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)