Beekeeping isn't always easy

Yesterday Kirk, Pshairyn, and Pshairyn's dad went to retrieve a cut-out full of bees. Kirk tells the story of Pshairyn's determination to keep bees in the face of adversity:

Pictures from the cut-out retrieval:

Erik rescues some Public Television bees

Backwards Beekeeper Erik of Homegrown Evolution writes:
Beekeeper Phil called me this morning to say that there was a swarm in a tree at KCET. He arranged for me to meet the staff who hoisted me up in a fork lift (sorry no pictures of that moment, but needless to say, much easier than a ladder).

I sprayed the cluster with sugar water and held the nuc box up to them, but they were in no hurry to go in. Not wanting to keep staff member Raul waiting too long, I gave the bees a gentle bump and the majority of them went into the box--missed a few that were clinging to the other side of the branch, but I was able to give them another spray of sugar water and brushed most of them into the box.

Phil helped me get the nuc box into my car and I sped home. Gave Kirk a call and he hooked me up with new beekeeper Beth. Took the nuc to Beth's bee paradise in Mar Vista.

Thanks to Phil, Raul and KCET for making this happen.



Gallery of new beekeepers

Kirk writes:

This is Neil, a new beekeeper. He is looking at the trap-out going at his place.He is going to keep the bees.

This is Ceebs. She has chickens, she feeds the wild animals, she rescues dogs and is a new beekeeper. She purchased a queen, put it in a hive by itself, went to help her Dad, came back had bees in the box.

Jason and Trevor got bees—I helped them put them in the hive at Jerry's house in Eagle Rock.


New beekeeper report

New Backwards Beekeeper Marc checks in with his progress:
I attended my first meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers on April 25th...I captured a smallish swarm Easter morning and took a peek today, being only three weeks that the "girls" have been hive making. Wow. They have been busy.

Here is the swarm that landed late afternoon the Friday before Easter. They had swarmed on the stand of a bird feeder. At my daughter's encouragement to capture them I proceeded to discover the resources available to me. Very quickly I found the Backwards Beekeepers, LA Honey, and lots of information and other sites.

Okay, time to become a beekeeper. By Saturday night I had assembled a hive with one medium super and 10 frames. Sunday morning they plopped right in (having been christened the Easter Hive by my wife) and within a few days they were foraging and every fifth bee arrived with pollen.

Today (day 22) I opened the hive to swap out frames without starter strips and found two frames with drawn but empty comb and three like the picture below (mostly capped brood I think).

Below is a closeup of capped cells and larva. And maybe that is the queen on the extreme right. At this rate I think I have another three or four weeks before I have to put a second super on. I will also switch to a top entrance at that time. It's a very docile hive and opening it up was a non event for the bees. No doubt the light smoking helped. From the appearance of the (possible) queen my guess is that they are probably Italians, which the book "The Backyard Beekeeper" states are "not markedly protective of their hive" and "quiet on the comb"...

It's been a ton of fun so far and with little effort involved other than watching, reading, and planning. Honey is not a primary objective at this time, but if the hive grows really fast then maybe I'll collect a little this year.



Working to legalize beekeeping in Santa Monica

Backwards Beekeeper Daniel Salisbury is a longtime bee rescuer and advocate for beekeeping. Now he's working to get beekeeping legalized in his home city of Santa Monica—and from there, we all hope, Los Angeles will follow.

The LA Times ran this profile on Daniel today:
Salisbury said that over the years, he has successfully relocated roughly 50 hives to San Luis Obispo. He kept hives for about a decade at his residence in a Santa Monica trailer park, until he got caught. "I didn't get cited," he said. "I just had to move the hives."

When he found out that city policy called for exterminating swarms of feral bees, he decided to fight for the little buzzers.

"Why would you exterminate these bees when farmers in rural areas are begging for beehives?" he wondered.

Repeal sought of Santa Monica beekeeping ban (LA Times)


Corey helps a downtown swarm move in

Backwards Beekeeper Corey, who operates out of downtown LA, sends this video of hiving a swarm on his rooftop. Thanks Corey!

Kirk finds bees in the pool floats

Kirk got a call to remove some bees that had built a hive among a collection of pool floats. He says:

This gal just had to help out—I lent her my suit. After we got the bees all set I helped her do her report on bees for her school. Kids and Bees, what could be better?

Bees from swimming-pool floats.

Swimming pool bees in the box.

The swimming pool bees, now serving as trap-out bees.


Viewer mail

Derek in Utah writes:

I am a first-year backyard beekeeper. I ordered my beginning beekeeping material about a month ago. Since that time, I was introduced to the backwards beekeeping method; I like it. I have already prepared my starter strips (got some beeswax from a friend who is practicing the backwards beekeeping method).

My question is this, when installing my package bees, do I need to worry about the bees taking to the starter strips? Should I have a couple frames with foundation placed in the hive just in case? I'm a little nervous about installing my bees without any drawn out comb. My friend gave me one fully drawn out frame of honey comb, I plan on putting that in the bottom box when I install my bees.

What do you think? In your experience, do package bees generally take to the starter strips without any drawn out frames? My bees arrive on the 24th, so please help me!


Derek M.

Here's Kirk's reply:

If you're wondering what starter strips are, find out here.


Backwards Beekeepers TV: Treasure In A Swarm Trap

Kirk headed over to Leonardo's place last week to open a swarm trap that was full of bees, and I went along to shoot a video.

Here Kirk tells us why a swarm trap is useful, how to set one up, and how to transfer the bees to a hive once they've moved in.

You can watch the video in full-size HD here.


Next Meeting: Sunday, April 25!

April Backwards Beekeepers Meeting:

When: Sunday, March 25 at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab in downtown L.A.

Some of the things we'll talk about (we'll definitely add more):

  • How to become a backwards beekeeper
  • Legalizing beekeeping in LA
  • Swarm Catching/Bee Rescue Hotline
  • Bee Fever!
Things that we definitely won't talk about:
  • How to use chemicals
  • When to use chemicals
  • Dancing with the Stars
    Everyone is welcome, regardless of beekeeping experience (or lack thereof). Please spend a few minutes with this blog before you come - it may answer a lot of your questions.

    We'll also have Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts for sale. They cost $15 and are very fashionable.

    Farmlab Directions

    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.


    Swarm goes to the vet.

    Backwards Beekeeper Erik of Homegrown Evolution writes:
    I got a call from our veterinarian in East Pasadena to tell me that there was a swarm near their office. When I got there the bees were in a mass on the ground in the parking lot of an adjacent abandoned office building.

    It was a cinch to get them. I just put the nuc box on the ground next to them and opened the hole. They all crawled in to the amazement of myself and the vet office folks who came over to watch. I waited about an hour--there were still a few stragglers hanging out on the front of the box. I sprayed them with sugar water, scooped them up with a dust pan and tossed them in the box.

    I taped up the box and rushed the bees home. We'll see if they take to their new digs. A big thanks to Kirk for being such a great teacher!



    Your Bee Rescue Hotline at work: West Adams II

    Arlene is a super-cool mail carrier who works in the West Adams neighborhood. She passed the Bee Rescue Hotline number to Catherine, who lives on her route and had a swarm in a tree in front of her duplex.

    The tiny swarm that Amy and I captured in that same block on Saturday took off, so I had an empty nuc box and a free hour—I headed back there.

    This was a bigger swarm than the one we caught Saturday. The only hassle with collecting it was the massive stink of bleach that went up when I shook the tree—some genius neighbor had sprayed the bees with some sort of bathroom cleanser. The inside of the nuc box must have smelled a lot more inviting to the swarm.

    I let the box sit for 45 minutes or so, until there were plenty of bees fanning around the opening and the remaining cluster in the tree was down to about 5% of its original size.

    Mail carriers are a great resource for us—they see our neighborhoods on foot nearly every day. Pass the Bee Rescue Hotline (213-373-1104) along to yours!


    How to hit the ground running.

    New Backwards Beekeeper Kacy writes:
    I wanted to share some photos and notes on my bee experience yesterday and today.

    I drove to Orange last night with a friend in a borrowed pickup truck to get the two hive boxes from David, who said he couldn't keep them anymore. He fired up his smoker, and I was sure he was going to ignite them! But they did calm down and survived all that smoke. I taped the screen borrowed from Kirk on top of the box. After some prying loose, we were able to carry it out to the pickup bed.

    He also had a new swarm that had just appeared the day before. This being my first hands on experience, I wasn't planning on taking the swarm and told him that might be better left to a pro.... but there it was, this sweet heart shaped mass at the top of the jungle gym, vibrating like the whole thing was one breathing organism, which in some ways is true.

    So we lifted a cardboard box up to it and swept them (albeit clumsily) into the box and taped it shut. It was then loaded into the truck and I covered it all with a sheet. I put the box cover in, which had a cluster of bees on it. Four of them actually survived the long drive home!

    This morning Kirk came over to help me do a proper setup. Unloading in the dark last night was not very precise and I wasn't prepared for 2 hives! He showed me how to set the starter strips in the frames and load the box.

    We then added a new box to the very crowded and angry original hive, and set up the swarm w/their starter box and a bag of sugar water and a yummy looking pollen patty for dessert. I am so thankful that Kirk was able to come over on Easter sunday and help my start out right! And I'm really looking forward to this new ongoing experience with the bees!

    Bee well and thrive...



    Your Bee Rescue Hotline at work: Saturday doubleheader!

    Arlene, who delivers mail in the West Adams neighborhood, called the Bee Rescue Hotline today when she spotted a very small swarm on a wall along the sidewalk.

    Amy and I headed over there and met neighbor Bertrand, who was kind enough to play the role of spokesmodel in this episode. He's a fan of bees.

    That little swarm was just way too easy to catch, so we were glad to get another call—this time from Pasadena, where Tony had bees swarming outside his garage.

    We sprayed the cluster with sugar water and brushed it into a nuc box.

    Then we noticed that inside the garage were another several hundred bees, all flying around and buzzing loudly in a mess of confusion.

    I called Kirk, who speculated that the bees had all swarmed together to the inside of the garage, then decided they didn't like it there and swarmed outside—unfortunately, not everyone got the message.

    We cracked the side door open, and before long many of the bees had joined their friends inside the box.

    We knew we were pretty much done when the whole end of the box was covered with fanning bees.

    Bee bonanza!

    Bees with a view

    In which Kirk, joined by two accomplices and watched by spectators, uncovers many, many bees:

    The spectators:

    The Silver Lake swarms:

    Bees for Roberta!

    Here's Roberta's side of the story:
    I think I just became a beekeeper today thanks to Kirk. I feel giddy and my heart feels warm and fuzzy. I caught "bee fever" a week ago. I didn't learn about this in medical school but it's serious and needs immediate treatment. I read about improved pollination of fruit trees with bees (I have about 30 new trees in my backyard orchard) and wanted some of these little workers. I bought a hive, veil, gloves and smoker at LA Honey last week and went to my first Backwards Beekeeping meeting at Farmlab last weekend. It was fun to see so many people who also had the fever (maybe it's harmless).

    I wasn't sure if I was ready but thought I should get as much experience as possible first. Luckily Kirk had a "doozie" of a cut out today and he invited me along. I admit I was nervous. I wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't even used any of my gear yet (that's the reason I didn't know I had two right sided gloves and that I had already lost my smoker!).

    When I got to the Pasadena home, Kirk and Deborah had already tied in the comb and put alot of bees into the new hive. The bees were all over the hive, slowly crawling in and flying all over. I could feel a little breeze when one flew next to my head. The old bay window had been home to the 70,000 bees for 5 years per the homeowner, Robin. The window had fallen over so there were bees on the ground and up at the top of the window.

    After sweeping in as many possible, the hive was left next to the window to allow them time to enter the hive. Robin wanted to keep the bees and luckily, so did his neighbor. His neighbor, her young girls and their friends watched the whole event excitedly through their window. They ooed, awed and squealed at times as the bees were swept up. He gave bee lessons to them as he worked. They had great questions and were eager to learn. Kirk saved some honey comb dripping with fresh honey for them to eat later for a special treat.

    Now I didn't mention that as soon as I got to the cut out, Kirk said he had a surprise for me. He knew of a swarm in Silver Lake and had his nuc. They were mine if I wanted them! “Ummmm.....sure!” To be honest, I was thinking "ooo, this is happening so fast, what am I getting into?"

    After the cut out we went to catch the swarm. The owner pointed out the two balls of bees. They were so cute. One was a small softball size up in a bougainvilla hedge and the other a baseball size on the ground. Maybe there were two queens. The swarms looked very round, soft and wonderful. Kirk gently placed the swarm attached to a twig on top of the frames and the bees just crawled into the nuc. So easy! I scooped up the ones that were left on the ground and in a few seconds they were in too. With a few shakes by Kirk the other swarm was in the nuc.

    The nuc was taped up and I held the humming box with a sudden sense of pride and well being. It was a bit strange. I was smiling like a fool. Kirk took a picture as I cradled the nuc like a baby. It took all my will power to stop listening to their buzzing tonight. I hope they like their new home.