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Still, it took Anderson and local beekeepers Max Wong and Daniel Salisbury a year to make it legal in Santa Monica. When Salisbury discovered the city was exterminating 40 to 80 swarms each week on public property, he pushed for a community bee yard where volunteers could keep hives until they could be adopted out to nearby farms.
Exterminators, keen to protect their pocketbooks, testified that the bees should be killed instead of relocated, because city bees wouldn't enjoy living on a farm. To which Wong replied, "Why, because they'd miss their soy lattes and Wi-Fi?"
"Good lord!" Anderson says. "Then they had a guy from Vector Control that says we shouldn't legalize beekeeping, it'll spread the Varroa mite." To which Anderson replied, "I don't know what planet you are on, but the Varroa mites are worldwide now. There's no way you're gonna keep them from spreading."
He sighs. "All we're saying is we wanna go collect the bees that are in public spots and put them in someone's backyard in a box so they can be managed."
Santa Monica voted unanimously to legalize. A year later, so did the city of Redondo Beach.
Despite the absence of laws, people have been keeping bees in the city of L.A. for forever. The city's oldest apiary club, the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, is 140 years old.
Anderson blames that group for existing under the radar rather than fighting for change. He sent them an email to that effect: "Have you guys been asleep for 140 years? What have you been doing?"
The natural allies, it seems, aren't really allies at all. Feral bees make some folks in the apiary community uneasy. They question not whether it should be legal to keep feral bees but whether they ought to even exist.
A person who wants to get started in beekeeping has two options: Catch a feral swarm in the wild for free or, for around $100 a hive, buy them from a breeder. Commercial breeders mass-produce bees. Queens are artificially inseminated to produce offspring that are good honey makers, say, or winter-hardy. The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association favors these purchased, selectively bred bees because their genetics are known. Ferals, they believe, are unpredictable. (Even some organic beekeepers kill the feral queen as a matter of protocol when they first catch a swarm, replacing her with a selectively bred queen.)
Anderson claims that members of the beekeepers association have called him a "terrorist" and "the Taliban." "They actually said that. I don't know if we're not friends or we're not enemies, but I've read some of the minutes from their bee club meetings, and some people up there consider me the Taliban. They consider us terrorists because we promote feral bees."
Anderson asked them to recant. By way of response, he says, they told him "to F.O." Fuck. Off.
The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association meets one Monday night a month at a Lutheran church in the sleepy, foothills town of La Crescenta. The LACBA is a venerable club, steeped in tradition. Members recite the pledge of allegiance, hand out ID badges and take attendance. Its roster includes commercial apiarists who make big money off hundreds of colonies in rural areas and individual members with upward of 80 hives who consider themselves "sideline" beekeepers. The Backwards Beekeepers, who are primarily hobbyists, seem ragtag by comparison.
More than anything, the two groups are divided on the use of chemical treatments: The Beekeepers Association encourages it, the Backwards Beekeepers abhor it.
To Rob McFarland, this difference is "minute." To Kirk Anderson, it is massive. It is philosophy bordering on theology. The Beekeepers Association has invited Anderson to speak at their meetings, but he refuses to go. "To me it'd be like joining the Kennel Club and talking about my dog's fleas," he says.
Association president James Lindsay doesn't remember anyone calling anyone else a terrorist. Though, he says of Anderson, "I think he is dangerous."
Lindsay has a deep distrust of feral bees. Four years ago, a friend in rural Agua Dulce asked Lindsay to remove a feral colony that had gotten into an outbuilding on his property. Lindsay smoked it and cracked open the windowsill beneath it.
Then the nightmare scenario happened. Within seconds his veil was thick with bees. He couldn't see. It was pitch-black. The attack pheromone the bees emitted — which smells, weirdly, like bananas — was so strong that he thought he would asphyxiate.
Lindsay's wife was with him, 60 feet away, by his truck. She too was stung. "We're leaving," he told her. "I'm gonna walk down the street a ways, brush some of these bees away."
Still brushing bees off his suit, he hopped into the back of the truck. They drove down the dirt road at 30 mph, tailed for half a mile by a cloud of bees. Afterward, he couldn't count the number of stingers embedded in his leather gloves. There were thousands, he estimates.
"That was probably an extreme," Lindsay says now. "Not all feral colonies are like that. There's different degrees." Just last month he caught one that was sweet and docile as could be. When he lifted the lid of their box, the bees didn't even come out.
Very well written. Domestic vs wild bees reminds us of helpless domestic pigs compared to tough healthy wild pigs.
Cool more people need to do this and cut out the scumbag middlemen. Scumbag Guerrilla beekeepers "rescue" in OC wanted to put their hives on MY yard to harvest MY nectar from MY flowers and only give me 3% of the honey and sell the rest at farmer's market to dimbulbs for $10 a pound. I'm learning all i can on my own and will harvest my own honey soon enough. IRS needs to investigate them if they have non-profit status.
@bigpapapump nothing wrong with it per se. I mean, people want to be self sustainable...why not bee keeping?
@-paulc- @bigpapapump Absolutely nothing wrong with bee keeping. How else would I get the sweet delicious nectar I put on my bran flakes every morning? However, those two in the picture, are not bee keepers. They're A & F automatons sent by the marketing dept to boost sales of "farmer chic" clothing to young adults with lots of discretionary income to blow on authentic vintage bee keep gear.Bleep bloop, I am bee keeper, bloop bloop, Kombucha bleeep, backyard chicken coop, bloop, bleep, grow tomatoes and rhubarb, bleeeeeeep, bee tattoo on my neck, bleep.
@-paulc- @bigpapapump Absolutely nothing wrong with bee keeping. How else would I get the sweet delicious nectar I put on my bran flakes every morning? However, those two in the picture, are not bee keepers. They're A & F automatons sent by the marketing dept to boost sales of "farmer chic" clothing to young adults with lots of discretionary income to blow on authentic vintage bee keep gear.
Bleep bloop, I am bee keeper, bloop bloop, Kombucha bleeep, backyard chicken coop, bloop, bleep, grow tomatoes and rhubarb, bleeeeeeep, bee tattoo on my neck, bleep.
Great article! As a future beekeeper and current member of the Beekeepers' Association of Southern California (BASC), I appreciate any article that helps to promote the welfare of bees. While I don't have a hive yet, I'm learning all I can about them.
One of the simple ways the average person can help the bees is to plant bee-friendly plants. They LOVE oregano and borage, lavender, and agapanthus; in the fall--zinnia, asters. If you don't have flowering plants of various types, you can set up a bee trough -- a shallow dish with water and rocks or sticks for the bees to land on. Bees need a lot of water, and if you keep the dish filled with fresh water, they'll learn to use it.
Don't be afraid -- bees communicate via pheremones, and when you get anxious or scared around bees, you exude the same pheremone that is the alarm for them -- then they sting, because it's how they react to that scent. Stay calm, move slowly, and think good thoughts about how the bee is only out foraging and not at war with you--in the field, they've got no queen or hive to protect, and they react only if they think they themselves are in danger. You'll find that the bees stay calm, as well.