Bee Rescue Hotline


Backwards Beekeeper Kirk Anderson with the hot tub bees, via the Backwards Beekeeper blog.

First off: bee swarm seasons is approaching and, if you’re in the Southern California area and end up with a bunch of bees you don’t want, give the Backwards Beekeepers a call. The number is (213) 373-1104. I’ve put it on the right side of the page. When you call state:

How to reach you. Please give us a phone number that you will answer during the day. Bee rescue is a daytime activity
Your city Please be as descriptive as possible about where you are.
A description of the bees: Are they in a tree? How high? Do you know how long they’ve been there?

And if you’re not in SoCal, consider giving a beekeeper a call rather than an exterminator.

I’ve been really enjoying the Backwards Beekeepers website, especially the way bees reinterpret our built landscape by taking up residence in the strangest places. The latest beehive location is oh-so-California: a hot tub (pictured above). One of my other favorites–the bike seat bees:

Here’s a few other spots I’ve heard about from the BBers:

doll house

suitcase
electrical box
mailbox
tree
shop vac
attic
wall
file cabinet
meter box
bucket
pot
cardboard box
compost bin
garbage can
fence
and the East Hollywood garage wall bees I helped with

The bee’s creativity in finding new homes reminds me of the way skateboarders reinterpret dull city spaces as impromptu skateboard parks. Apparently architect Zaha Hadid tried to incorporate skateboardable features in her Phaeno Science Center until the lawyers stopped her. Too bad. When will we get around to deliberately creating bee spaces in our buildings? Well, maybe not the hot tub . . . ouch! But that’s what the bee rescue hotline is for!

Cutting a Beehive Out of a Wall

Bees in a wall!

Last week, along with two other “backwards beekeepers” Russ and Sue, we relocated a hive of bees that had taken up residence in a garage wall in East Hollywood. It was a “cut-out” in beekeeping parlance. The property owners did not want to exterminate the hive and we were able to give them a new home in Sue’s idyllic garden. Backwards Beekeeping guru Kirk Anderson sent us some tips via email. It’s Kirk’s view that feral bees have more robust immune systems than the pedigreed bees that most beekeepers order through the mail. So with good intentions we got about to, as Kirk puts it, “save the world.” Here’s how we did it:

Kirk told us to smoke the hive when we got there and smoke again when needed. Smoke makes the bees think their house is on fire and they rush to stock up on honey. Preoccupied with their sweet food stockpile they ignore the homo sapiens tearing their house apart. Russ got one sting, but the hive was pretty calm under the circumstances.

Next, we got all our tools ready and suited up in our white bee suits. A cut-out is a delicate combination of building demolition and surgery on a living entity. Like surgery, once you start you can’t stop. With a long butcher knife and some crowbars we peeled back the paneling to reveal . . . more paneling underneath! Thankfully it was ancient fiberboard that disintegrated as we tugged on it. The comb was not attached to the panelling and we were able to easily access the hive. Kirk had warned us to have the butcher knife ready in case we had to separate comb from the wall as we peeled it back. With the wall off we could see a mass of several thousand bees who had neatly built comb between two studs.

Russ and Sue then began to carefully cut out the comb from the wall cavity with the butcher knife and put it into wooden frames, using string to tie it in place (see Kirk doing this at the end of this Backwards Beekeeping TV episode). We focused on saving the comb with brood (bee larvae). These frames were then placed into a “nuc” box, a cardboard box that holds five frames in which we could transport the bees to their new home. We also had two garbage bags: one for empty comb and the other for honey comb to feed back to the bees once they got to Sue’s garden. The next time I do this I’m going to get some buckets for this purpose as the trash bags tend get stuck together with honey. Another lesson I learned is to bring a tarp. Taking a hive out of a wall leaves a huge mess of spilled honey, construction debris and dead bees.

Once we had the brood comb in the nuc box we noticed worker bees returning from field massing where their hive used to be. We put the nuc box with the frames of brood in it next to the wall and took a break. Russ gave Kirk a call and he suggested we spray the mass of workers with sugar water and use our bee brush to push them into a dust pan. The sugar water occupies the bees with cleaning themselves and makes them easier to move. Once in the dust pan they are easy to dump into the nuc box where, we hoped, the queen had taken up residence.

After scooping up as many workers as we could we taped up the nuc box and got ready to put it in the back of Sue’s hatchback. Recalling the story of a friend of a friend who had a nuc box full of bees overturn while driving a sedan, Sue and I decided to drive the short distance home wearing our bee suits (a truck would be handy here!). Even on the streets of freaky East Hollywood, the sight of two bee suit clad folks in a car attracted curious stares and laughter. During the short drive I noticed, through the screen of my veil, public access TV star Francine Dancer, in her wheelchair, going through a box of junk on Virgil. It’s moments like these that reveal Los Angeles as far more like the magical realism of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel than the celebrity spectacle the media disseminates.

Russ, Sue and property owner Jen

When we got back to Sue’s garden we put the frames into a hive box and dumped the loose bees in. While we won’t know for a while if the hive will take to its new home, we all felt a great sense of accomplishment. Hopefully, other urbanites around the world will take up beekeeping and put more exterminators out of work.

For more info on Kirk Anderson’s natural beekeeping methods see www.beehuman.blogspot.com.

Got a beehive that needs to be removed from your LA area residence? Get in touch with Kirk at kirksurbanbees.com.

California Agriculture Journal Online

The University of California has put 63 years worth of its journal California Agriculture online for convenient downloading at californiaagriculture.ucanr.org. There’s plenty of detailed (peer reviewed!) nuggets for the home gardener between the pages of this scientific journal. Make sure to check out the article and video of UC Berkeley entomologist Gordon Frankie explaining what kinds of plants are best for attracting bees in your urban garden.

Thanks to Los Angeles County Master Gardener Coordinator Yvonne Savio for the tip.

Chicago’s Urban Bees


Founded in 2004, the Chicago Honey Co-op tends over a hundred hives on a former Sears and Roebucks site. The Co-op provides job training to under-employed folks and sells a variety of products. I didn’t get a chance to visit it on my trip to Chicago, but hope to the next time I’m there.

In other Chicago bee news, the Green Roof Growers just got a hive. Urban rooftops and abandoned industrial sites make a lot of sense for beekeeping, as many agricultural areas are contaminated with pesticides. Keeping bees in cities might be an important strategy towards bringing back healthy hives. So best of luck to the GRGers and their new hive! And make sure to sign up for their May 30th self irrigating planter workshop.

Tell the Bees

Anderson removing a hive from a fence. Photo from the Backwards Beekeepers.

Urban beekeeper Kirk Anderson has a vision: bees, kept without the use of chemicals, in backyards all over Los Angeles. Homegrown Evolution was lucky to be able to attend a beekeeping class taught by the very knowledgeable and entertaining Anderson, who has a theory:

“There has been a lot of news stories about the bees dying. They became infested with a parasitic mite in the 80′s. Many Bees died. The solution for these mites has been various chemicals and medicines. These chemicals and medicines have produced a resistant mite and a weak bee and also contaminated the bees wax and the hives.

After getting into beekeeping again I read that all the Feral or wild bees were dead or dying off because of the mite. While living in Los Angeles and being a house painter I noticed this was untrue. The wild bees in Los Angeles are flourishing. I have not purchased bees for four years now but catch wild bees here in Los Angeles. This makes a good supply of healthy bees that have not been treated with chemicals. Healthy bees. I realized that the mites are in the environment now they aren’t going away. You need bees that can live with mites — survive with the mites.”

For more information on keeping bees in Los Angeles, see Anderson’s website, kirksurbanbees.com. Anderson will also capture swarms and give them a new home.

To attend a meeting/class see the blog of the Backwards Beekeepers, (backwards in the sense of going back to a chemical free style of beekeeping). Even if you aren’t in Los Angeles, the Backwards Beekeepers site has a lot of nice tips and information. And what an amazing group people! In the midst of our challenging economic times, it’s groups like this, forming around a sense of group cooperation and problems solving that are going to really shift the paradigm in the coming years. Let’s hope that Backwards Beekeeping groups will form all over the world.

Helping the Bees with Science in your Backyard

San Francisco State University associate professor Gretchen LeBuhn is currently coordinating the innovative Great Sunflower Project, enlisting gardeners around the country to plant sunflowers and count the number of bees that visit them in a set period of time. We participated this summer, planting the sunflower seeds provided by the project. It’s too late to start this year, but you can sign up for next year’s project here. When we last did an observation, we counted five bees within ten minutes visiting the flower we chose to watch. See the video above for an instant replay.

This project is very important, and participation and support of it is a way we can all help out with what appears to be an alarming decrease in bees due to colony collapse disorder. In a fascinating and well written new book, A Spring Without Bees, author Michael Schacker explains the details of colony collapse disorder and the media’s poor job of covering it (hint: it ain’t cellphones, moving bees around or a bee rapture). Schacker blames the bee decline on two pesticides: GAUCHO, manufactured by Bayer Crop Science and Fipronil, manufactured by BASF. You can read more about Schacker’s efforts on Plan Bee.

The Great Sunflower Project

Help determine the health of urban bees with a citizen science experiment called the Great Sunflower Project. It’s simple and free. Just register at the Great Sunflower Project website and you’ll be sent a package of wild annual sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus). Twice a month you’ll get an email to remind you to time how long it takes for five bees to visit your sunflowers.

Sounds like it has drinking game potential, though that might lead to inaccurate results . . .

The Brooklyn Bee


“if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live”
-Albert Einstein

Homegrown Revolution spoke to urban beekeeper John Howe today who keeps a couple of hives high atop the roof of his home in Brooklyn New York. He got the idea to take up urban beekeeping when one day a bee landed on his plate while he was eating at an outdoor restaurant and now his hives produce around 150 pounds of honey a year which he sells at a couple of locations in Brooklyn. He’s self taught and figured out beekeeping more or less on his own thanks to the internet, books, a little help from a beekeeping club in Long Island, and advice from a beekeeping supplier.

Howe said that the key to urban beekeeping is maintaining good relations with the neighbors since bees have a tendency to swarm on occasion and people are always shocked to see a basketball sized cluster of bees hanging out on a local light post. He deals with these sticky situations through careful neighborhood diplomacy and, of course, free honey.

Howe argues that his honey is more organic than commercial honey since his bees pollinate plants in an urban location that does not have the sort of intense insecticide application seen in agricultural areas. Since he’s the only beekeeper in the neighborhood he knows that when he sees a bee in the two nearby parks they probably belong to him. Howe’s suspects that in addition to pollinating the local plants and trees his bees also collect pollen from cut flowers at outdoor florist stands.

Homegrown Revolution wishes that we could end this story musing about a bright future for urban beekeeping, a future in which each neighborhood has a beekeeper to pollinate the many fruit trees that should grow on our city’s streets, but sadly bee news these days is on the depressing side. If the Albert Einstein quote is correct we’re in trouble since bees have been disappearing in the past year due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which the hive flies off and simply does not return. The cause of this mysterious problem is not yet known, but many beekeepers including Howe suspect that pesticides may be the culprit. Upwards of 30 to 60% of hives in 24 states have vanished in what could prove to be a huge economic and ecological disaster since many crops including almonds and avocados depend on bees for pollination. Howe himself has lost one hive. Read more about this depressing story on the BBC and it that ain’t enough doom and gloom, there’s the tale of an insecticide called fipronil, sold in the US under the brand names MaxForce and Combat, which is suspected in the deaths of billions of bees in France.

Speaking of the symbolism of the beehive Robert Macoy said, “It [the beehive] teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.” Pesticides are the crutch of the lazy, and it’s time for us all to figure out better, more enlightened forms of agriculture in order to save the industrious and essential bee. And it’s time for more urban beekeepers like John Howe. Pay a visit to his website and blog and buy a jar of his honey if you find yourself in Brooklyn.