GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Freeman Gardens became the home for honey bees this past year thanks to the efforts of Eric Hanan, a borough resident and professional beekeeper. Hanan is a retired producer for the TV news program “20/20.”
“I wanted to start a business,” he said recently at the gardens. “After 20 years of chasing stories, I wanted to be outdoors. I love the product and it gave me leeway to be with my kids.”
Starting as a hobbyist, Hanan attended beekeeping workshops at Rutgers University.
“After that, it’s up to you to keep the learning curve going,” he said.
There are locations a short commute from Glen Ridge that have hives established and maintained by Hanan. They include nearby Mountainside Hospital; Valley Hospital in Ridgewood; Van Vleck House and Gardens, in Montclair; and the 64th story of the Marriot Hotel in Manhattan. He said he believes the hive on the hotel is the highest hive in the world situated on a man-made structure and he brought this fact to the attention of the Guinness Book of World Records, but it was not accepted as a record.
At the hospital locations, Hanan said the honey is being sold or used in recipes.
“There’s never enough to go around,” he said.
In a hive, there are three types of bees, he said. There is one queen; the male drones, which, if they mate, only do so once and then die; and the workers, which are only female. Depending upon the time of year, around 10 percent of the hive population is drones and the rest are workers and the queen.
The bees in the hive are overwhelmingly female because they perform nearly all the labor to keep the hive viable but live only about six weeks. Hanan said the lifetime of the male is from spring to fall when they are expelled from the hive to die.
The sole responsibility of the queen is to produce eggs. Hanan said she will lay 2,000 eggs a day. Regardless of the temperature outside the hive, a temperature of 93 to 94 degrees must be maintained for her.
“She lives three to four years,” Hanan said. “The workers keep her warm in a cluster.”
Incredibly, the queen determines if she will produce an egg that will develop into a drone or worker.
Honey is produced from nectar, a sugary liquid that a bee gathers from flowers and stores in a stomach for the flight back to the hive. Pollen from flowers collects on the bee’s legs. Nectar and pollen are food sources for the bees. The nectar is stored in wax honeycombs that are fanned by workers causing evaporation. The result is honey.
At Freeman Gardens, Hanan said the hives are occupied by 100,000 honeybees. The worker bees will range 2 miles to locate nectar and pollen sources. They communicates the location of the source in a waggle dance, Hanan said.
One hundred pounds of honey were harvested from the Freeman Garden hives this year. Another 100 pounds in each of two stacks of frames remain, according to Hanan. This will maintain the hive through the winter. The population will drop to 15,000 to 20,000 bees during that time.
Harvesting is done by removing the individual frames and with a fork, scraping the beeswax from the wax cells. With the wax capping off, the cells are spun in a centrifuge to drain.
“Honey does not support bacteria,” Hanan said. “It is the only food known to man that does not spoil.”
Hanan said if a bee colony gets too crowded, a queen bee will leave to create another one. But the decision to divide the colony is a collective one, he said. A new queen bee will be developed from a larva fed royal jelly, a secretion from the heads of worker bees.
“Bees are a society of all for one and one for all,” Hanan said.