Urban Beekeeping: A profile on Miguel, an urban beekeeper in Bellingham, Washington. Produced for WWU’s Klipsun Magazine’s fall “Blend” issue.
Look inside a plain wood box, in a truck, in the driveway of Rob and Chelsea McFarland’s house on certain spring nights, and you will see them. Bees.
How did they get there? Turn back the clock two years, to another season, another swarm. This one arrived in the afternoon while Rob was working in the backyard — one bee at first, then thousands, clustered into a ball the size of two footballs. It landed in a tree.
Instead of killing the bees, Rob called a group he’d read about online, which “rescues” them: the Backwards Beekeepers. That evening, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans and no protective suit, a volunteer from the group clipped the branch of bees, dropped it into a cardboard box and sealed it up. Rob, now 33, and wife Chelsea, 31, were astounded. “It revealed to me the gentle nature of bees,” Rob says.
Soon he started going on rescues, too — as many as three a day. He climbed a tangerine tree in the middle of the night and brought down the biggest open-air hive Chelsea had ever seen. With a frenzied smile, Rob gripped the severed branch with massive honeycombs dangling off it — a 60-pound lollipop of bees. Chelsea snapped a picture.
Then the dawning realization: “Where the hell do we put them?” It is a recurring question that will consume their next few days, then months, then years.
The tangerine tree hive sat on their roof for a spell. The McFarlands live in a modest house in the Del Rey neighborhood, a narrow, two-mile strip that cleaves Culver City from Mar Vista. They don’t exactly have a lot of space. And what kind of neighbor welcomes a swarm?
By some miracle, after weeks of shlepping hives across the city — after the crazy logistics of matching up people who had bees but didn’t want them with people who want bees but didn’t have them — Chelsea secured a spot: a small, scrubby hilltop in agrarian Moorpark, overlooking an organic farm owned by a friend of a friend. The McFarlands christened the hilltop the HoneyLove Sanctuary.
Today it hosts 16 hives in colorful wood boxes, each from somewhere around L.A., rescued from water meters and birdhouses and compost bins, places Rob can’t recall anymore.
“Each one of these is a family,” Chelsea says. “We’re usually rushing to beat the exterminator out there.”
For the past two years, the McFarlands’ house has been a halfway home for rescued bees. Rob, a YouTube channel manager, rescues them after work in the evenings, and the bees spend the night in his truck on the driveway until he can shuttle them up to the hilltop in the morning.
You do not choose to become obsessed. As anyone who has ever fallen in love with this insect says, “The bees choose you.”
“We always kind of have bees at our place,” Chelsea admits, with a sheepish grin.
Commercial bees — the ones used to pollinate crops in the agriculture industry — are dying off in record numbers, presenting a serious crisis to global food production. Yet in urban areas, bees thrive. No pesticides or monocrops mean healthy living conditions. As improbable as it sounds, cities like Los Angeles may be the bees’ best hope for survival.
But there’s a catch.
Urban beekeeping is legal in New York, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris, London, Tokyo and Vancouver. In New York and San Francisco, people keep hives on the roofs of luxury hotels and apartment buildings.
In Los Angeles, however, bees exist in a legal gray area. The county allows them. But the city has no laws specifically pertaining to urban beekeeping. Currently, if bees are found on public property, the city’s only option is to exterminate them. As a result, the past few years have seen the emergence of groups like the Backwards Beekeepers, which are devoted to rescuing and keeping these wild swarms of so-called “feral” hives within city limits.
The Backwards Beekeepers represent a whole new kind of thinking about bees. While older, established groups frown on feral hives, the Backwards Beekeepers see them as the way of the future. Where traditional bee clubs use pesticides and antibiotics to help struggling bee populations, the Backwards Beekeepers favor organic, “natural” methods. The city, in a Backwards Beekeeper’s eyes, is a bee’s ideal stomping ground.
Yet as long as the rules about keeping hives on private property are anyone’s guess, beekeepers live in fear. No one has been prosecuted, but that doesn’t seem like security enough. And so Rob and Chelsea McFarland have been working to change the city’s codes one neighborhood group at a time.
When the McFarlands consulted beekeepers in Seattle, they were advised to build support from the ground up. So the McFarlands formed a nonprofit foundation, HoneyLove, and they do endless events and outreach: wax symposiums, honey tastings, mead workshops, pollen parties, art shows, festivals, concerts, garden tours, grocery consortiums, school visits, equipment demonstrations, film screenings, radio shows, television appearances, guest lectures and video blogging. They organized a four-month feasibility study with the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, which includes surveys with residents, testimony from a pediatric pulmonologist on the effects of bee stings and, for a little bedtime reading, 75 scholarly articles on beekeeping.
In the process, their small social circle has become a massive one; the bees opened up a community for them in a way that nothing had before. “You’d be amazed at how many people have a particular interest in bees for one reason or another,” Rob says.
How does someone get into bees? For the McFarlands, the more salient question is, how did they manage so long without bees?
The couple is well versed in the art of taking up causes. Previously they championed orangutans. But orangutans were an abstraction, thousands of miles away in the forests of Borneo. Bees were literally right in their backyard.
Chelsea, a video editor and something of a natural-born cheerleader, wanted to fix their bad rep. “You see a swarm coming, and it’s, like, ‘Killer bees! Run for the hills!’?” she says. “But actually it’s the least aggressive a bee will ever be. Because they have nothing to defend. They’re all homeless. They have no honey. They have no babies.”
Rob, who is quiet and thoughtful, with a mind prone to drawing connections, saw the intrinsic fascination of the insect itself. There were infinite, engrossing facts to learn. Did you know that bees see in ultraviolet light, so flowers look like neon signs to them? Did you know that bees are essentially plants’ way of having sex?
Collecting signatures at the Mar Vista Farmers Market one morning, they meet Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is there picking up greens for his turkeys and chickens and finches and cockatiels… [continue reading article via laweekly.com]
HoneyLove.org is a 501(c)(3) non-profit group based in Los Angeles that supports the educational outreach, community action and advocacy efforts to protect the health and well-being of honey bees. We are looking for volunteers and interns to help out with everything we do: running community workshops, helping with social media, assisting at our bee yard, teaching the public about the importance of bees at special events, helping with our rescue hotline. We’re building a grassroots effort and can’t do it without you. Please email email@example.com 424-625-8bee (8233)
Del Rey Water Meter Rescue (Los Angeles, CA) – 5/30/13
Last night we had the privilege to attend a private screening of “WINGS OF LIFE” and Q&A with film director Louis Schwartzberg.
From Disneynature, the studio that brought you “Earth”, “Oceans”, “African Cats” and “Chimpanzee”, comes “Wings of Life” – a stunning adventure full of intrigue, drama and mesmerizing beauty. Narrated by Meryl Streep, this intimate and unprecedented look at butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats and flowers is a celebration of life, as a third of the world’s food supply depends on these incredible – and increasingly threatened – creatures.
Click the link below and enter to win a pair of tickets to our Yellow Tie Event!!
Written by Jennifer Anderson via portlandtribune.com
You’ve heard of eco-roofs and rooftop gardens, but the latest twist to hit Portland comes with a sweeter payout: rooftop honeybee hives.
New Seasons Market recently installed a honeybee hive atop its store in Happy Valley, a picturesque suburb 15 minutes east of Clackamas that’s a mix of newer homes and farmland.
“They’ll go to all these neighborhoods, start pollinating everyone’s gardens and yards, the fruit trees and farms,” says Portland beekeeper Damian Magista, surveying the skyline from the grocery store’s roof. “It’s a great environment here. There’s plenty of food.”
In other words: Happy bees make lots of honey.
By late August, Magista expects the bees to produce enough honey to start selling it at the Happy Valley store.
But that’s not the primary motivation for New Seasons’ “Bee Part of the Solution” campaign.
The company aims to educate people about the honeybee’s critical link in the ecosystem, and the fact that they are dying out worldwide, due to what’s known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
The number of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A May 2 report by the U.S.D.A. and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points to a variety of stressors, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
Scientists at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab have been focusing on two factors in particular.
They’re studying the impact of a honeybee pest called the invasive varroa mite, as well as poisoning by pesticides applied to crops or to hives to control insects, mites and other pests.
New Seasons sees it as part of its mission to educate people about the phenomenon, because of the direct link to the food chain.
“There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country’s long-term agricultural productivity,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, upon the release of the latest federal report.
New Seasons could install a second rooftop hive at its Sellwood store in Southeast Portland in June after a process required by Multnomah County to notify neighbors.
The initial hope was to install honeybee hives on all 12 of the local grocery chain’s rooftops (a 13th location opens late August in Northeast Portland’s Eliot neighborhood). But Washington County won’t allow it, so the Progress Ridge store in Beaverton may miss out.
The rooftop hive idea was sparked by an incident last summer, when a swarm of bees made its home above the New Seasons sign at its Raleigh Hills store in Southwest Portland. Local TV cameras came and documented the removal of the swarm, which was safely relocated.
A few other grocery store chains have begun rooftop hive projects, including Bi-Rite in San Francisco, which New Seasons used as a model, says Mark Feuerborn, the Happy Valley store manager.
Feuerborn, a home beekeeper who’ll manage his store’s hives, is excited for what’s to come. A “bee cam” will let people peek in on the hives and the honey harvesting. Shoppers can draw a direct link to the products in the store through new displays of honey-based products — everything from lip balm and candles to jars of pure, unprocessed honey made in Portland.
“Two miles away is Saelee Farms,” Feuerborn says. “We can see our bees pollinating their products, ending up on our shelves. This is a way for people to remember that.”
Lots of local buzz
Interest in urban beekeeping has soared in recent years.
“Portlandia” could even write an episode called “Put a bee on it.”
There’s a Portland Metro Beekeepers’ Association, whose members keep bees for hobby and business.
The Portland-based Xerces Society, a nonprofit invertebrate conservation group, launched a “Bring back the pollinators” campaign. That’s attracted more than 1,000 people who signed a pledge to do four things: grow a variety of bee-friendly flowers that bloom from spring through fall; protect and provide bee nests and caterpillar host plants; avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides; and talk to neighbors about the importance of pollinators and their habitat.
There’s also a Portland Urban Beekeepers group, which aims to promote the public’s awareness of “apiculture” and the overall health and diversity of bees in the Pacific Northwest. Club president Tim Wessels says his group started with a dozen or so people meeting informally in 2010. Last spring they’d grown so large that they created officer positions and began meeting monthly. Today there are 115 members who pay the $15 annual dues, plus another 240 members on Facebook.
As president, he’s asked people why they’re drawn to bees, and he more or less gets the same answer: “Well, the bees are hurting, aren’t they? We just want to help out and see if we can bring the population back.”
Others just like honey, and he’s cool with that, too.
Wessels and fellow beekeeper/business partner Glen Andresen are working with a grad student at OSU’s Honey Bee Lab and retired entomologist Dewey Caron on an effort to breed a local queen bee. Most of the purchased queens here come from Southern California or Kona, Hawaii, Wessels says. Unsurprisingly, they’re not able to survive Oregon’s winters.
Wessels believes it’s possible to breed a Portland honeybee with “hygienic behavior,” which is their behavioral mechanism of disease resistance. After the queen lays an egg in a cell, if a worker bee somehow determines mites are in the cell, it would remove the mite. The result is that the mites aren’t able to reproduce.
It might sound like a far-fetched idea, but Wessels and his team have about 100 hives around Portland, and they’re collecting swarms that did survive this past winter.
“If we are successful in developing a more locally adapted honey bee, perhaps others can use this model in other cities,” he says.
Sweet new products
Magista, the beekeeper working with New Seasons, owns a startup company called Bee Local, which harvests and sells micro-batches of artisan honey varieties — with flavors made distinct by the flora and fauna of each neighborhood. He works with backyard beekeepers in the Mt. Tabor, Laurelhurst, Powellhurst and Brooklyn neighborhoods, and the buzz is spreading.
Beekeepers estimate there are about 500 hives being kept by people in Portland, many on rooftops, since bees are attracted to trees at about the 15-to-20-foot height.
One of those rooftops is at Noble Rot restaurant in Portland, and more could soon follow. That’s good news for honey connoisseurs.
“What dictates the taste is the flowers and forage in that particular area,” says Magista, who won a 2013 “Local Food Hero” award in March, presented by Ecotrust.
“It’s more than just the honey, it’s really about getting people to be more in touch with their immediate environment. What can I do at my home, in my yard to make a difference?”
[read original article via portlandtribune.com]
Join us for Yellow Carpet photos, fun drinks, local honey tasting, games, prizes and special musical performance in support of HoneyLove’s mission to protect honeybees and inspire and educate new urban beekeepers!
DATE: June 8th, 7-11pm
LOCATION: Writers Boot Camp @ Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Avenue, Building I, Santa Monica, CA 90404
*HONEYLOVE MEMBERS get 20% OFF
PURCHASE YOUR DISCOUNTED TICKETS HERE!
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Check out the photos below from last year’s Yellow Tie Event!!
Proceeds from the Yellow Tie Event directly support HoneyLove.org - Los Angeles based 501(c)3 non-profit conservation organization with a mission to protect the honeybees and inspire and educate new urban beekeepers.
Bee shortage threatens farmland: Mites, diseases, and pesticides are all suspected of contributing to bee colony collapse disorder. The bees are dying at such a fast rate that farmers who rely on bees for pollination are now reserving them five years in advance. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.
Help us save the honey bees!!
Your contribution directly supports the educational outreach, community action and advocacy efforts to protect the health and well-being of honey bees. HoneyLove is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Your donation is 100% tax-deductible.