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BEEHIVE HEROES

Paul Hekimian inspects a honeycomb forming in one of the hives behind his home

Paul Hekimian inspects a honeycomb forming in one of the hives behind his home (via argonautnews.com)

Backyard beekeepers work to save the local honeybee population from collapse

Story by Rebecca Kuzins via argonautnews.com

Most people who discover a beehive in their backyard would be glad to see it gone.

Paul Hekimian is not like most people.

After discovering a hive in an avocado tree behind his Santa Monica home in 2012, Hekimian — with help from Del Rey beekeeper Rob McFarland — moved the bees into brooding boxes, which provide ideal conditions for a hive. Since then, he has been raising honeybees, extracting and bottling honey, and even adopting more bees by rescuing swarms that have gathered at places such as Tongva Park and the Santa Monica Pier.

Hekimian is part of a new breed of urban beekeepers who’ve developed organic, pesticide- and chemical-free techniques to raise smaller hives with more disease-resistant honeybees. But the way Hekimian tells it, he just sets up his brooding boxes and then leaves the bees alone so they can produce honeycombs — and more bees.

“At the end of the day, the bees do all the work,” said Hekimian, a father of two young boys who also has his hands full running both a wholesale bakery and a technology consulting business. “You’ve heard the phrase ‘busy as a bee.’ These bees are very busy.”

Hekimian’s work and that of other backyard beekeepers is more than just a hobby. It’s also an environmentally minded response to the colony collapse disorder that has plagued honeybees for almost a decade and threatens the very future of agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Save the bees, save ourselves

In 2006, beekeepers began noticing that many worker bees had abandoned their hives, resulting in a loss of one-third of the nation’s honeybees. Since then, bees have continued to disappear, with scientists and researchers citing several possible reasons for the loss. Some argue that a fungus or virus is responsible, or that the bees have died from poor nutrition or parasites. More recently, numerous articles in scientific journals maintain a specific group of pesticides is the cause of the problem.

The sudden and rapid decline of the bee population has gotten the attention of President Barack Obama, who had two hives installed at the White House garden this summer — making him the nation’s most high-profile urban beekeeper.

In June, Obama created a Pollinator Task Force to establish a federal strategy aimed at promoting the health of honeybees and other pollinators.

“Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States,” reads a statement announcing the task force. “Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover.”

Or, as Hekimian says it: “If the bees go, they’re taking us with them. One in three pieces of food is touched by bees.”

Already struggling with drought, California’s almond industry also relies on bees for pollination. Bees also play a significant role in pollinating strawberries, watermelon, broccoli, squash and myriad other agricultural and other plants.

Some cities have responded to colony collapse disorder by legalizing beekeeping on private property, and the Santa Monica City Council adopted such an ordinance in 2011.

“The city council recognized bees are a very important link in the food chain,” said Dean Kubani, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. “Bees play so many important roles in the production of fruit and vegetables and most of what we eat. … I think in the past, there was a fear that bees in urban and suburban areas would harm people. That has shown not to be the case.”

The fight to legalize bees in L.A.

The Los Angeles City Council has been studying how the city could adopt its own backyard beekeeping ordinance since February. Some Los Angeles residents, like Rob and Chelsea McFarland, are already keeping bees. Founders of the nonprofit organization Honey Love, the couple has conducted an extensive neighborhood outreach and lobbying campaign in favor of a bee-positive city ordinance.

Chelsea McFarland said she and her husband made the decision to become beekeepers after a swarm showed up in the backyard of their Del Rey home.

“We have an organic garden and we knew about [colony collapse disorder]. We knew the bees were in trouble,” she said.

When the McFarlands contacted the city for advice about handling the swarm, they were told “the only thing to do was exterminate [them],” she recalled. “That’s still the case. Part of the [city’s] policy should be not only to legalize [beekeeping] … but to try and rescue rather than exterminate.”

Sylvia Henry is also a Los Angeles beekeeper and Honey Love member. She started keeping honeybees in March after Hekimian brought a swarm to her Mar Vista home, where her hive shares space in the backyard with eight chickens. “I’m an old farm girl,” Henry said. “I grew up on a farm in Chino.”

Henry said she is “thrilled” with her hive, which has already produced 30 pounds of honey. She’s “read all of the books in the library on bees” and is fascinated by the “whole entire cycle” of beekeeping and the “social set-up” of honeybees.

Not far from Henry’s backyard, another group of bees live on the roof of Louie’s of Mar Vista, a popular neighborhood restaurant and bar on Grand Avenue south of Venice Boulevard.

John Atkinson and his wife Laura opened the restaurant last year at the site where his grandfather, Bill Atkinson, and Bill’s buddy Louie operated a butcher shop from 1954 to 1969.

While renovating the property, John Atkinson noticed a swarm of bees had gathered inside a large sign above the building.

“Rather than poison them, we got them out of the sign and cut off access for them to get back into the sign,” he recalled.

The bees were placed in hive boxes on the restaurant’s roof, and Atkinson hired a beekeeper to take care of them. Over the past year, the population of what the restaurant’s website calls “Mar Vista’s bees” has increased threefold.

Louie’s of Mar Vista uses honey from these hives in some of its dishes and to create its signature Bee Sting cocktail — a combination of applejack brandy, ginger beer, lemon and honey, served with a slice of lime and a mix of sugar and ginger around the rim of the glass.

“It’s not like having a goldfish”

As part of its education and support mission, HoneyLove conducts monthly seminars, including some at its bee sanctuary in Moorpark, to train backyard beekeepers.

“It’s not like having a goldfish,” Chelsea McFarland said. “You definitely want to know what you’re doing.”

Hekimian, on the HoneyLove board of directors, agrees that wanna-be beekeepers need training before they can graduate to get a beehive.

Beekeeping, Hekimian adds, is the art of observation: “You watch the behavior of the bees as they go in and out the front door. Are they going out? Are they bringing in pollen?”

Beekeeping comes fairly naturally to Hekimian. His father, Kevork G. Hekimian, kept bees when Paul was growing up in Houston.

“My dad started out with a couple of hives and then had 60 hives,” he said. “I got him back into beekeeping,”  Hekimian said of his father. “It’s come full circle.”

 

[read the full article via argonautnews.com]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove Interviews

LA TIMES: “We need bees. We want more bees. So legalize beekeeping, L.A.”

We need bees. We want more bees. So legalize beekeeping, L.A.
Other cities have done it without major problems.

By The Times editorial board—December 27, 2013 

Los Angeles is honeybee heaven. The warm Southern California climate and long growing seasons provide year-round food for bees. The city’s trees, flowers and flora are largely free of pesticides. It’s the perfect place for backyard beekeeping — except that beekeeping is not legal here.

That could soon change. A group of bee advocates and neighborhood councils has been lobbying the City Council to expressly allow beekeeping on single-family residential lots. Current law permits it only in areas zoned for agriculture. Next month, the City Council will decide whether to move forward with legalized beekeeping.

There’s a good reason to allow it. Commercially raised bees used to pollinate crops are disappearing in big numbers because of what’s known as colony collapse disorder, but nobody knows what’s causing the problem. Urban honeybees may end up replenishing the diminishing supply, or providing disease-resistant genes that can be introduced in the commercial bee lines.

Los Angeles should follow the lead of other major cities and draft rules that allow residents to keep bees, while providing some common-sense protections for neighbors. There’s already an established backyard beekeeping community in Los Angeles despite the fact that it is not legal. The growing urban agriculture movement has spurred more interest in homegrown hives (in part because the bees are needed to pollinate the new urban crops) and more confusion over what is and isn’t allowed.

New York City allowed illicit apiarists to come out of the shadows in 2010, and since then hobbyists have established hives on building roofs and in backyards. The city set basic rules: Colonies must be in well-maintained, movable frame hives with a constant water source, in a location that doesn’t pose a nuisance. Beekeepers file a one-page hive registration form with the city health department each year.

Santa Monica permitted beekeeping in 2011 with similar requirements. Residents are allowed two hives per backyard, and the hives must be at least five feet from the property lines. Apiarists who don’t follow the rules or who let their hives become a nuisance to neighbors face fines or misdemeanor charges.

Both cities said they’ve had no major problems; beekeepers have largely followed the rules or moved their hives in response to complaints. And city officials said there’s been a benefit: a larger network of amateur beekeepers to call upon to remove swarms rather than exterminate them.

There will understandably be some concern and fear from neighbors — a swarm of feral honeybees can look like something out of a horror movie. Beekeeping experts say there are already lots of naturally occurring, unmanaged hives in the region. A managed hive in which bees have adequate food and space is less likely to produce a swarm.

We need bees. We want more bees. It’s time to legalize beekeeping.

[view original article via latimes.com]

Read full story · Posted in News

Flash Mob: National Honey Bee Day Waggle Dance

On August 17th HoneyLovers, beekeepers and honey bee enthusiasts across the country celebrated National Honey Bee Day to honor nature’s hardest working insect, and HoneyLove decided to celebrate with a Waggle Dance Flash Mob. We choreographed a routine and invited everyone to participate in person or by uploading a video. Special THANK YOU goes out to LUSH Cosmetics and all who joined in the festivities to help make it the best National Honey Bee Day EVER!!!

MUSIC: “When You’re Smiling” by the Leftover Cuties: http://goo.gl/eiGBR

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE: http://full.sc/MRAY21

 

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLovin, Yay Bees

This Week in News features HoneyLove.org and National Honey Bee Day!

THIS WEEK IN NEWS via James Rojas

National Honey Bee Day, 2013, Santa Monica. August 17th is National Honey Bee Day & a local non-profit organization, HoneyLove, celebrated in Santa Monica to help spread the message of how important it is to help bees.

this week in news

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz

Join us August 17th for National Honey Bee Day!

honeybeedaybee

Learn the WAGGLE DANCE and send it to us to bee in our compilation video!!

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NATIONAL HONEY BEE DAY!!

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLovin, Yay Bees

HoneyLove August Newsletter

CLICK BELOW TO VIEW THE FULL NEWSLETTER:
http://eepurl.com/BQ0ib

August2013_newsletter

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLovin

Thank you Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council!

Thank you Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council for unanimously supporting URBAN BEEKEEPING in Los Angeles tonight!! That brings our total up to 15 NCs in support!

STEP 1:
sign petition
Change.org/petitions/legalize-urban-beekeeping-in-los-angeles-2

STEP 2:
Click here to email a letter of support to LA City Council!!

Beekeeping_15

*If you live/work in Los Angeles districts 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 15 – email us!

Legalize Urban Beekeeping

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLovin

NEW FEATURE: HoneyLove Forums!

People always ask us “what’s the first step I need to take to become a beekeeper?” and our response is always the same: “you need to find and join a community.”

Here you go. We are thrilled to announce the launch of the HoneyLove Forum! This feature—free and open to the public—represents a major step forward in educational and community-building efforts. Forums are an incredible way for communities to collaborate, share information and discuss our shared passion.

Forum Screenshot

Just as the individual bee needs a community of bees to survive, the beekeeper needs a community of beekeepers for continued education and support. Whether you are just getting started as a new-bee and need mentorship, or you’re a multi-generation beek still learning new things and refining old techniques, you can benefit from the group’s collective intelligence through discussions, shared observations/experiments, and by simply being around others who share your passion. There are beekeeping associations, clubs, and non-profits like HoneyLove in almost every city in the United States and throughout the world. We always encourage people to join as many of these as they can, as well as availing themselves of all the information the web has to offer. Now, with the HoneyLove Forums, we can offer a place for people to go—regardless of where they live—to dive into the world of beekeeping to learn and connect with likeminded people from all over.

The threads in the forum are organized into seven basic topics to get started. We encourage you to get in there and start a discussion, answer someone’s questions and bond with fellow HoneyLovers! We want your feedback, so please let us know your thoughts on how we can continue to improve the HoneyLove Forum.

clickhere_forums

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLovin, Yay Bees

LA WEEKLY: “Could L.A. Become a Honeybee Mecca?”

By Gendy Alimurung

LA Weekly Article

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.

LA Weekly frame

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]

LA Weekly Paper

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz

Volunteer with HoneyLove.org

Volunteer with HoneyLove

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 volunteer@honeylove.org  424-625-8bee (8233)

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ