Fighting over a bee rescue in NYC

With wild bees an abundant resource here in Southern California, there's always more than enough to go around.

Not so in New York City, apparently:

In a gale wind from [tropical storm Irene], a hollowed-out branch of an enormous tree was ripped off, exposing a hive of 30,000 to 40,000 honeybees. The hive’s discovery was a jackpot for the beekeeping community and word spread quickly on Facebook and Twitter that a feral hive was up for grabs.

Two beekeepers jumped at the chance to claim the bees, unknowingly setting off a feud between two of the city’s main beekeeping groups...

As throngs of beekeepers and the curious congregated within the thin piece of yellow caution tape roping off the area around the tree, tensions rose. And even as the wood chips were flying, the two beekeeping groups squabbled over how the rescue should be conducted and who the rightful owner of the bees was...

Mr. Fischer said he tried to halt the operation on Sunday because the high winds trailing the storm added to an already potent combination of stinging insects, heights and chain saws. But when his words were not heeded, he left the park.

“There was a lot more testosterone floating around than common sense,” he said.

Around Bee Rescue, Honey and Rancor (NY Times)


Viewer mail


I absolutely LOVE your guys approach!!

I am a new beekeeper in Northern California...no, not San Francisco, farther up than that by a few hours.

Anyway, I have a ten-frame Langstroth hive with a super on it and I had some old wood and wire frames that I took apart. I was wondering if I put a few of those broken down frames as top-bar frames using a paint stir stick and some starter wax if you think the bees will build on it considering all the other frames are either wood-and-wire or plastic? If so where should I put them? Super, middle, outer, etc?

Again, what you guys do is wonderful. Peace.

Brett W.

Kirk responds:

Well sounds like you are having fun up there. You should put them wherever you want. The bees just like things to build their combs on.

Keep it simple.

"Everything works if you let it"
--Michael Bush

have fun Backwards is the new forwards



Hive removal in Venice

Roberta opens up the garage wall.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Yvonne writes:

Roberta and I went to help Clancy and Charlotte in Venice. They had bees in the back of the garage. They wanted to keep them but the hive was in the neighbor’s yard and she didn’t like them. Clancy and Charlotte decided that they wanted to move the bees into their backyard.

We took apart the back wall of the garage first. Once we pried the wall open, there was a lot of comb hanging down. We removed it all and then filled up the space and sealed it up.

However, this particular hive (which had swarmed twice) was queenless so we could not move them into the backyard. Instead, they got moved into Backwards Beekeeper Ceebs’ hive.

We promised Clancy and Charlotte some more bees and they finally got a hive from a Cheviot Hills removal.



First Meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers in NYC

NYC Backwards Beekeeper Megan writes:

Last week, a funny little group of aspiring and successful urban farmers, bee nerds and wanna-bees gathered on the rooftop of Brooklyn Grange, an acre-sized rooftop farm located in Queens, NY for the first meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers of New York City.

What we lacked in population, we made up for in spirit. We had with us such a wonderful assortment of talent and experience level in beekeeping: Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries came down from the Hudson Valley to regale the group with stories of formic acid burns and swarm catching and started the whole talk with a ditty about an aquatic ant who can save the world. Guitar strings were broken, then came the storm we had all been fearing.

The skies had been opening up off and on all day, even up to the few minutes before the meeting. When we got started the horizon was fairly clear with the exception of some ominous clouds in the distance. Immediately after Sam’s song (which I am convince willed the storm to us) marble-sized hail began to fall, the wind began to whip around and lightening sent us running off of the roof to an open warehouse space a couple floors below.

It was dusty, it was dark. We sat on cardboard boxes on the floor in a big circle. It was like a Die Hard movie gone wrong. We were certainly starting our foray into Backwards-ness on the right foot. If the other NYC bee clubs could see us, they’d certainly have a chuckle at our expense. Let them. We were having a really good time.

Next Meeting: Sunday August 28

PLEASE NOTE: Backwards Beekeepers meetings will now take place regularly on the last Sunday of every month. 

The next meeting is scheduled for Sunday August 28 at 11am at the Atwater Crossing arts complex

Topics to be covered:

  • Your questions answered by Kirkobeeo

  • Honey & harvesting

  • Bee rescues

  • Meet the mentors & learn how to adopt one of your own

Atwater Crossing
3265-3191 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039-2205

There is ample free parking in the complex parking lot so PLEASE park in the lot so the residents of the neighborhood can park near their homes.

Map link

Closest freeway exit is Fletcher off the 2 freeway
Casitas is between Minneapolis St & Silver Lake Blvd…
1 long block SW of N. San Fernando Road (across the railroad tracks)
1 ½ blocks NW of Fletcher Drive
2 ½ blocks SE of Glendale Blvd

See you at the meeting!
Anne & Gwen


Heater hive in Cheviot Hills

LA Backwards Beekeeper Yvonne writes:

Andrew from Cheviot Hills called the Bee Rescue Hotline when he tried to move an outdoor propane heater, only to discover some bees had taken up residence under the cover.



Thankfully, my nephew Joshua came to help me because when we unzipped the cover, it ended up being a pretty large hive.

Joshua smoked them up really well and then we laid the heater on its side to begin cutting them into frames. Joshua has never handled bees before but laid everything out like a pro.

It was a messy job and it took over an hour but they were framed up and moved to their new hive in Venice, California.



Backwards Beekeepers to the rescue at the LA Zoo

Now that's a big hive.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

Ceebs answered a call to the Bee Rescue Hotline about some hives at the LA Zoo. Dave, who is in charge of the grounds, wanted to do some natural extractions rather than use exterminators. Ceebs did some recognizance and started the wheels rolling.

The zoo rescue crew.

We had a huge group of people go there to remove a VERY big hive (as big as me!). It was under an elevated platform for an old aviary that was set to be demolished the following week, so we were in a time crunch. Luckily we had a team of both pros and newbees willing to meet at 6am to take care of it. We had Kirk, Randy, Chris, Ceebs, myself, Chandra, Barbara, Ryan and James.

Kirk at work.

We started out by just trying to figure out what to do. It took a ladder and a set of containers lifted with a pulley system. There was a bunch of chaos after the first few cuts and then Kirk went in and just took it apart in big whacks.

In no time the comb had come down, the brood was tied in and the honeycomb stashed away. Chandra, one of the condor keepers, took the bees home for her first hive.

On another recent visit Randy, Joseph, Ed, Andrew, James, Margarita and Barbara tackled a few hives. Two were under trailers and were pretty big and old. Access was difficult because it required lying on the ground. These cutouts went pretty fast. Then there was a hive in a tree that required a chainsaw but was too deep to extract so will require another trip for a trap-out.


Backwards Beekeeper Ed adds:

Here's a joke for you. An Irishman, a Croatian, and a Guatemalan meet at the zoo and...

Joseph, Ed, Andrew.

Oh wait a minute, it's not a joke, its actually the Backwards Beekeepers International Section. Andrew, Joseph and I had the pleasure of doing a great cutout this AM at the Condor Sanctuary. It was a very mature hive located underneath a trailer. I'd say it was a couple of years old.

We did not use a bee vac. All we did was smoke and cut. We spotted the queen and manually placed her in Joseph's supers, collected plenty of honey and were headed for home by 9:30 AM. I don't believe anyone was stung even a single time.

I will post the photos (courtesy of Margarita) on the LA BeeRescue site.



Beekeepers meet the paparazzi

Chelsea, Sherri Akers, LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, Rob

LA beekeepers Rob and Chelsea McFarland have been raising quite a ruckus with their organization HoneyLove.org. They're working hard in the fight to legalize beekeeping in our city.

Photos from their recent "National Honey Bee Awareness Day" event are here.


Bees on approach!

Diane W. (aka Lady Bee Wrangler) sends this story about a great way to expand beekeeping:

That buzzing sound you hear at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport could be a jet taking off. Or maybe it's coming from the 1.5 million bees that call the airport home. In May, the Chicago Department of Aviation partnered with a community group to start a 2,400 square foot apiary on-site. Now 23 beehives are up and running and are scheduled to yield 575 pounds of honey this year.

The project offers a creative, sustainable, and productive way to use otherwise wasted open space at mega-airports like O'Hare. The bees' new home on the east side of the airport campus had long stood vacant, so it was a natural spot for the bee program to begin. And if that's not enough benefit, the beehives provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated adults (similar to other projects that teach prisoners beekeeping).

At O'Hare Airport, Unused Land Is Going to the Bees (GOOD online)


Rooftop cut-out with a view

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

Andrew and I did a cut-out together of another squirrel box, this time for his friends Fleur and Dins in Echo Park. The squirrel box was retrieved from Thousand Oaks a few days earlier.

It was a pretty tricky move because it was overflowing with bees and it was terribly high. Nonetheless it made it back to LA and we put it on Fleur and Dins’ rooftop.

Andrew and Fleur.

This is a great place for bees. It’s up on a hillside and has a spectacular view of downtown LA. It also made for a great nighttime urban beekeeping adventure after work.

The bees had been on the mean side so to minimize the craziness with the cut-out, we vacuumed them up. They were very nice bees this time around and didn’t seem to mind where they were going. They were calm enough that Fleur and Dins stayed and watched. It didn’t take long to get them in their new hive.

Unfortunately, in a few days, the bees were robbed and most of them didn’t survive the attack. They were probably just too nice. Well, Fleur was heartbroken so Andrew immediately called for another cutout. He joined the crew for a few cutouts at the zoo and hopefully he has more bees for her.



Victoria's bees move out of the house, into a hive

No drones allowed, I guess. (click to enlarge)

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

Victoria is a wonderful fellow Long Beach beekeeper. She started out by wanting to host a hive, and posted an offer to do so on the Backwards Beekeepers Yahoo group.

She quickly got a call from a couple who had made a beautiful and uniquely painted top bar hive (see above). They brought it over with a swarm which had already set up housekeeping inside.

Henry in Long Beach helped Victoria with her first inspection, which was a bit tricky. The homemade frames were a little difficult to move around and some of the combs were attached to top bars. Henry put in a deep frame and it kind of fit.

Well, Victoria loved how it was decorated but in the long run wanted to have an easier-to-manage Langstroth hive. So I went over and in a couple of stages we cut out the combs and moved them to a new hive. The bees were just a little bothered by it and then went right back to working.

Victoria and Barbara.

Barbara came on the second visit, which made things go a lot faster. There was a little honey comb that Victoria's hubbie and daughter got to sample. Victoria's daughter wants her own beekeeping veil, which she'’ll get soon.



Pacific Palisades Attic Bees

LA Backwards Beekeeper Ruth writes:

Joe A. was excited to participate in his first cut-out so that he could get his first bee hive going in his yard. Susan R. came too, to help with the cut out just to get more experience and to help save more bees.

These bees had lived in a ceiling or attic space in a house in the Palisades for many years. The owners were doing a total renovation so they decided it was time for the bees to go. Dorothy C. did the logistics on getting all the permissions and helpers together! Thank you Dorothy!

Below is the owner's contractor, Gary, who borrowed a bee suit so that he could make the cut in the drywall himself and get a taste of bee fever! Here are the first trial holes... hmmm, we thought they were in there! It took a minute to find them.

Once we found the right spot we cut a nice big rectangle out of the drywall so we could get our tools in there to cut the comb down.

I like a pancake spatula because it has an angle. Putty knives are good too, once you get it started.

The hive was old but not that big. It went across two 16" bays of rafter beams. We rubber banded 2 full medium boxes of frames together for Joe, and I put 3 deep frames, including some with open brood, into a cardboard nuc box for the stragglers. There were a lot of stragglers.

Joe cut a lot of the comb down himself. Susan and I took most of the honey, and the contractor's workers got some too!

Here are Joe and Susan. We made a great team and enjoyed our morning's work. I will go back and pick up the straggler box
in a few days or a week.



Viewer mail

Helen writes:
We have just started beekeeping this year. We inherited a hive that had wired wax foundations on the two deeps and one western [editor's note: I'm guessing this means a medium box]. The deeps are pretty full of brood and honey and the western is full of honey so we thought we’d try putting on a second western for honey. We put one on a couple of weeks ago. Since we are sharing work on the hive with a friend and he wanted to use plastic foundations covered with wax and we wanted to use just starter strips covered with wax, we did half of each. Unfortunately they’ve hardly touched either, only sealed around the edges with propolis. I had read someplace that sometimes spraying sugar water on helps, but it didn’t.

Is it possible to successfully introduce frames with starter strips in a hive that has wax foundation in some supers? If so, any thoughts on why the bees seem to be ignoring them? Or what to do to encourage them to start? They do go up and walk around on the starter strips, but they aren’t drawing any comb. We have another hive with just two deeps with wired wax foundations and the bees in that hive have been drawing comb like crazy, so it’s not a matter of not having sufficient nectar & pollen.

Thanks for any advice you can offer.


PS – My husband and I love your site. His favorite saying now it “Backwards is the new forwards!”

Kirk responds:

Well, it probably isn't the starter strips or the plastic foundation. It is probably the time of year. Bees like to draw comb on starter strips and to draw foundation when there is a flow. Also the bees have to "festoon" or hang on the starter strips to draw comb. This means bees—lots of young bees. So depending on what time of year and where you are located has a lot to do with it.

Also if you are up north or where it gets cold that honey is also INSULATION. So if you take the honey you can set them up to freeze and to starve. I have found bees draw comb if there is a flow.

Plastic: I have seen people use all kinds of tricks to try and get bees to draw out the plastic. If you just are a Backwards Beekeeper you will remove most of the confusion you are now experiencing. One other thing. All bees are Backwards the humans just confuse them.....also All Bees are created equal some just work harder than others.

kirkobeeo your pal


LA Weekly visits the Backwards Beekeepers

Thanks to David Cotner of the LA Weekly for a well-written piece on our group:
Kirk Anderson, the Backwards Beekeepers' sardonic and direct guru, leads the meeting. He offers sage slivers of advice for the care and keeping of the bees in a way that comes off as completely natural but in reality stems from decades of observational experience that began in the 1970s, when he ordered bees through the mail from the Montgomery Ward catalog.

Beekeeping may seem like something to be pursued by specialists, involving arcane knowledge or insect sorcery. But, Anderson says, "We want to show everyone that it's easy," wryly promising, "You don't have to be a brain surgeon or a politician to do it." For those who were brought to the meeting because of the stern warnings of the recent documentary Vanishing of the Bees, Anderson stresses, "There are plenty of bees -- nature keeps that bucket pretty full."

Backwards Beekeepers, L.A.'s Bee Rescue Service (LA Weekly)


Backwards Beekeeping in France

Friend-of-the-group Renaud keeps bees in Pénestin, France. He checks in with this photo of himself and his son Grégoire, both modeling Backwards Beekeepers apparel.


Rescuing a Long Beach tree hive

Jennifer, Maddy and Izzy beneath their tree hive.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Barbara writes:
This rescue could not have been sweeter (well, unless there had been honey). One nice mom, two live wire little girls bubbling over with questions, and a sweet little tree hive all made for a pleasant after-dark rescue event in Long Beach.

I had checked on Jennifer's bee situation a couple weeks ago—I had hoped it would just be a swarm, since she had just noticed it. But it turned out that the bees were settled in and were making comb.

When Roberta and I returned, we found the same little hive, now with one more comb than it had three weeks prior. It required some tricky pruning on Roberta's part, since combs were built through several tiny branches as well as the small main branch. She managed to free it and clear a path down.

My job was to hold the ladder still for her and not let go even if a blob of angry bees fell off the branch directly above and landed on me—a distinct possibility. Since my first bee rescue was the BBQ bees from hell bouncing off my veil and entire body, I figured I could handle a bee bomb on my head. Fortunately, I didn't have to test this theory.

This little hive was really a beauty and the bees were not at all defensive. Roberta was able to invite the girls back out to see it since the bees were so calm. Izzy and Maddy were snapping pictures with their own cameras and so excited that one question was tumbling into the next.

We put the hive, branch and all, into a cardboard box. The hive had so little growth in those three weeks that we suspect it might be queen-less, so Roberta has not quite decided where it will end up. Perhaps it will be added to another hive; perhaps she’ll wait and see how it does on its own.

Roberta and I answered each and every bee question the girls could think of while we were cleaning up, while we were packing the car, while we were strapping the ladder on top of the car, well, you get the idea. I’m sure they will still be talking about their big bee adventure for days. Who knows … maybe they will join a future generation of beekeepers. ☺



A Long Beach cut-out, and a happy reunion

Barbara and the hive.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

We got a call on the Bee Rescue Hotline from Chuck in Long Beach, who had some bees move into his wall. They hadn't been there long because he had check this area of the house just a month ago. The bees had gotten behind some boards of the exterior wall.

The first sneak peek at the hive.

Chuck is no stranger to a hammer. He put on a veil and started taking his house apart! It took almost an hour to remove everything but it was worth it. Chuck loved it and caught all of the extraction on video.

Barbara and I tied in the three new combs and vacuumed the bees up into a box. They were flying in and out of the box like it had always been their home.

I was going to come back at night to get them, but then I got a call from Chuck the next day. He was very surprised and dumbfounded that the bees were all gone! These were really nice bees so I was bummed that they left—but sometimes this just happens. They just don't like the new accommodations and take off. Hopefully they found a place with someone as nice as Chuck.

Oh and when we were cleaning up I heard someone calling my name. A little strange for a Sunday morning, but it was a wonderful surprise. It was Theresa from our El Dorado cutout. She was so happy to see us and wanted to talk about writing a grant for setting up a hive at the park. She even brought us out some lemonade. This such a small world and it's filled with exceptional people.



Urban bees doing very well indeed, thank you.

Carla Johnson of AP wrote a very good piece about bees thriving in urban environments:

Membership in beekeeping clubs is skewing younger and growing. The White House garden has beehives. The city of Chicago's hives — nine in all, on rooftops and other government property — are just part of the boom.

"I've seen hives set up on balconies and in very, very small backyards," said Russell Bates, a TV commercial director and co-founder of Backwards Beekeepers, a 3-year-old group that draws up to 100 mostly newcomers to its monthly meetings in Los Angeles.

The group is "backwards" because its members rely on natural, non-chemical beekeeping practices. All their hives are populated by local bees they've captured — or "rescued" as the group's members like to say — from places they're not wanted.

"We don't use mail-order bees," Bates said. "Local bees have adapted to this environment. They're the survivors."

City governments, won over by beekeepers' passion, are easing restrictions. In recent years, New York, Denver, Milwaukee and Santa Monica have made beekeeping legal. The Backwards Beekeepers group is working to legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles.

Amid bee die-off, healthy hives thrive in cities (Carla Johnson, AP)