The Buzz on Urban Beekeeping

Bees | Photo: kosso/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If you're trying to raise money to save puppies or kittens or other adorable creatures, it's simple. You find the cutest ones around, snap a few photos, get rights to a Sarah McLachlan song, throw some information up about where to send donations, and bam! Work's done. But bees? A creature that mostly elicits the emotion of run-away-as-fast-as-you-can? They're not exactly the easiest sell.

Which is the problem that's been keeping Chelsea and Rob McFarland -- husband-and-wife team behind the non-profit organization HoneyLove -- busy for the past 18 months. Their goal of trying to make Los Angeles the latest city to legally allow urban beekeeping -- in this regard, L.A. is a bit behind the curve; New York, San Francisco, Seattle and even Santa Monica are among the growing list of cities that allows beekeepers within city limits -- isn't an easy one.

To accomplish it, they've been holding a series of meet-ups, beekeeping workshops, outreach programs and attending neighborhood council meetings to spread the word. (A full listing of their events can be found here.) And all of that hard work is finally showing some dividends.

As the L.A. Times reported, eight neighborhood councils have come out in support of their mission. They also now have a city councilman, Bill Rosendahl, on their side to try to get the legislation passed. Bee-lieve it or not -- sorry, had to do it -- in a relatively short time you may peek over your neighbor's fence and see someone walking around in full beekeeping attire.

I had a brief Q&A with Chelsea about the current state of bee goings-on in the area.

Rick: Is there evidence you've seen that the disappearance of they honeybees is slowing down or stopping?

Chelsea: We have not seen the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder in our hives. We believe this is because the city is the last refuge of the honeybee. Traditional agriculture has put bees in to a tight spot for many reasons -- pesticides, antibiotics, miticides, trucking bees across the country, feeding them high fructose corn syrup instead of allowing them to eat their natural honey, placing contaminated beeswax foundations in their hives... too many reasons to list!

As organic urban beekeepers we do not do any of that. Our home gardens are generally free of pesticides, and in cities like Los Angeles, there is year-round availability of pollen and nectar for the honeybees.

Rick: Have you seen a rise in backyard beekeeping over the years?

Chelsea: Through the legalization process we have seen many sparks in people that have awakened what we call their "bee fever." Many people have had a growing interest in backyard gardening and urban homesteading -- bees (and chickens!) go hand in hand with this trend.

Rick: What kind of opposition are you up against in your attempts to make urban beekeeping more palatable?

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Chelsea: Working with the city is a very slow process -- we have been at this for almost a year and a half now! But our biggest opposition is a lack of education. Our outreach efforts are centered primarily around educating the public about the nature of honey bees. Unfortunately, most people often confuse anything yellow and black with a stinger as a honey bee.

Rick: What should people know about the honeybee they don't yet?

Chelsea: Honey bees are much more docile than a paper wasp or yellow jacket. Bees are fuzzy, vegetarian pollinators who, if they sting you, die instantly. Wasps are not fuzzy, not vegetarian, not that great at pollinating, and can sting multiple times and not die.

Also, most people assume that if they have a swelling reaction to a bee sting that they are deathly allergic. This is also not true. Only one in 1,000 people has an anaphylactic reaction (where their breathing is impaired) to stinging insects. This is less than, for instance, the percentage of people allergic to peanuts! Also most people when thinking about bees only know about the honey and the stinger, and are not aware that we desperately rely on bees for pollination. Bees pollinate 80% of the world's plants and over 90 different food crops. One out of every three to four bites of food is thanks to the bees!

To find out more about HoneyLove and urban beekeeping in general, visit their website.

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