'70s beekeeping

Kirk posts on his Facebook page:

This is the first honey I ever extracted. It was in Salt Lake City about 1977. I did it outside and every bee in the neighborhood came.

I think my pal Stu Gelb was there also.


April meeting recap

We had a great turnout at today's Backwards Beekeepers meeting!

Kirk answered lots of newbee questions.

Susan reviewed the huge number of Earth Day events that Backwards Beekeepers attended as presenters.

Joseph from the Institute of Domestic Technology announced a lot of interesting opportunities for Backwards Beekeepers to sell their honey at Farmer's Markets.

Chelsea of HoneyLove.org announced an upcoming meeting about beekeeping legalization at the office of LA City Councilman Rosendahl's office—see details at their site.

Then we broke the meeting into lots of smaller groups so that people could connect with each other about their specific beekeeping questions. Chemical-free beekeeping in Los Angeles is growing fast.

See you for our next meeting on May 27th!


A strange-looking swarm

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:
Last night I found a very strange swarm in Long Beach. By Kevin’s description there was a fist size group of bees on his front lawn this afternoon and by the evening there was a 1.5 foot flat blob of bees spread out on the grass.

I’ve seen this a couple of times before, but only when something bad had happened to them. I’ve seen it where there were lots of disoriented bees and dead bees as if someone had sprayed with a pesticide and they fell to the ground.

But Kevin is a lover of all animals (except fleas, he admits). So it's a mystery.

Well, it’s a mess scooping bees off the grass. I scooped as many as possible and then vacuumed the stragglers. I eventually had to put this mess of a box into another one.

Henry and Barbara going to watch them and will let us know how they do. The bees will get to move to the farm if they turn out to be healthy. They were very frisky so I’m hopeful things will turn out well.


Update: They were brought to the farm the next day and they came out like gangbusters. Looked pretty healthy from the way they were flying.


Planting for pollinators

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roxana writes:

On a recent Saturday morning, several Backwards Beekeepers made the trek out to The Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley for a special class titled Planting for Pollinators. The two hour seminar was tailored for us thanks to fellow member Mark with the educational director of the foundation, Lisa Novich.

In this class Lisa shared the importance of pollinators, plants suited to the differing micro climates and soil conditions, how to maintain bee forage bloom all year-round, and gave us a tour of the nursery so that we could see examples of bee-friendly plants, both potted and full-grown on site.

We delved into the importance of all pollinators, not just the European honey bee. Ninety percent of all insects can only eat plants native to their location. This is true worldwide, not just in California. So, that beautiful butterfly, the Anise Swallowtail pictured above, can only survive by eating California native plants.


The joy of mentoring

Yesterday's mentoring crew.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Summer writes:

I wanted to share what a great thing it can be to mentor new beekeepers. They are excited, happy to learn, and love to ask questions. I was a mentee for a long time. I came with Kirk to examine his and my hives every Sunday for over a year. After about 6 months, I started to learn a little about manipulations, moving frames up into different boxes, etc. I made some mistakes. I had a lot of fun! And now, I am a mentor.

Opportunities have presented themselves lately so I have been able to make splits, remove honey, and do cut-outs and trap-outs. I feel it is a whole new level of beekeeping, definitely a step up from going, "Is that honey, or brood?!"

My confidence around bees has definitely been built by being around them every week. Having the chance to see the yearly changes in a hive opens your eyes to what's normal, and you start to notice things immediately when they're off. You become more attuned to the hives. Especially significant is having the opportunity to look in 4 different hives each week - mostly, they're in different stages. There's been fixes we had to do, drone layers to replace, swarms that left an empty hive, ant problems - you just don't get to solve all those problems with one hive at home! Plus, all 4 queens are different and beautiful.

I encourage anyone who's been beekeeping awhile to take a new beekeeper under your wing - chances are, they know less than you do, and you can always learn together.

This week, Kirk and I had several mentees - Michael, Marc, Valerie, Sherrell, and Apple! We got to see a queen in my small hive, split a cut-out Kirk and I had taken yesterday and see a capped queen cell in there, shake some bees into a nuc box to beef it up, and explore Val's hive for eggs. None yet, still waiting...

Apple holds up a frame from a recent cut-out that still has string and masking tape on it.

Kirk and Val look for Val's Queen - or at least some eggs...

Val's bees with some beautiful color variations.

Great view of a queen cell that has been capped since yesterday - we got these from a cut-out. Apple held the frame so I could take the picture - that girl is fearless!

Kirk and I do mentoring in Los Feliz every Sunday. Contact Kirk if you'd like to join us, and we'll show you around a hive (or 4). Please have your veil, gloves, and bee suit with you!



4-H Bee Club takes on a hive rescue

The 4-H hive rescue team: Randy, Susan, Lucia, Lily.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

I’ve been working with the Rancho Palos Verdes 4-H club for about a year now, and I’m always on the look out for Bee Rescue Hotline calls in that area.

One came up that was very near the 4-H meeting place, and it was a cutout. The hive had been there a while—Randy did the investigation work and saw that it was a good-sized hive that would be perfect for one of the empty 4-H hives. Randy really wanted the project for the young ladies to go well, so he went the day before and opened up the wall of the shed where the bees were so that that there'd be easy access. He noticed during that initial work that the bees seemed very defensive, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt.

We planned to meet early the next morning with Lily and her sister Lucia. They’ve been doing beekeeping for about 1 or 2 years now by observing inspections. Randy and Susan led them because I needed to leave for a class. Lily was a little nervous as we got everything set up, but Lucia was so very excited that she kept getting closer and closer to the bees. Lily decided to bow out and watch with her dad and the homeowner from the screen door.

I helped get things going but really hadn’t planned on staying. However, with the first comb removal the bees went into high alert and defense mode. I tried to help out, but could hardly see at one point because there were so many bees in my face. I didn’t really have the right pants on and was stung through them at least 100 times. Ouch!!

Lucia loved it, though, and stayed right in the middle of the action. She got a thrill out of the cutout and I got a few texts afterwards about how much she enjoyed it. Her father said they found hundreds of stingers in her suit and shoes. She didn’t get a single sting. We were all very impressed by her calm and collected enthusiasm. She’s a born bee rescuer.

Bees on the wall: get back in your box!

I checked out the situation the following night and found that most of the bees were on the wall instead of in their new box. Ughh!! Well, I suited up and scooped them up and put them in the box and moved the box so it was touching the wall. I got a bunch more stings but it did the trick because by the next night they were all tucked inside.

Randy picked them up and brought them to a big open area; their behavior wouldn’t be a good fit in a urban backyard. And they just weren’t going to work for the 4-H club. It was a great experience, though, and we’ll find another one soon I bet.

Congratulations to Lucia and Lily on their first cutout adventure and thanks to Randy and Susan for the mentoring.



Roberta grabs a swarm, revives a hive

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

Shannon and her family have been very gracious by allowing me to keep my two hives at their place. The bees have been there for about a year now, and the family feels that their fruit crops have had a big boost from the added pollinators.

I got a few frantic calls about a swarm that had landed on the front yard fence, because Shannon didn’t want anyone to run into it by accident. There had already been some bees and honeycomb that had fallen from a palm tree hive elsewhere in the neighborhood, and that created quite a stir on the street. Shannon thought I should go after that one too but the homeowner already contacted their beekeeper friend to come and rescue it.

The kids are pretty used to the bees being around, and everyone’s been stung at some point since they spend a lot of time outside with bare feet. Shannon swears by her plantain-and-rum poultice that she applies after a sting—she says the pain and swelling just disappears. One of the younger girls, however, once was stung between the eyes and they swelled shut. It’s a great story that they like to tell, and they have pictures of her smiling and sticking out her tongue.

I was going to whisk this swarm off, but we took a look in one of my hives and it was empty, so I put the bees in a box (as the kids watched from a car) and then dumped the bees into the empty hive. All done.

The next time I come, the kids are going to get suited up and will help with the hive inspection. They really wanted to help this time, but it was getting really late so we made it a quick one.



Next Meeting: Sunday, April 29

Backwards Beekeepers meetings take place on the last Sunday of every month.

The next meeting is scheduled for Sunday, April 29 at 11am. As always, we'll be at the Atwater Crossing arts complex. We're going to try a slightly new meeting style so that everyone can get their questions answered and to keep the gathering interesting to beekeepers of all levels:
  • Questions from newbees:  Kirk
  • Breakout groups where people can ask questions about specific topics: 
    • Bee Rescue
    • Community Outreach:
    • Legalization
    • Starter strip waxing - bring your frames and some $ for Kirk
    • Top bar hives 
    • Mentoring
We will also have Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts for sale for $15. They are very fashionable and soft American Apparel tees. These will not be available at the May meeting, so bring cash if you want one now!

Upcoming  meetings (mark your calendar!):
  • May 27
  • June 27
  • July 29
Atwater Crossing
3265-3191 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039-2205

There is ample free parking in the complex parking lot  - PLEASE park in the lot so the residents of the neighborhood can park near their homes. There is also a cafe that sells beverages and tasty flatbreads if you'd like a snack during the meeting.

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


Viewer mail: New beekeeper in Oregon

Hi Kirk,

My name is Bill, I'm a brand-new beekeeper located just outside Portland, Oregon. I've been learning and planning for bees for about a year now and finally got a package this past weekend. (I would have liked to get a swarm, but it isn't swarm season here yet. I'll be looking for one this year and setting out some bait hives though.)

I started out reading the book "Beekeeping for Dummies" and almost got turned off to the idea of keeping bees. The advice in that book makes it seem like antibiotics, miticides, and other chemicals are a beekeeping requirement. But I felt that was too much work and probably harmful to the bees. So I started searching online and that's when I found your site. I've been enjoying your website and YouTube videos. In fact, I consider you to be my "online mentor."

So my first hive is set up and the bees seem happy. I'll be documenting my progress in an online video diary and have a few videos up now.

I've still got a lot to learn, but I'm doing my part up here in the Pacific Northwest to spread the message about backwards beekeeping. Thanks again and keep up the great work!


Thanks for the story, Bill! Please keep us posted on your progress.

As for beekeeping books, we recommend The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping and Michael Bush's The Practical Beekeeper. Both books offer a great look at chemical-free beekeeping.


Kirk goes to Google LA

Kirk says on Facebook:

The Google Executives are going to do a survey then we will put together a beekeeping Seminar for them according to what they need and want.


Swarm season in full swing

Hive-in-a-box in Long Beach.

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

Our swarm season has started, and the calls are pouring in to the Bee Rescue Hotline.

I picked up two of them. The first was in Long Beach, where Christine, tracked us down for her mom. They'd had a swarm before and called the city, then were horrified to see the city crew spray chemicals to exterminate the bees. It's always easy to pick the house on the street that has the bees because it’s usually the woman with flowers all over the front yard while the neighbors have lawn. Christine’s mom had birdfeeders everywhere and lights in the trees making it look like magical garden. She was very protective of the bees though a bit scared around them (and camera shy).

The bees had found an antique box, probably about 75 years old, that was perfect for them. It was dark and big inside. I turned over the bottomless box and exposed a cute small little hive. I wrapped the box up in a sheet and whisked it off. I’ll let them build a bit in there till I figure out what to do with them.

Deborah points out the bees.

Then I went to Culver City and picked up a medium-size swarm from Deborah’s tree. Of course, she’s also a big bee supporter and got up close and personal with the bees to show me where they were. She was certain that her 6-foot ladder could reach them and tried to show me as she stretched out her arm to say, “you can almost touch them." Being about a foot shorter than her, I said No.

Luckily her neighbor had an extension ladder that was perfect and with a few shakes of the branch and a couple of maneuvers, the bees were in the box but mad about the move. The swarm looked about the size of a basketball but felt at least 5 lbs.

I’m hoping they like the box so I can find someone to give them to. There are a few other calls I didn’t have time for so I hope someone out there can help our hotline callers out.

Both families I met were so happy that “their” bees would be given a home and that no chemicals were involved. It’s so rewarding to help out someone and the both of them were going to tell their friends and neighbors so we’ll need more people who can respond to the calls.


You can learn more about becoming a bee rescue volunteer here.