Owner of Osterberry Farms –
Bee and Blueberry Farm

Rockland Bee Removal

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Most people’s reaction upon seeing a bee in their vicinity is something along the lines of: “Aah! A bee! Get it away!” Bee enthusiasts, however, can tell you that bees are an important friend of humans and an important part of our ecosystem– and, of course, they provide us with delicious honey! Beekeeping has been a passion for Mr. Zev Oster for many years. ­Three years ago, Mr. Oster, who in his day job is a jeweler on 47th St., founded Osterberry Farms in Rockland, NY, and
began producing delicious fresh honey under the name Rockland Honey. Osterberry Farms also produces fresh, plump blueberries. ­The farm also offers a bee removal service for residents who need to get rid of unwanted hives on their property. Mr. Oster grew up in Monsey and came to Lakewood as a bochur to learn in the Lakewood Mesivta (jewish high school). After his chasuna(wedding), he settled in Monsey, where he ultimately took up his unique hobby of beekeeping and ultimately opened Osterberry Farms. Th­e Shopper spoke to Mr. Oster to discuss what people should know about bees and how to deal with them.

How did you become interested in bees?
It’s hard to say. Some beekeepers say they always liked insects and were fascinated by them. It wasn’t like that for me. I was just attracted to the idea of putting on the whole protective suit and working with bees. e first summer when I wanted to order bees, I found out that there were none to be found. ­e reason for that was because the bees are shipped from Georgia and if you want some for the summer you have to order them the winter before. I had to wait until the next winter before I was able to buy them and start my hobby.

Where did you receive the training to do something like this?
I went to some bee groups online and asked around if I could hire anyone to train me and teach me how to work with bees. I got one email reply from a man named Danny who said he could teach me if I met him in Teaneck (NJ). I was happy that he seemed to be a frum Yid (religious), so I agreed to meet him. I went down to Teaneck and met with the man, whose name turned out to be Danny Senter. He is the son of Rabbi Zecharia Senter, director of the Chof-K, and an avid beekeeper. He was my mentor in beekeeping. That frst year, I started with two hives. By the second year I had about 15 hives. Now I have 40.

What’s the difference in quality between honey someone can purchase from you and the honey someone can get from a store?
­There are no real regulations today on what can be sold in stores as honey. Many beekeepers believe that a lot of the honey sold off the shelf today is actually mixed with other sweeteners. When you eat fresh honey, you can taste that it’s a totally different product. It’s a lot more tasteful. It’s also much purer. You can taste its source. If it’s citrus-based, for example if it’s orange blossom honey, you can taste the citrus. Some beekeepers have farms where the bees forage only in blueberry plants, and then the honey has a unique blueberry taste. It really depends on where the beekeeper keeps his bees. In my case, all the bees forage in different parts of Monsey. I was just attracted to the idea of putting on the whole protective suit and working with bees. Observing bees one can really see amazing nifla’os haborei (fascinating parts of our world). The honey doesn’t have such a specific fruit taste, so we call it wildflower honey.

I see you produce blueberries on your farm as well?
Yes. that’s another interest of mine. I started off with 10 blueberry plants, and now I have 400 plants. I began my blueberry plants, as well as my bee hives, on my property in Monsey. Two years ago, I purchased a separate 1.3-
acre property in the village of Monticello, located next to Monsey, and began transferring the blueberries and beehives there. The village started giving me violations, claiming I was running a commercial farm in a residential area. I pointed out that there is nothing in the local ordinances that says I can’t have beehives or blueberry plants, but they went forward and took me to court. Eventually, they said they don’t want to go to trial and would rather make an agreement with me. I have an agreement with the village now that I can keep bees and blueberries there, but I so far can’t have people coming by to pick their own blueberries.

Getting back to the bees, how many times have you been stung?
That’s a question everyone asks! I was actually just stung today. It kind of becomes second nature. You stop worrying about it. I always go in with the mentality that I will get stung that day. But most of the time I don’t get stung. We
wear the protective suits and gloves, and maybe one out of ten or fifteen times we do get stung. Sometimes, we get a hive that’s upset or low on honey or there’s a problem with the queen and they’re kind of agitated and that leads the bees to sting.

What is involved in the bee removal part of your work?
We were looking to expand and acquire more bees and one of the way to do that is to do bee removals. We are connected with a lot of the local exterminators. Because it is understood that honeybees are somewhat in danger and need to be protected, almost no exterminators will kill bees like they kill other insects. When they get a call about bees, they call me or another beekeeper to save them.

How do you remove the bees?
One way is to capture the queen. In any hive, the queen bee is the main character. ere can be tens of thousands of bees, but, ultimately, it’s the queen that all the bees respect and follow. If we can capture the queen, the rest of the bees will follow. We also have a “bee vacuum” as one of the tools we use. It’s a wet-and-dry vacuum that hooks up to a bee hive and sucks the bees into a hive inside the vacuum.

What is so special about the queen bee?
Thee queen is the only bee in the hive that lays eggs. Once she becomes queen, she rarely goes out of the hive. She just stays there and lays eggs for her entire life – anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs a day over two or three years. ere are two other types of bees -the males and females. e male bee is known as a “drone”. Only the female bees are capable of stinging. The majority of a hive is females. They are the ones who protect the hive and forage and do all the work. The males do absolutely nothing besides mate with the queen.

What is the life span of an average bee?
Worker bees born in the summer usually live five to six weeks. The same bee can live five to six months in the winter. They live shorter in the summer because they work themselves to death. In the winter, they stay put in the hive because it’s too cold for them to fly, so they live longer.

Many people are afraid of bees. What advice would you give them?
You can’t lump all bees together in one category. You can’t put honey bees in the same category as Hornets, Wasps and Yellowjackets. Yellowjackets, Hornets and Wasps are all extremely aggressive. If you just walk near their hive, they might sting you. Honeybees will not. They are not interested in humans if the humans don’t bother them.
On Sukkos (Jewish Holiday), when you have bees coming into your Sukkah (outdoors), those aren’t honeybees. Honeybees won’t come into your Sukkah. They’re not interested in sweet wine or meat – both of which are things that attract yellowjackets (Wasps).

What strategy would you advise to keep yellowjackets out of your Sukkah?
You’d need to get some type of bee trap to put out. There’s no real way to keep them away.

What should someone do if one of the aggressive type of bees is coming at them?
Run! Standing still won’t help. Get away from them as soon as
possible. Don’t stick around! they’ll come after you. Another difference between a Honeybee and a Yellowjacket, Wasp or Hornet is that when a honeybee stings its stinger comes out and it dies. e other types of bees can sting multiple times.
When a Honeybee does sting, its stinger stays inside your skin and pumps venom for about a minute from a sack attached to the top of the stinger. You obviously want to take the stinger out – but you don’t want to squeeze the venom sack because then you’ll be pushing the venom into your skin. What you should do is get closer to your skin and scrape it off from the point of the stinger, without touching the venom sack. There’s also another type of bee which is known as the “killer bee”(Africanized Honeybees) , which are really dangerous. Those are found more in the south, in warmer climates. They haven’t migrated to where we live because our climate is too cold for them to survive.

What other products do bees produce besides honey?
There’s the beeswax from the hive, which is very nice. People make candles and makeup from it and many other products. (Writer’s note: Although beeswax is not generally eaten, it is sometimes used as a chemical for flavoring in foods. Although it would seem to be halachically problematic because it is a secretion of the actual bee, Rav Belsky and other poskim permitted it because it is not considered a food.) There also is a product called “royal jelly” that is secreted from the head of the bees, which is fed to young larvae (baby bees) as they grow. That’s how a queen is made. e hive feeds more royal jelly to a specific larva to make it the queen. (Writers note: Most poskim prohibit the consumption of royal jelly because it is “yotzieh min hatamei”).

How much honey does a hive produce?
The average hive can produce 50-60 pounds of honey on an average year. On a good year, it could be up to 100 pounds. But it is a lot of work to keep the bees safe from diseases and pests. Last year, we lost 30% of our bees even with all of our care. It also is a rather expensive hobby. A basic hive with bees would cost about $500. And you also have to invest a lot of caring for them. Amongst other things, you have to feed them and make sure they have enough food for the winter. You also have to make sure you don’t take out too much honey, because they need a lot of it for themselves to eat.

Any final thoughts?
Observing bees one can really see amazing nifla’os haborei. It is amazing how they make such beautiful honeycombs with such a beautiful and perfect design. Seeing the way they produce wax from their bodies to make the actual comb is unreal!

Read on Original PDF HERE