two hives died during the winter.
“I only have one jar left that I’ve been savoring,” she said.