By Hillel Aron
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Despite their differences, the L.A. County Beekeepers Association and the Backwards Beekeepers agree on one matter: Both would love to see a beehive on every corner of every street in the city. "We are for urbanized beekeeping," LACBA's Lindsay says. "But we want to make sure it's done with the proper training."
What constitutes proper training, however, is the kicker. Do you chemically treat your bees and otherwise deploy the full range of technology available? Or do you do it "backwards," trust in nature's wisdom and, as Anderson and the McFarlands believe, "let the bees be bees"?
"It's hard to tell a commercial beekeeper not to treat his or her bees," says Keith Roberts, vice president of the Beekeepers Association. Going organic on a couple of hives is one thing. "But if you have 200, all valued at $250 each, you can't afford to replace your bees every year. If your mortgage depends on so many pounds of honey and so much pollination? It's hard to tell somebody to accept a 50 percent loss."
One year after Bill Rosendahl first moved for the L.A. City Planning Commission to change zoning to allow beekeeping in residential areas, the motion is stuck in the Planning and Land Use Management committee. Bees are still a legal gray area.
"I don't care if laws exist or don't exist," Rosendahl says, sitting in his office, feet propped up on the desk. "A bee is a critical element in the survival of the planet, period. Anybody who doesn't support this is crazy."
He calls out to his assistant "Where is my cellphone?" He dials the Council president pro tempore. "Ed Reyes, Bill Rosendahl, brother! You know I did that motion ... it has to do with the beekeeping in single-family residences and I'm trying to make a law out of it. ... I'd like to ask you to get it out of committee and get it before the full council."
Rosendahl, who has cancer, leaves office on June 30. He wants the motion voted on before he goes.
"You know, I have three beehives in my property. One is already in a box creating honey," he tells Reyes. "Great. Great. Thank you, babe. Appreciate it. Bye bye." He is looking forward to a healthy discussion among his colleagues but does not expect anyone to push back on something as important as the survival of humanity. "I would say I will be shocked if we don't have a new law coming out of this."
Rosendahl's successor, his current chief of staff, Mike Bonin, has agreed to take up the cause following his boss's departure.
Late one afternoon, Rob McFarland is poking at the eaves of the house of a guy named Bill, a retiree from IBM. Rob has quit his YouTube job to focus on bees full-time. He now splits his time rescuing ferals and organizing HoneyLove awareness events.
When the bees chose him, they chose wisely.
A swarm has made itself cozy in the attic, and Bill is ready for his 10,000 houseguests to depart. Wobbling atop a ladder, Rob wedges off a board. The bees stream out of the resultant hole in a swirling, humming mass. Rob scoops them up in a plastic cup and pours them into a wood box. Scoop. Pour. Scoop. Pour. It is a surreal pantomime.
Bill asks, "If these were Africanized, how would I be able to tell?"
"The African bee has kind of been maligned," Rob answers, after a small pause. "I sort of hesitate to say this, but virtually all the local bees have hybridized DNA."
The Africanized genetics, he continues, have been very successful. They're more mite-resistant. They're more able to survive in the modern world. The subtle differences in their behavior wouldn't really manifest in a swarm like this.
"Africanized bees can be slightly more defensive. Some people say they dance around more excitedly on the comb. But really you'd have to get measurements of their wings to the micrometer," he says. "We really don't bother with it because our experience is they're just honeybees. And honeybees aren't to be trifled with."
The bees are fanning their wings now at the entrance of the box, letting their sisters know the queen has gone inside. There will be a swarm of bees on Rob's driveway again tonight.
"Well," Bill says, "I don't like killing them."
"I appreciate that," Rob says.
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.