Your Beekeeping Questions Answered

Got a beekeeping conundrum? Wondering about how to get started? Want to keep bees the natural way? There’s an easy answer. Google your question with “Michael Bush.” Michael Bush maintains an encyclopedic website devoted to all-natural treatment-free beekeeping at www.bushfarms.com. And the folks at HoneyLove have shot a series of videos with Bush.

Bush’s advice is well outside mainstream beekeeping. Given the spectacular failures of the big beekeepers in recent years, I think it’s time well past time to look at alternatives.

Bees Like Mochi

This viral video proves two things:

1. Bees like sugar.

2. Foraging bees aren’t likely to sting.

And I love the way this street vendor keeps on working. If this were the US, there’d be a major freak out, the fire and health departments would be called and an exterminator would show up to spray poison. If you keep calm and carry on you get your mochi and the bees get a free lunch.

Thanks to Winnetka Farms for the tip. 

The Sound of a Queen Bee

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Image: Wikipedia.

I have  a friend who wanted bees so when I got a call late in the afternoon on Sunday that there was a swarm in a tree nearby I threw my equipment in the car and headed over.

The swarm was about twelve feet up in a pineapple guava tree. I trimmed a few branches, stuck a nuc box (a kind of temporary hive box made out of cardboard) under the swarm and bumped on the branch.

I knew I had the queen when I noticed a group of workers fanning their wings on the outside of the nuc box. Fanning creates a cloud of scent that lets the other workers know where the hive is located. The other reasons I knew the queen was in the box was more interesting.

When I set the nuc box down on a wooden deck I heard a sound I’ve never heard before: what I think was the sound of a queen bee “piping.” The sound is the queen announcing herself to any potential rivals–sometimes there is more than one queen in a swarm–the other queen, if there is one, will respond in kind and fight it out to the death.

It’s hard to describe how awe inspiring it is to be in the midst of a swarm. To hear the queen made this rescue effort an experience I’ll never forget.

Bees will love your Coyote Brush Hedge

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Image: Wikipedia (our picture of the NHM’s coyote brush hedge came out blurry–which really is a shame because they were good looking hedges. You wouldn’t guess it from this pic).

One of a series of posts inspired by our recent tour of the new gardens at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

Baccharis pilularis, called coyote brush, or chaparral bloom, is an unassuming Western native plant with a secret super-power: native and non-native pollinators love, love, love! its tiny little flowers. If you want to lavish affection and care on the pollinators in your garden, plant one of these babies, if you can. It really is one of the best plants for the purpose. (For more info on coyote brush, here’s a nice post at the Curbstone Valley Farm blog with lots of pictures. And here’s its page at Theodore Payne Foundation.)

What I didn’t realize until our recent garden tour at the Natural History Museum, though, is that coyote brush makes a perfectly lovely hedge if it’s pruned up right. I’d never even thought about it. Most of the talk one hears about coyote brush is that it is sort of ho-hum in appearance but can be used to provide a background to the more showy native plants. I never even thought about how its small, sturdy, bright green, evergreen leaves make it a perfect hedge plant.

So, the lesson here is that you can have a more formal/tidy/traditional garden, and still serve the pollinators– as long as you lay off the clippers for a couple of months in the summer and let the hedge bloom. No excuses now!

For those of you in other parts of the country, can you name a good hedge bush that pollinators like for your area? And be sure to name your area, so folks around you can use the information.

On that theme, here’s a link to beneficial plant lists, organized by region, created by the Xerces Society.

Beekeeping Class at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano

bees poppy

I’ll be teaching a two hour introduction to natural no-treatment beekeeping at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano this Saturday at 1 pm. To sign up buzz over here. Here’s the class description:

Become a backyard beekeeper and enjoy a healthy garden full of pollinators. Understand beekeeping tools, materials, and techniques to get started.

Beekeeping, or apiculture, is said to have begun with the Egyptians who used logs, boxes, and pottery vessels to make hives. Today, with bees dissapearing at rapid and never before seen rate, the practice of caring for bees is needed now more than ever.

Join us for this workshop on all natural, no treatment beekeeping. Learn the basics of beekeeping including makeup of the hive, equipement, types of hives, where to get bees, and reasons for beekeeping.

Learn how you can support bees in return and join us for this special workshop!

The Ecology Center is located at 32701 Alipaz St in San Juan Capistrano. Phone: (949) 443-4223

Print and Internet Resources for Natural, No-Treatment Beekeeping

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Image: Backwards Beekeepers.

Nassim Taleb invented the word “antifragile” to describe systems like beehives that benefit from adversity. Challenge bees with an invasive parasite such as Varoa mites and they’ll eventually figure out a strategy to deal with them. That is, unless we humans decide to prop up weak colonies with misguided interventions. Taleb says,

Crucially, if antifragility is the property of all those natural (and complex) systems that have survived, depriving these systems of volatility, randomness, and stressors will harm them. They will weaken, die, or blow up. We have been fragilizing the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything . . . by suppressing randomness and volatility. Just as spending a month in bed . . .  leads to muscle atrophy, complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors. Much of our modern, structured, world has been harming us with top- down policies and contraptions (dubbed ‘Soviet- Harvard delusions’ in the book) which do precisely this: an insult to the antifragility of systems.

There’s not much information on antifragile beekeeping. To correct that, here’s a buzzing hive of natural no-treatment beekeeping resources for your consideration:

Web Resources

Books

You’ll find a range of ideas in these books and websites particularly when it comes to hive types–everything from Langstroth boxes to top bar hives to hollowed out logs.  What matters more than the type of hive you use is having a long range view and a recognition that too much intervention leads to the sort of antifragility Taleb is concerned about.

Your local club or beekeeping association may or may not be open to natural techniques. It could be difficult, depending on where you live, to find a mentor. That’s why I put this list together.

Let me know if I left out any resources in the comments  . . .

Los Angeles is One Step Closer to Legalizing Bees

Los Angeles bee legalization

Hats off to the folks at HoneyLove for the hard work they are doing to legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles. This Wednesday they got a unanimous vote out of the city council to ask city staff to come up with a way to legalize beekeeping in residential areas as well as ways to encourage humane bee removal. While much hard work is ahead, HoneyLove’s strategy should serve as a model to people everywhere who are taking a look at our overly restrictive municipal codes as they relate to urban agriculture.

Continue reading…

Legalize Beekeeping in LA!

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Action alert: LA City Council will vote on legalizing bees this Wednesday. I got the following note from Francesca De La Rosa–If you’re in LA please consider writing your councilcritter or attending the council meeting.

As you’ve heard, LA City Council is voting on 3 pending bee measures on Wednesday, February 12th (press conference at 9:15 am). These are the three items that will be voted on:

#1: LEGALIZE URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES
http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=12-0785

#2: SAVING AMERICA’S POLLINATORS ACT
http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=13-0002-S134

#3 HUMANE POLICY FOR LIVE BEE REMOVAL
http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=13-1660

We hope to see you at City Hall on Feb. 12. But before that, we still need to build support and secure commitments from the Councilmembers. We urge you to reach out to the City Councilmembers by email, asking them to vote yes on all three motions. 

Please send out a simple email to each of the Councilmembers with the following:

Greetings Councilmember __________,

My name is ____________, and I urge you to support Council Files 12-0785 (Legalize Urban Beekeeping in Los Angeles), 13-0002-S134 (Saving America’s Pollinators Act), and 13-1660 (Humane Policy for Live Bee Removal).

Bees are essential to urban food production, providing local environmental and economic benefits through pollination and honey production. Over the past several years, honeybee colonies throughout the United States have experienced high rates of loss and many are in danger of collapse. Los Angeles, with its diverse pollen sources, is an urban oasis for bees, which are also threatened by heavy pesticide application in rural areas. Legalizing beekeeping in our neighborhoods gives our communities a resource to humanely and non-lethally care for healthy bee colonies.

Emails and phone numbers:

Councilmember Gil Cedillo (CD-1): councilmember.cedillo@lacity.org

Councilmember Paul Krekorian (CD-2): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Bob Blumenfield (CD-3): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Tom LaBonge (CD-4): councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org

Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD-5): [email protected]

Councilmember Nury Martinez (CD-6): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes (CD-7): councilmember.fuentes@lacity.org

Councilmember Bernard Parks (CD-8): councilmember.parks@lacity.org

Councilmember Curren Price (CD-9): councilmember.price@lacity.org

Council President Herb Wesson (CD-10): councilmember.wesson@lacity.org

Councilmember Mike Bonin (CD-11): councilmember.bonin@lacity.org

Councilmember Mitchel Englander (CD-12): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (CD-13): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Jose Huizar (CD-14): councilmember.huizar@lacity.org

Councilmember Joe Buscaino (CD-15): councildistrict15@lacity.org

Feel free to use your personal email address if you cannot send one from your work address.

Ask Lowes and Home Depot to Stop Killing Bees

Vintage Valentines -"Won't-cha BEE my lovin' honey?"

If you haven’t heard, Friends of the Earth is swarming (ahem) Home Depot and Lowes with cards around Valentines Day, asking these retailers to “show the bees some love” and stop selling bee-killing pesticides (neonicotinoids) and garden plants which have been pre-poisoned with such pesticides.

In our opinion, systemic pesticides, like Imidacloprid (which is a neonictinoid) should preferably not be used at all, and certainly should not be sold casually to uninformed consumers in big box stores.  If you want to read more about the relationship between these poisons and bees, check out this Wikipedia article: Imidacloprid Effects on Bees

The Valentine’s Day stunt is just that, a stunt, but a cute one, and a worthwhile one, too. We’re going to send our Valentines off this year, and we hope you’ll join us.

If you give Friends of the Earth your email address, they’ll send you a reminder, a printable valentine, and further instructions about where to mail your cards.  Go here for that.

Oh, and here’s a petition on the subject to the two stores’ CEO’s as well.

The Africanized Bee Myth

Beekeeping is on the way to being legalized in Los Angeles. But there’s one issue that keeps coming up: Africanized bees.

African honeybees (Apis mellifera scutellata) were introduced to the Americas in Brazil in 1957. Over the years, on their journey north, they have hybridized with European honeybees (Apis mellifera). African and hybrid “Africanized” honeybees can’t tolerate cold temperatures so there is a northern boundary to their territory.

Visually, Africanized honeybees are indistinguishable from purebred European varieties. The only way you can tell the difference is through DNA testing. They are just a hybridized subspecies of honeybee.

The hysteria over African honeybees is just that, hysteria. I have helped move many hives here from walls, trees and kitchen vents to people who have wanted to have bees. Most likely, all of the hives I have moved have been Africanized. I have yet to encounter a feral hive that I would consider aggressive. Africanized bees should not be used as an excuse to ban beekeeping in Los Angeles or anywhere else that has Africanized bee populations.

The people fanning the Africanized bee hysteria all have agendas (and, I’ll point out, they have never actually worked with Africanized bees–only killed them). Exterminators want your money. Government bureaucrats need an enemy to justify their jobs and pensions (government vector control “experts” the TSA, NSA and DEA have a lot in common including a bumbling incompetence). Conventional beekeepers are so blinded by honey production and pollination service income that they fail to see the long term evolutionary advantages of African bee genetics, specifically disease resistance. And I can’t help but think there’s a subconscious racism here of the sort that you find at the extreme end of the anti-invasive species movement (see Gert Gröning and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn for more on that subject).

Africanized colonies have been living for years in walls, trees and utility boxes of the warmer parts of North America without any human intervention. They have, through the process of natural selection, survived all the problems that have decimated the hives of commercial beekeepers: varroa mite, American Foul Brood, nosema, etc. and I have no doubt they will figure out how to deal with the small hive beetle. Instead of demonizing Africanized colonies, we should see a possible answer to colony collapse disorder. As permaculturalists like to say, in the problem is a solution.