Cut-out for a new beekeeper

Tom, a new Backwards Beekeeper here in Los Angeles, sends this story from a cut-out he did with the indefatigable Roberta a few weeks ago:

So I got an email from Roberta letting me know that she has a line on some bees and asking me if I want in. Now I had a newly installed, yet vacant, hive sitting in backyard, just waiting for a deserving colony of bees.

So of course I said yes.

Obtaining the bees would require performing a cut-out of a previous trap-out Roberta had done back in October.

She told me these particular bees were an angry bunch, which gave me some cause for concern (a man with two daughters doesn't really want a hive of overly angry bees in his backyard), and then she started talking about axes and chainsaws, which gave me a little more concern.

What was I getting into here?

In the end, though, unable to resist the allure of a new colony, I decided to give it a shot.

So early one Saturday morning I pulled up in front of a house in Granada Hills. The first thing I noticed was that where there was once a tree, there was now only a stump.

At this point, the prepared beekeeper would have started to gently smoke the bees. However, I did not fit into this category, the smoker being the one (main) item I had yet to purchase. So I donned my trusty beekeeper veil, peered into the hive to see what we were in for, and waited.

When Roberta arrived we set to work cutting the comb out of the remains of the tree and trimming it to fit the frames. The colony had a fair amount of brood and a little bit of honey. Because the stump was open, the whole process went pretty quickly.

I did manage to spot the queen as as transferred the comb to my hive box.

Now, even though these bees weren't as grumpy as before, we still set the queen aside with a small retinue (just in case some regicide would be needed) as we finished transferring the comb, wrapped the hive box in a sheet, and loaded it into the car.

We didn't have a good way to gather up the loose bees that remained in the stump, so we did leave a small population of workers behind.

But I now had a small colony of bees for my backyard, with about six frames of comb. And later that night after discussing the queen's fate with Roberta, I decided that because the colony was so small, removing her from the throne wasn't really a good idea, so I reintroduced the queen to the hive. She seemed pretty happy about it.

Because of the colony's low supply of honey, I started out feeding them a supply of sugar water and pollen. They took to it pretty quickly, and the workers keep pretty busy flying in and out of the hive. At least they did until last week--the colony is still pretty small, and I'm slightly concerned about their chances after this past week of rain and low temperatures.



USC covers the Backwards Beekeepers

Here's a piece (with video) on our group from Kristen Steach of USC's Annenberg School for Communication:
Roberta Kato looks at her bees in fascination. As they buzz around her, she examines the honeycomb for new signs of life.

“There’s the little baby bees,” Kato blurts out with excitement.

With her bee suit as her shield, Kato pulls out each portion of the manmade hive she is examining. She waits until the bees seem fairly agitated to move on to the next hive of the day...

And Kato isn’t alone in her urban beekeeping endeavor. She’s a member of Backwards Beekeepers, a group dedicated to caring for bees in the city of L.A.

In just three years the group has grown from four members to 140. Kirk Anderson, the founder and leader of the group, gives advice to members through email and monthly meetings.

“I get maybe 5 or 10 emails a week, or a day, depending on the season,” Anderson said.

Urban beekeeping (ATVN.org)


Meet your new beekeepers

Los Angeles Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:
Last weekend I met up with the the 4H Club in Palos Verdes. These young ladies (Jenny, Ivory, Erika, Ciel and Lillian) are new beekeepers working with Steve from the Backwards Beekeepers.

It was fun to see how eager they were to get into the hives.

I can't wait to see them getting into a cut out and capturing swarms. The next generation of beekeepers are looking pretty good. More 4H adventures to come...



Next meeting: Sunday, January 16th!

Here's the plan for our next Backwards Beekeepers meeting.

When: Sunday, January 16th, 2011 at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Metabolic Studio (aka Farmlab) in downtown L.A.

    Come on down! Everyone is welcome, whether you're a newbee or not.

    Spring in LA will have nearly arrived, so we'll have plenty to talk about. There will be lots of hands-on opportunities at this meeting.

    If you have hive components that you haven't put together yet, bring them to the meeting (along with your hammer and nails), and we'll show you how to assemble them.

    Kirk has bought a bunch of chemical-free beeswax from super-beekeeper Dee Lusby, and he'll be demonstrating different methods of making and waxing starter strips. You can apply this wax on the starter strips of your own frames for 25 cents each.

    If you want to go a slightly alternate route, Kirk has also made wax starter strips that you can stick into the grooves at the tops of new frames. You can pick these up from him for a buck apiece.

    We'll talk about the mentoring database that Roberta has started on our Yahoo group, and how to get involved with that.

    We'll also have Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts for sale—including size XXL! All shirts cost $15.

    It'll be an action-packed day!

    Click here for directions to Metabolic Studio.

    You want to follow the above directions most of the way, but park on Aurora and walk through the alley (under Spring) to the meeting.

    Check out this view to see what it looks like from the street.

    Beekeeping legalization marches on

    The Sustainable Food blog (part of change.org) ran a story promoting the legalization of beekeeping in Los Angeles, and it features some Q&A with our own Max Wong:
    Why has legalizing beekeeping across Los Angeles faced obstacles while other cities like New York have had success?

    L.A. is just more complicated than most cities because the laws are super confusing and made up of many municipalities that morphed over the years into the greater L.A. area. We want a blanket law that makes all areas of L.A. the same. There are many communities throughout the country where beekeeping was never made illegal, even as cities grew...

    Beekeeping: Eco-Friendly, Healthy, and Completely Illegal in L.A. (Sustainable Food, change.org)


    Kirk gives a bee rescue clinic

    Today Kirk did a cut-out on a hive high up in a tree, then used the box of those bees to set up a trap-out. He was accompanied by Backwards Beekeepers Maurice and Danny; photos are courtesy of Danny's blog, Living in SoCal.

    Do you want to be notified of future bee rescue clinics that you can attend? Join our Yahoo group.

    Kirk is not fond of ladders.

    The tree hive, now tied into frames in a nuc box.

    Adding a feeding shim to the nuc box.

    Giving honey and pollen to the cut-out bees.

    Now in Eagle Rock, setting up the trap-out.

    Photo credit: tagging along with kirkobeeo and maurice (Living in SoCal)


    Winter bee activity goes to 11

    Several people have posted on our Yahoo group that their bees are going bonkers with activity lately. Here at Feral Honey HQ, it's the same story—lots of activity from the first light in the morning until well into the evening.

    This forager is way into our English Lavender.

    Here's hoping for plenty of spring rain and another great year for honey in 2011!

    Backwards Beekeepers in The New York Times

    Kristina Shevory has this piece in the New York Times today about the continuing rise of urban beekeeping and the struggle to gain legalization in many cities. Our own Daniel Salisbury and Max Wong are prominently featured. As Kirk would point out, we're changing the world:

    In Los Angeles, the Backwards Beekeepers club has 400 members — up from six members two years ago...

    Santa Monica models itself as an environmentally conscious city, but it has long banned beekeeping. So when city inspectors found three hives in Daniel Salisbury’s backyard two years ago, they insisted he move them. He took the hives north to his mother’s house in San Luis Obispo County, where beekeeping is legal, but he also began a drive to legalize hives in Santa Monica.

    He has become so well known that people at his city-owned trailer park call to alert him when exterminators, retained by the Santa Monica housing agency, are headed toward bee swarms.

    “I would chase down the swarms and literally run with my clippers to get the branch before Orkin showed up,” said Mr. Salisbury, 47, an antiques dealer, referring to a large pest-control company.

    Over the last two years, Mr. Salisbury has attended Santa Monica City Council meetings, recruited a Los Angeles beekeeping club to help, and launched an e-mail legalization campaign joined by hundreds worldwide. On Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council is scheduled to reconsider the beekeeping ban, and supporters of legalization are optimistic.

    Max Wong, a Los Angeles beekeeper who has been helping Mr. Salisbury with his drive, hopes to wield some of the same political techniques in a legalization push in her city. Beekeeping rules there are a patchwork, with the hobby legal on one side of a street and illegal on the other.

    “We’re in trouble and the bees are in trouble,” said Ms. Wong, 42, a member of the Backwards Beekeepers club. “We need to do something.”

    Ms. Wong, a film producer who started keeping bees a year ago, wants to legalize bees not just to help hobbyists like herself, but to help feed and employ others. She sees bees as the best way to increase vegetable pollination in local community gardens and thinks that some people, like a few members of her club, could even become professional beekeepers.

    Like Mr. Barrett from Queens and other new beekeepers, Ms. Wong is developing a close relationship with her bees, and she wants to ensure that others can enjoy the hobby as much as she does.

    “It’s like having 35,000 pets,” she said. “I’m hyperactive, so anything that shuts down my brain is a good thing. When I’m working at a hive, I’m quiet and meditative.”

    The Beekeeper Next Door (The New York Times)


    Rescued swarm helps a queenless hive

    Javier called the Bee Rescue Hotline after he found a very small swarm in his back yard.

    Kirk realized that he could use these bees to help out a queenless hive:


    When a swarm comes to you

    Newcomers to our bee meetings often ask if it's easy to catch a swarm. As Bryan in Puerto Rico writes on our Yahoo group, sometimes it's very easy indeed:
    Check out this video of a swarm that entered a nuc on my back picnic table a couple of days ago. The combs had some wax moth larvae and I had put the nuc back there to clean up and throw away the combs. Later noticed lots of bees around the house and suspected a swarm. Sure enough, when I looked back at the nuc it was filling up with bees...


    Top-bar beekeeping in Rwanda

    Backwards Beekeeper Kathryn writes:
    Last year my husband and I traveled to Rwanda for gorilla trekking. At the entrance to the park was a long stone wall and along the top sat unusual bee hives. They were beautiful and interesting but this was before I had bees so I didn't know what questions to ask regarding how they work. . This picture doesn't show off the construction of the hives due to the awkward angle but I loved how they blended into the surroundings in a natural way...

    Apparently Rwanda beekeeping is struggling despite massive amounts of foraging territory. Young people just don't see it as a career path. Sounds like a market in need of more beekeepers...


    From our Newfoundland correspondent

    We Southern California beekeepers who are complaining about temperatures dropping into the 40s at night should shut our traps, because take a look at what (very well-dressed) Newfoundland Backwards Beekeeper Phillip is doing right about now:

    We wrapped both of our hives for winter today and did pretty much what David Burns does in his How To Wrap Your Hive for Winter video/beekeeping lesson...

    As far as I know, each hive is packed with honey to keep the bees alive for the winter. The wrap acts as windbreak and maybe gives the hive some extra warmth when the sun comes out. The mouse-proof entrance reducer will keep the mice out of the hive. The insulation between the inner and outer cover will keep the hive warm and prevent condensation from building up and dripping on the bees and killing them. Bees can take the cold, but it’s the wet that kills them more than anything (so I’ve been told). The upper entrance will provide some ventilation for excess moisture to escape. Theoretically, I shouldn’t have to touch the hives until late February or March, when I might have to feed them pollen and syrup if their winter stores are running low. Whatever happens over the next few months, I can’t do anything about it. So I’m just going to relax.

    Wrapping Hives For Winter (Mud Songs)

    Extra points for the Star Wars reference, Phillip.


    Making new beekeepers

    Backwards Beekeeper Sam writes:
    My son Eli recently took some freshly drawn honeycomb to his second grade class for show-and-tell. This prompted the predictable, “Wow - your dad is a beekeeper? That came out of YOUR backyard? That is SO cool.” Kids and insects: a natural combination!

    His teacher asked me if I could come in and do a little presentation about bees. How could I not be thrilled for the opportunity? I borrowed an nice little observation hive from Kirkobeeo, loaded it up with a frame of busy workers, donned my veil and gloves, and headed down the street to Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary.

    Walking into the classroom suited up was a great way to get the kids’ attention and start the discussion. Many wanted to try on the veil, so it and the gloves made the rounds. I asked what they know about bees: honey, hives, and stings, naturally. We talked about pollination and how bees are crucial to our food supply, and that one out of every three bites on your plate would disappear without bees. Everybody got a dab of honey on a popsicle stick to taste. Teacher Ms. Iffrig really liked it when I talked about girl power and how female bees perform all the work of the hive and outnumber the boys 100:1.

    I passed around some empty comb so the kids could see how lightweight it is and we discussed what amazing engineers bees are, creating a structure that can support forty times its mass. That led to talk about the powerful mathematical skills of our apiarian friends and how they’ve evolved over 100 million years to be very good at solving the “traveling salesman” (most efficient forage route) problem. I’m pretty sure I lost ‘em on that one.

    But then I brought out the bees and I had them all back. I thought the kids might be apprehensive, but they were fearless - every student wanted to get face to face with the bees! There was much jockeying for position, and everyone had plenty of questions. I encourage my fellow beekeepers to get out there and do some of this outreach. The look on those young faces is the best gift ever.

    Sam Dlugach
    Burbank CA
    Nov. 2010


    Backwards Beekeepers remote mentoring: Hive cut-out strategy

    Here's a new feature we're adding to the blog: remote mentoring!

    We have readers all over the world, and we know you often have questions about getting started with Backwards Beekeeping or helping your bees thrive without chemicals or any of the other nonsense that has trickled down from commercial beekeeping for the last 20 years or so.

    In our first episode, Cristina from Florida gets some guidance from Kirk on how to cut out a hive that moved into a tree-mounted owl house. Cristina's planning to put the bees in a top-bar hive, but Kirk's tips apply just as well to the traditional Langstroth hive as well.

    If you live far away from Los Angeles and need some Backwards Beekeeping mentoring, let us know. We'll set up a phone (or preferably Skype audio/video) call, and your session with Kirk will benefit beekeepers everywhere.


    Cristina writes:
    Well all I can say is no matter how prepared you are... it very quickly turned into complete chaos !!! ... but in a good way...

    Bees are in their new home, I think we got most of it in there.

    Chris' flight was well delayed and he only got in at 5pm and his brother Jason who built the top-bar hive picked him up and drove him like a bullet in rush hour traffic to get to my house with some light.

    by the time we got the owl box down it was dark, but we set up some lights and worked away.

    there was so much honey! and the combs were so long, that we cut them in half , unfortunately one of the brood combs dropped to the sandy ground.

    but we did get most of it.



    Here is a picture of these amazing boys, my husband Pete on the far left, who at the last minute got totally stuck in, and me, having a honey and beer celebration.


    You can see more of Cristina's photos here.


    Your Bee Rescue Hotline at work: Atwater Village

    James in Atwater Village called the Bee Rescue Hotline when he noticed that a hive was established in his water meter again. I stopped by this afternoon and found a bunch of very busy but calm and easygoing bees.

    I took the cover off the water meter and cut out four or five combs. I fastened the ones with brood into some empty frames using rubber bands. I scooped all the bees I could find into the nuc box with the frames.

    But it was pretty obvious that I didn't have the queen. No bees were fanning their wings at the edge of the nuc box to tell the other bees that their home had moved. And I still heard a lot of buzzing from the perimeter of the water meter.

    That's when I figured out that the whole outside gasket of the water meter could be pulled out of the ground. In the photo below you can see it sitting upside down on the grass—there were lots of bees (and, I assumed, the queen) lodged in the gaps around the edge.

    Once I knocked those bees into the box I knew I had the queen. It's really amazing to see how the bees' actions change once you've got the queen where you want her. Everyone else marches into place, and your new hive is ready to go.


    Roberta's death-defying bee rescue

    Roberta sends this hair-raising bee rescue story.

    Note: The Backwards Beekeepers do not recommend these kinds of rescues. Getting on a tall ladder is a quick way to end up in the hospital. But Roberta is an unstoppable force of nature, so what are we to do?

    She writes:
    We had another adventure taking down a couple of squirrel boxes full of bees this weekend. The second one had my heart beating as it was REALLY high. John called us because he had a squirrel box (custom built after he saw a few squirrels run over in front of his house) that was full of bees since spring. Dave needed bees and he and his wife came but all of us were shocked at the height.

    John rented a 24’ ladder and I went up and was dubious about getting the squirrel box down. I thought we had less than a 50% chance of making it work since at one point I was bending backwards on the ladder. Luckily Dave had built a box to pulley it down. I slowly tipped the squirrel box into the Styrofoam one and down it came. A pure miracle. Dave will cut them out later.

    Anyone have some ideas about making these boxes bee proof? Someone said WD40 on the roof, another suggested attaching astro turf to the ceiling. Any other thoughts?



    Kirk rescues compost bin bees

    In which Kirk finds a BIG hive in a compost bin; he also has some hot tips on cut-out strategy and on keeping a small queen-right hive around in case a cut-out hive needs a queen.