Honey and Venom
By Andrew Coté
2020 • Ballantine Books
A year in the life of New York City’s premier beekeeper, who charmingly chronicles his adventures and the quirky personalities he encounters while spreading his infinite knowledge of and passion for the remarkable honey bee.
Considered an “industry legend” by The New York Times, Andrew Coté has one of the most intriguing, challenging, and unique jobs in New York City—maintaining millions of honey bees atop some of the city’s most iconic buildings. His apiaries have crowned the Waldorf Astoria and the Museum of Modern Art; reside on the North Lawn of the United Nations; reign above stores, hotels, restaurants, schools, churches, and synagogues; and are situated in community gardens, and even cemeteries, throughout the five boroughs.
Widely recognized as New York City’s premier urban beekeeper, in this debut collection, Coté takes readers with him on his daily apiary adventures over the course of a year, in the city and across the globe. Here, among his many duties, he is called to capture swarms that have clustered on fire hydrants, air-conditioning units, or street-vendor umbrellas, drawing groups of amateur beekeepers eager to claim the bees for their own. Squabbles erupt between rival groups over everything from competing beekeeping classes to ownership of swarms of feral bees.
Aside from maneuvering within a metropolitan populace as frenzied as the bees’, Coté is able to escape from the hive mind and the rigors of city dwelling with his philanthropic, international approach to apiculture. Annually, he travels with his father to regions like remote Fijian islands, rural Uganda, Haiti, Ecuador, or Iraq with his organization, Bees Without Borders, where he teaches beekeepers how to increase their honey yield and income via beekeeping endeavors.
Throughout Honey and Venom, Coté shares his infinite knowledge of and passion for the remarkable honey bee, from the humble drone to the fittingly named worker to the queen herself—who is more a slave than a monarch. The hive world, Coté reveals, is full of strivers and slackers, givers and takers, and even some insect promiscuity—startlingly similar to the prickly human variety.
Written with Coté’s trademark humor, acumen, and a healthy dose of charm, Honey and Venom illuminates the obscure culture of New York City “beeks” and the biology of the bees themselves for both casual readers and bee enthusiasts. For Coté, a fourth-generation beekeeper, this is a family tradition, and this personal significance pervades his celebration of the romance and mystery of bees, their honey, and the beekeepers whose lives revolve around these most magical creatures.
Tags: Books, food writing, memoir