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Tag Archives | urban beekeeping

Breeding, buying and Varroa: a few thoughts

By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

I have had a lot of cognitive dissonance lately from the talk among beeks about breeding, treating, buying queens, etc. Maybe you’ve run into some of the same. If so, here’s a small bit of information that cements my certainty that when we select for certain traits we inadvertently de-select for things that serve the organism and discard important traits we definitely don’t want to lose.    

Our feral bees have strong characteristics of hygiene, pest and disease resistance. They tend to propagate a small worker bee (4.7 to 4.9 mm brood cell diameter) which allows the young bee to beat the emergence of parasitic varroa by emerging before the mite completes its development by at least one day. This natural characteristic of Africanized honey bees is being sought by bee breeders of European honey bees through genetic selection in laboratories with artificial insemination of queens and with strict control of drone mating areas. I have found that the behavior of our bees in pre-selecting young brood—before they emerge—by uncapping at the purple-eye development stage—is clearly apparent in my hive inspections.   


I was asking Michael Bush (author of the “Practical Beekeeper—Beekeeping Naturally”) some questions recently about these processes and the attempts to circumvent natural selection by purchasing queens from breeders for the trait of varroa resistance or VSH (varroa sensitive hygiene). He sent a very interesting answer, including a quote from eminent beek, Kirk Webster.

One thing to know—Michael kept a large, 4 frame, glassed observation hive for several years in his living room with a tube to allow the bees to come and go. This device was very instructive for understanding what bees actually do, minute to minute over a long period of time.

To Michael from Susan:
I have a question about the uncapping of brood at the purple eye stage. [During pupae development,coloration begins with the eyes: first pink, then purple, then black.]   I have always taught (and believed) that this signals a problem with the larvae and the bees plan to drag that pupa out and discard it.     Is that correct? 

Michael’s answer:
It is a sign of hygienic behavior if they uncap the brood.  Dee [Lusby] says they remove the mite and leave the larva.  I was not trying to answer that question when I was observing uncapping in my observation hive, so I never noticed.  Sometimes they removed them.  But recapping them would not be inconsistent with my observation though I never tried to track that.

I think VSH is going to turn out to be a very bad idea to breed for. There are already reports (lots of them) from people who say their VSH bees cleaned up the entire brood nest and threw the brood out of the hive.  I think they are breeding OCD bees.

I think any breeding for one trait has always failed spectacularly in any species we humans have attempted it.  We should look at the big picture.



“We’re making the same mistake with our honey-bees.  We’re trying to ensure the failure of modern bee-keeping by focusing too much on single traits; by ignoring the elements of Wildness; and by constantly treating the bees.  The biggest mistake of all is to continue viewing mites and other “pests” as enemies that must be destroyed, instead of allies and teachers that are trying to show us a path to a better future.  The more virulent a parasite is, the more powerful a tool it can be for improving stocks and practice in the future.  All the boring and soul-destroying work of counting mites on sticky boards, killing brood with liquid nitrogen, watching bees groom each other, and measuring brood hormone levels—all done in thousands of replications—will someday be seen as a colossal waste of time when we finally learn to let the Varroa mites do these things for us.  My own methods of propagating, selecting and breeding bees, worked out through many years of trial and error, are really just an attempt to establish and utilize Horizontal breeding with honeybees—to create a productive system that preserves
and enhances the elements of Wildness.  My results are not perfect, but they have enabled me to continue making a living from bees without much stress, and have a positive outlook for the future.  I have no doubt that many other beekeepers could easily achieve these same results, and then surpass them.”

–Kirk Webster, many decades beekeeper in Vermont, treatment free, survivor stock “What’s Missing From The Current Discussion And Work Related To Bees That’s Preventing Us From Making
Good Progress?”

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

LA Times: “L.A. City Hall buzz: Backyard beekeeping should be legalized”



Los Angeles lawmakers voted Wednesday in favor of making backyard beekeeping legal in the city, part of a growing urban reaction to the dwindling honeybee population.

Beekeeping isn’t allowed in residential zones under existing city codes, according to planning officials. But the practice has grown among Angelenos concerned about the survival of honeybees. Scientists warn that shrinking populations of the pollinators — linked to pesticides, climate change and disease — could threaten apples, almonds and a host of other important crops.

“We want to enable this increasingly popular activity even while we preserve the rights of the city to address any complaints about poorly maintained hives,” Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday.

The L.A. City Council voted to direct city lawyers to finalize the wording of a new ordinance and bring it back for their approval.

Los Angeles is following in the footsteps of nearby Santa Monica, which legalized backyard beekeeping four years ago, as well as the cities of San Diego, Seattle and New York City…

“If a beehive is properly managed by the owner of the bees, there’s very little risk to anybody,” Mar Vista resident William Scheding said last week.

The proposed regulations would require Angelenos who keep bees at home to register with the county and place their hives a minimum distance from the edges of their property and nearby streets. The new rules would not affect commercial beekeeping, which is already allowed in agricultural and some industrial areas.

Only one hive would be allowed for every 2,500 square feet of a keeper’s property, which would enable two hives on the typical Los Angeles residential lot, according to the planning department.

Beekeepers would also have to install their hives high above the ground or erect a tall wall, hedge or fence to help usher bees at least six feet above the ground when they leave the area, “to minimize interactions between bees and individuals in the vicinity,” according to draft rules. And they would be required to provide a source of water for their bees, to discourage them from seeking out nearby swimming pools.

Establishing hives would not require permits, but the city could order beekeepers to remove their hives if violations of the regulations are found.

[click here to read the full article]


89.3 KPCC:LA homeowners may soon have the right to own bees

CBS Los Angeles:LA City Council Approves Draft Proposal To Allow Hobbyist Beekeepers To Maintain Hives

Los Angeles Daily News:Backyard hives close to legal in Los Angeles despite ‘killer bee’ fears

Christian Science Monitor: “Los Angeles buzzing over backyard beehives

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, Yay Bees

One step closer to legal beekeeping in LA


Backyard Beekeeping Ordinance:
PLUM Committee Moves Ordinance Forward To City Attorney

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) of the City Council approved the proposed Backyard Beekeeping Ordinance provisions at their regular meeting on August 25, 2015, and transmitted the Draft Ordinance to the City Attorney’s Office with no amendments. The City Attorney’s Office will now look over the Ordinance as to form and legality, and then transmit it back to the PLUM Committee.

Audio of the PLUM meeting on August 24, 2015 is available online (at 2 hours 20 minutes):

What’s Next:
City Attorney’s Office transmits the final ordinance to PLUM, who will then forward it to the full City Council. While the timeline for these steps is uncertain, the PLUM Committee stated their eagerness to see the Backyard Beekeeping Ordinance move through the process as quickly as possible, which was noted by the City Attorney.

Related articles:

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

Queens and Inspections

by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

One of the most important regular events in the life of a beekeeper is the inspection of the hive to verify that the queen is laying and the workers are vigorous. It’s late July, so the queen is laying less and the bees are not as focused on brood rearing as they were earlier in the year, but we still must inspect the brood nest every 3-4 weeks to verify that the queen is doing her job. 

I often hear newbees say that they “know” they have a laying queen because they see the bees bringing in pollen. This is not a reliable sign; even a queenless hive will show the pollen gatherers robotically still bringing in pollen because that’s their job!

The only way to know the status of your Queen Mother is to actually see eggs and open brood. You do not need to see HER, only the evidence of her work. Proper smoking technique is essential for calming and observing the bees, so if you do not know what that is please read up on the HoneyLove website.

If your hive stack is several boxes high, it is best to go to the bottom level first by setting aside the other boxes so not all the bees are driven to the bottom box (crowding them) by the smoking and inspection process. Foragers returning will also add to the number in the entry box, so place the boxes in a stack in reverse order to be able to look into the bottom level first.

Alternately, If your hive is grumpy, place a towel or piece of plywood over each box as you remove it so the individual bee boxes are isolated from each other and contained. Check the frames in the first hive body for eggs and open brood. Eggs are very small and it is essential that you be able to identify them. Use a strong set of glasses or a magnifier if you need to.

Older hives—two years or more—will often abandon the lowest level the first winter and most brood rearing will occur in the next level up while excess bee bread and honey will be stored in the bottom box. There is no satisfactory answer from experts as to why this happens but it is common.

Sometimes a colony loses their queen and a worker (or a number of workers) begin laying drone eggs as compensation. There can be entire frames of capped and open drone brood. This is called having a “laying worker hive” and obviously leads to a dead end. Sometimes the bees do not have the resources of eggs less that four days old to make a replacement queen, so in their desperation they will draw queen cells that contain only drone eggs laid by the workers.

This is a very confusing sign if the beekeeper has not been attentive and missed the change in population dynamics by way of regular inspections. It is imperative that the beekeeper act on the situation, though, as the colony is fated to die out.

Know what a good brood frame looks like by practicing attentive observation on a queen right hive. A laying worker hive can be remedied by newspapering in a swarm, putting the queen right colony under the queen-less colony with a double screen board and leaving the stack for two weeks, then combining them. There are a number of additional fix-its; Michael Bush’s site has an exhaustive list of the many remedies at

In closing, frequent inspections year-round is the key along with on-going education.

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

READ: Why urban dwellers should be raising bees on their rooftops

Noah Wilson-Rich studies bees and the diseases that are depleting their colonies. He founded the Best Bees Company, a Boston based beekeeping service and research organization, has given a TED talk, and is now the author of The Bee: A Natural History, recently published by Princeton University Press. Today he shares with us the vital importance of urban beekeeping.

By Noah Wilson-Rich via

Nearly a decade after the start of Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.), a bizarre phenomenon whereby honey bees simply vanished from their hives across the United States during 2006-2011, bees are still dying at unsustainable rates today. Across the country, about one in every three hives does not survive the winter. Germany shares this alarming statistic across their apiaries. Bee deaths seem higher in areas with harsh winters and in areas with monoculture agriculture use – but lower death rates in cities. In Boston, urban bees not only survive the winter at higher rates, but they also produce more honey than beehives in surrounding suburban and rural environments.

Bees are vitally important creatures. We tend to give honey bees (Apis mellifera) all the credit for pollination because most people are familiar with the old man beekeeper working his white painted beehives image. Yet, honey bees are only one species of bee from about 20,000 total species worldwide. Their contributions span far past pollinating around 100 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely upon, and an estimated $100 billion to the global economy each year. Of the $15 billion that bees contribute to the United States economy annually, the alfalfa bee alone contributes an estimated $7 billion. The alfalfa bee! (Cattle rely on alfalfa for feed.) If the future of humanity is to involve nutritious food, then we must consider bees.

Regardless of what caused or ended C.C.D., or why bees are thriving in cities, the discovery of urban beekeeping as a safe haven for bees gives us hope. The post-C.C.D. world still has myriad dangers for bees; they are still dying. The three leading hypotheses for what’s killing bees: 1) Diseases, 2) Chemicals (e.g., fungicides, pesticides, etc.), and 3) Habitat loss. The Typhoid Mary event for bees that opened the flood gates to a series of additive plagues was in 1987, when Varroa mites first came to the United States. In 1998, small hive beetles were added. In 2004, imported Australian honey bees brought with them Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In 2006, C.C.D. began. In 2013, the fungus Nosema ceranae became omnipresent in all 200 hives that my laboratory sampled. And we haven’t even started on the pesticides, fungicides, and habitat loss yet.

Spring brings to light the brighter side of things. My beekeeping team was back out this year, tirelessly checking hives, maneuvering rooftop equipment on skyscrapers, trekking through waist-high snow drifts, looking for signs of life. One team returned to our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory and Bee Sanctuary in Boston’s South End, reporting that 100% of the day’s hives visited were alive. I assume they stayed around Boston or Cambridge that day, and my suspicion was right. The next day, another team of beekeepers returned from the field, their faces long trodden and forlorn, with only 1 out of 15 hives visited that day having survived the winter. I assumed they visited countryside beehives; I was right.

Policy makers are increasing their legislative actions to be more permissive for urban beehives, with beekeeping allowed in Seattle in 2008, New York City in 2010, Boston in 2014. San Francisco totally allows beekeeping unrestricted, while Denver limits to 2 hives in the rear 1/3 of a zone lot. Los Angeles is slated to be the next major metro area to allow beekeeping in residential areas. Even Washington, DC now has its first beehives at the White House grounds, in step with President Obama’s 2014 memorandum, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”

Urban beekeeping took flight in New York City in March of 2010. It was made illegal by the Giuliani administration in the 1990’s, along with a list of dozens of prohibited animals. In the years since its legalization, the island of Manhattan became a pollinator haven. After my recent talk at the March 30, 2015 meeting of the New York City Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers asked if there were too many beehives in the city. Beekeepers in London talk about this, as well. Is there a saturation point, with too many beehives in the City? That’s how common beekeeping is in New York and London. (One way to measure this is based on the Great Sunflower Project, whereby everyday citizens record the number of bees visiting a flower for 10 minutes each day, as a means of gathering data to measure pollinator abundance; this hasn’t yet been done for cities.)

Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States with illegal beekeeping. The pesticide policy came into effect long ago, way before “killer bees” gave the non-aggressive bees a bad rap. Rather, policy makers received bad info, that bees attack fruit – and decided that the best way to preserve our crops was to ban the bees. We now understand pollination. We know that more bees actually lead to more fruits and vegetables. Yet the law of the land remains, and Angelinos must kill beehives upon site. The future for beekeepers in Los Angeles may be bright, however, with City Councilor Katie Peterson and other policy makers working to legalize beekeeping as soon as within the next few months.

Access to urban beekeeping is a social justice issue. It gives everyone access to local, healthy food. What’s more is that is allows for a new avenue of corporate sustainability, with businesses opting to put beehives on their rooftops as a display of their commitment to the environment. For example, simply reusing a towel or having an herb garden on the rooftop is not necessarily enough these days for a hotel to rise to the top of the sustainability ranks. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step for sustainability branding.

Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. We should change laws to allow more of it to happen and also educate the public so they can also raise bees on their rooftops to allow for a more sustainable future for both humans and bees, alike.

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based company. His latest book is THE BEE: A Natural History.

Read the introduction here, and take a peek inside here:

Read full story · Posted in News

WATCH: The Death Of Bees Explained

In 2015 the bees are still dying in masses. Which at first seems not very important until you realize that one third of all food humans consume would disappear with them. Millions could starve. The foes bees face are truly horrifying – some are a direct consequence of human greed. We need to help our small buzzing friends or we will face extremely unpleasant consequences.

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

READ: Swarm-less Spring and Summer?

By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki


It is the natural reproductive urge of honey bees to build up numbers in the Spring in order to swarm and establish new colonies. This activity has other benefits for bees besides the increasing of numbers—it helps bees cleanse their colonies of carpetbagging diseases and pests by initiating a break in the brood rearing cycle. Many pathogens depend on a continuous occupancy of the brood nest and young bees, so when the swarm leaves the hive and takes up to two weeks to find a suitable cavity, draw comb, and the queen commences egg laying, the pathogens drop away.

But, as some of you may have noticed, there seems to have been a dearth of swarms this year. Many  hopeful newbees have put out swarm boxes, watching carefully for a swarm to move in, but it has sat empty. My normal connections with a bee swarm removal service that delivers the boxed swarms after a client call, have been dismal. Both Wendy and Sam, the contacts I work with to re-home these boxed swarms, have had no calls in weeks from the public in the South Bay. My own network with the city of Manhattan Beach and the listing with the Agriculture Department have yielded very few calls. Most of the swarms I am getting I am hiving myself rather than listing them for adoption.I have asked other beeks about their impression of swarming this year. Rob Stone with Orange County Beekeepers Club says not much swarming activity is being seen down South. Scott Davis in Palos Verdes has had half the number of swarm calls he would expect and thinks the issue is the prolonged drought.

So for the time being, the ongoing drought is affecting the forage sources of the bees such that fewer have the numbers to swarm successfully, are making less honey, and finding less pollen for raising brood.

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

READ: Pooh and Piglet save the bees

By Sarah Knapton via

Beekeepers have joined forces with Winnie-the-Pooh to encourage children to bake with local honey, visit nearby apiaries and throw seed-bombs

Winnie-the Pooh might be a ‘bear of very little brain’ but even he has become troubled to learn that his beloved treat of honey is under threat by the continuing decline of Britain’s bees.

New figures from the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) showed the colonies declined by 14.5 per cent last winter, 50 per cent more than the previous year, despite efforts to tackle to the problem by banning pesticides.

Now the BBKA has teamed up with Pooh illustrator Mark Burgess, who coloured E H Shepherd’s original black-and-white drawings, to produce a brand new story – Winnie-the-Pooh and the Missing Bees – as well as a guide to saving the honeybees.

In the new story, Pooh and Piglet decide to visit the honeybees after noticing a honey shortage in The Hundred Acre Wood.

Speaking to Piglet, Pooh says: “I have been very careful with it, Piglet, as there hasn’t been much honey lately. But you can only be careful for so long before you run out altogether.”

Beekeepers are also h oping to engage children by encouraging them to bake with local honey, become beekeepers, visit nearby apiaries and throw seed-bombs to help the spread of wildflowers.

New illustrations show AA Milne’s characters Christopher Robin, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and Pooh making a vegetable patch in the Yorkshire Dales, building a bee box in the shadow of the Angel of the North in Gateshead, and planting a flowering tree in the shadow of Warwick Castle.

Planting a bee-friendly tree beneath Warwick Castle

The friends are also pictured dropping bee-balls in Birmingham, painting in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire and visiting a honey show in Glastonbury.

Nicole Pearson, Associate Publisher from Egmont Publishing which publishes the Pooh books said: “Winnie-the-Pooh is famed for his love of honey, so who better to encourage families to get out and about and take part in fun activities that can help support our honey bees.

“We’re very excited to be working with the BBKA to support such a worthwhile cause.”

• Bees ‘may be developing form of animal Alzheimer’s’

• Bees contribute more to British economy than Royal Family

• Bee colonies collapse ‘as stressed young workers grow up too fast’

A survey by the BBKA found that 58 per cent of people wanted to help stop the decline of bees but do not know how to go about it.

“While many people are aware of the plight of the honey bee, there are many that don’t know what they can do to help,” said David Aston, President of the British Beekeepers Association.

“We hope that by supporting our ‘Friends of the Honey Bee’ initiative with the brand new guide inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh, families across the country can get involved, making a practical contribution and supporting bee health research.”

Planting a bee friendly vegetable patch in the Yorkshire Dales

The BBKA annual study surveyed 900 British beekeepers selected at random, to establish the impact that last winter has had on honey bee colonies

Some regions have been more greatly affected by bee decline than others. The west has seen drops of 18 per cent, the North East 15.5 per cent and the East of England 14.7 per cent,

While the exact cause is unknown, scientists have speculated that pesticides, pathogens, mites, poor weather and changing beekeeping practices have all contributed to the decline.

Last month scientists in California suggested that a tiny parasite could be behind the rapid colony collapse while researchers at Keele and Sussex Universities claimed aluminium poisoning could be leaving bees with a kind of animal Alzheimer’s disease.

A survey of school children carried out by the BBKA found that most youngsters are aware of the threat to the environment from the decline of bees but do not know what steps to help. environment. However less than a quarter (22 per cent) of children are aware of any steps they could take in order to help.

The ‘bee-friendly’ guide can be found at


Pooh’s guide to saving the bees

  1. Plant your own window box
  2. Create your own vegetable patch or tub together
  3. Plant a flowering tree in your garden
  4. Make some ‘seed balls’ and throw them into the wild
  5. Use arts and crafts to educate the younger generation on the importance of bees
  6. Learn to become a beekeeper yourself by attending a course through the British Beekeepers Association
  7. Bake together at home using local honey
  8. Build bee habitats
  9. Volunteer for your local beekeeper association or visit your local apiary
  10. Don’t panic if you see a swarm of honey bees, stay away and contact your local swarm collector
Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

READ: Oslo protects endangered bees

By Agence France-Presse via

Norway’s capital is creating a route filled with flowers and ‘green roofs’ to protect endangered pollinators essential to food production

From flower-emblazoned cemeteries to rooftop gardens and balconies, Norway’s capital Oslo is creating a “bee highway” to protect endangered pollinators essential to food production.

“We are constantly reshaping our environment to meet our needs, forgetting that other species also live in it,” Agnes Lyche Melvaer, head of the Bybi, an environmental group supporting urban bees, which is leading the project.

“To correct that we need to return places to them to live and feed,” she explained, sitting on a bench in a lush city centre square bursting with early Nordic summer growth.

With its sunflowers, marigolds and other nectar-bearing flowers planted by bee-loving locals and school children, Abel’s Garden was until recently covered only in grass but is now a floral “feeding station” for bees.

Oslo’s “bee highway” aims to give the insects a safe passage through the city, lined with relays providing food and shelter – the first such system in the world, according to the organisers.

Participants in the project – state bodies, companies, associations and private individuals – are invited to post their contribution on a website (, which maps out the bees’ route across the city.

On the 12th floor of an ultra-modern office block in the capital’s chic business district on the edge of Oslo fjord, a major accountancy firm has covered parts of its terrace in brightly-flowering Sedum plants and two bee hives.

It houses some 45,000 worker bees, busily unaware of their smart-suited office counterparts enjoying their lunch just metres away.

“One should see it as a sign that companies are also taking responsibility for preserving biodiversity,” said accountant and bee-keeping enthusiast Marie Skjelbred…

“Agriculture is completely dependent on pollinators to maintain food production just as insects are dependent on diverse agriculture to survive. It’s a mutual dependence,” he added.

The mass destruction of bee populations around the world has already forced farmers in the Chinese province of Sichuan to pollinate plants by hand, and in the US some farmers are left with no choice but to rent hives transported cross-country by truck to pollinate crops.

But in Abel’s Garden in Oslo, Agnes Lyche Melvaer says she has faith in the “butterfly effect”.

“If we manage to solve a global problem locally it’s conceivable that this local solution will work elsewhere too.”

[read full article via]

Read full story · Posted in News

READ: Beekeeping on it’s way to being legal in Long Beach!

SO MOVED: Birds And Bees Among Urban Agriculture Issues Taken Up By City Council

A second attempt to allow more urban agriculture in Long Beach passed its first test Tuesday night when the City Council approved a request to the city attorney to create an ordinance amending the current law.

In March 2013, a draft was brought to the council to change rules for keeping chickens, goats and bees in residential areas. More work was done before a vote in July 2013, but the changes failed on a 4-3 vote, with two council members absent. The issue resurfaced, and four council members — Lena Gonzalez (First), Suja Lowenthal (Second), Daryl Supernaw (Fourth) and Dee Andrews (Sixth) — brought the idea back to the full council Tuesday.

In their letter to the rest of the council, the sponsors cited strides made to become a more livable city, including promoting healthy food choices, as the reason to reconsider the rules now…

The motion passed unanimously.

[read full article here]



- 4 hives allowed
- 10 foot setback
- Register with LA County Department of Agriculture

City staff will provide City Council with the ordinance language and then the issue will be up for a final vote.

Read full story · Posted in News