ARTICLE: Collecting Nature’s Bounty: Honeybees
A triumph of nature and nurture, the queen honeybee is the head and heart of the hive. Plumped on royal jelly (secretion from the glands of worker bees) and pampered by worker bees, the queen is the colony’s big mama, whose sole mission is produce up to 2,000 eggs a day.
??Royal distinction for the queen bee can be traced to ancient times, some say 10,000 years ago, when human beings became beekeepers. In India, Persia, Rome Egypt and Babylonia, bees were considered sacred animals, symbols of life and fertility.
??In the 21st century, bees are no less important: they are responsible for the variety of our food, and ultimately our survival. ‘Four out of 10 bites of food we eat are dependent on the honeybee,’ says Michael Pollan, professor of science and environmental journalism at Berkeley…
When a swarm of honeybees showed up in Rob and Chelsea McFarland’s backyard, they called Backwards Beekeepers, a group of organic, treatment-free beekeepers in Los Angeles who remove and relocate honey bees. ‘It was pure magic for me seeing the swarm and gentle nature of bees,’ said Rob, a featured speaker at the Pali Cares program. The McFarlands are the founders of HoneyLove, a nonprofit organization with two goals: to inspire urban beekeepers and to help legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles.
??Contrary to popular lore, honeybees are too busy to be vicious. In the spring, when the nectar flows, bees are working overtime. ‘There is lots to forage on in our landscape,’ McFarland said. ‘Our cities are a banquet for bees. It is estimated that there are nine to 11 colonies for every mile in L.A.’
…in the last three years, more than one in three honeybee colonies nationwide has died in a phenomenon know as collapse colony disorder. For farmers, this is a not only a great worry but potentially catastrophic. According to the Natural History’s Brown, you need a certain number of colonies to pollinate orchards. Michael Pollan points to the loss of diversity in agriculture as contributing to the bees’ demise.
??’Monoculture wreaks havoc on honeybees’ diets, limiting options once the dominant crop is no longer flowering,’ he says. ‘Bees can’t survive on a continual cornfield; there is nothing to eat.’
??The industry is now transporting hives over long distances in order to pollinate orchards. Working the bees nonstop for up to three months causes tremendous stress on the bees. Pesticides and fertilizers further contribute to their demise.
??This is where backyard beekeepers can help make up a little for the loss and increase awareness of the problem, the McFarlands say.
??’We believe that the city is the last refuge of the honeybee. Our home gardens are free of pesticides, and in city like Los Angeles, there is year-round availability of pollen and nectar.’
??While beekeeping is legal in Los Angeles County and in certain cities, such as Santa Monica and Redondo Beach, ‘the city of L. A. has no official policy; therefore it is illegal,’ Chelsea says.
??Los Angeles currently outlaws beekeeping in residential areas, and the city’s policy is to exterminate all feral honeybees.
??Eight Community Councils within Los Angeles (Mar Vista, Del Rey, Greater Griffith Park, South Robertson, Silver Lake, Hollywood United, Atwater Village, and West L.A.) have already voted in favor of supporting an urban beekeeping program in residentially zoned districts.
??Legalizing beekeeping in Los Angeles would enable better bee management, control and public safety as compared to only having wild hives, which is the current situation, reasons Danny Jensen of Backwards Beekeepers. ‘More beekeepers actually mean fewer swarms, fewer feral bee colonies taking up residence where they aren’t wanted and fewer grumpy bees.’
??For more information on urban beekeeping and upcoming events, visit honeylove.org