For the last twenty years, Anthony “Tony Bees” Planakis has been the NYPD’s go-to guy for all things bee-related in New York City. A lifelong beekeeper, Planakis was promoted to Detective during 2012’s “Summer of Bees.” He retired from the force in August of 2014 but remains a hero in our hearts and hives.
When did you become interested in beekeeping and why?
I got started with bees in the early 70’s. Growing up in a strict Greek family, when your father says he would like something done, it translates to: do it or die! My “childhood” was spent with a hammer, nails and a paint brush. I was responsible for the assembly of all the wooden ware, though I had no clue what it was for. In 1971, my family traveled to the beautiful island of Crete, Greece (where my parents are from), and wouldn’t you know it, it was harvest time. I got the s—t stung out of me and wanted no part of it. That’s when I realized what I was building at home. As time went on, my father continued to be into his hobby, and I continued to supply the labor, but it really wasn’t until the spring of 1977 that I learned to appreciate these “creatures.”
How did you get the nickname "Tony Bees" during your tenure as an officer with the NYPD?
In the N.Y.P.D, everyone’s got a nickname. By 2004, I had collected enough swarms that I was officially known as “Tony Bees.” What kind of places have I found swarms? You name it!
What goes through your mind when you’re removing a swarm for the NYPD?
In the military, we were taught “If you can’t compromise, you improvise, and if you can’t improvise, you have to compromise.” When I was sent to do a job, my first and foremost concern was the safety of the public, and then, the safe, humane removal, transport and relocation of these wonderful creatures.
Who will collect bee swarms in our city now that you've retired?
In 20 plus years with the department, I’ve met some very knowledgeable beekeepers in the city, and some beautiful residents. Some are sincere, others... let’s just say I’ve raised some eyebrows. But I think we’ll be fine. I’m still in the area and operations will call me when they need to.
Tell us your favorite swarm story!
Four years ago, I responded to a job up in the Bronx, and while I was awaiting the Fire Department to arrive with a tower ladder, as luck would have it, the bees re-swarmed! I had to chase them down the street until they landed 1 1/2 blocks away. I hadn’t had a chance to get my gear on, so I was in a t-shirt in the middle of a swarm… paradise!
What protective gear do you wear?
Like everyone else, I wear a standard jacket suit, and sometimes a hood.
What's the most painful/hilarious place you've been stung?
Above the left eye. I walked into work yelling “Cut me Mick!” My eye was swollen shut.
What's your favorite kind of honey?
Favorite honey... hmm that’s hard. It depends on what I’m using it for. I like clover honey on granola; I like buckwheat honey on almonds, pecans, walnuts and yogurt; linden honey is good in pasta with garlic. I also like buckwheat honey for all my stews and chilis.
What's your favorite bee product besides honey?
I like to use the wax and propolis for my lip balms.
If you were a bee, what caste of bee would you want to be?
Celibate Drone, hah!
What advice do you have for the wanna-beek?
First off, take a step back and think about why you’ve taken on this hobby: why do you want to be a beekeeper? It better not just be because the “Joneses down the block” are doing it. Secondly, read, read, read! Become educated! Pick up the writings of the old-timers: Langstroth, Root, Quimby; learn the art before you jump into it. I’ve met people who scare me. Do you perform surgery without going to Med School?! No. Do your time in the Apiary: look, listen, learn, and remember: the bees are your extended family!
Do you have a prediction for the first swarm of 2015?
I put 3-1 odds on a feral first swarm on Mothers Day!
For more Tony Bees, follow him on twitter.
All photos © Anthony Planakis