Prestwick Chase at Saratoga, an over-55 community three miles from downtown Saratoga Springs, is buzzing with activity. Residents play poker and mahjong, they do pilates and yoga.
And then there are the insects.
Yes, bees, as in thousands of honeybees.
Since this spring, they have been caring for them, observing them and learning about them.
“It’s fascinating. And bees are good for the environment,” says CEO Fred McNeary Jr. “It’s piqued a lot of interest. Residents come to the main desk daily and report on them.”
Prestwick Chase keeps four hives on its sprawling 125 acres, which include fields of goldenrod, loads of clover and scores of apple trees from which bees can gather nectar. Three of the hives, which look like a stack of three white boxes, are set 600 to 800 yards from the apartments. But one hive is purposedly placed a few feet from the windows of the main building so that everyone can watch the bees.
On a recent sunny autumn day, three people dressed in white beekeeping suits and protective helmets, which made them look a bit like “Ghostbusters” or maybe astronauts, were gathered outdoors around the hive that’s close to the building.
Anne Frey, a Duanesburg beekeeper and member of the Southern Adirondack Beekeepers Association, is there on a monthly visit to check on the health of the insects and offer any advice.
McNeary is suited up because he’ll be opening the hive.
The third “Ghostbuster” is Doris Ludewig, a resident who is now retired but once kept 100 hives in Ballston Spa with her late husband Fred, one of the founders of the Southern Adirondack Beekeepers Association. She wants to be outdoors and up-close as the hive is opened.
“We sold honey right from our porch,” Doris says.
Inside the building, Jerry Hilyard, another resident who kept bees when he lived in Massachusetts, watches through the window.
“It’s almost as good as having your own,” says Hilyard.
As Frey and McNeary approach the hive, only a few bees are flying around it, and Hilyard explains what’s going on.
“That calms the bees,” he says as Frey puffs smoke onto the hive from a small device.
“You have to be careful not to jar or vibrate the hive.”
With some effort, McNeary pries open the cover, which the bees have secured with propolis, a sticky glue-like substance that reinforces and defends the hive.
As temperatures drop, this will be the last time they will open the hive until February.
“They are getting ready for winter,” says Hilyard.
“They are slowly reducing their numbers. The queen slows down her egg laying. It’s mostly worker bees and the queen, the drones don’t do anything so the bees start kicking them out.”
The rest of the bees stay alive through the winter.
“They clump together in a loose ball, shimmering their wings. They rotate in and out. They keep the hive warm,” he says.
The beekeepers must wait until 2017 to get their first honey from the hive.
“There’s no harvest this year because it’s the first year,” says Frey.
“Right around the beginning of July, we’ll have the first harvest. And the second will be in the fall,” McNeary says.
The bee idea blossomed after Frey gave a presentation at Prestwick Chase, and the first hive, beekeeping suits and other materials were purchased from Betterbee in Greenwich.
Frey, a beekeeper since 1993 who tutors others in Schoharie County, says the beekeeping at Prestwick Chase is unique.
“I’ve never visited anyone that had bees that weren’t at their house,” she says.
McNeary, who with Mike Famiano, maintenance supervisor, takes care of the bees, never imagined that he would be so involved.
“I was always scared to death of bees,” he says.
“I purchased the suit thinking of being a passive spectator. After the first few minutes, I realized that the bees were more interested in gathering and foraging. If you’re not in their flight path, they don’t care at all. And I found it very interesting. I went from being on the sidelines to being part of it.”
When the project started, female resident who was severely allergic to bees objected but then turned into a bee watcher, he said.
“She’s inside, at the window.”
The lawn crew wasn’t been stung either.
“They mow along side the hives. They have no problems.”
Honeybees are not like hornets and wasps, he says.
“They get a bad rap.”
Bee keeping is not that difficult and very educational, says Hilyard.
“Ninety percent of the work is done by the bees. And If you really watch what bees are doing, it’s connected to what’s in bloom in your environment. It really is pretty neat,” he says.
“I love to watch them,” says Ludewig. “If only the humans could live like the bees.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.