Thursday, April 2, 2009

URBAN BUZZ or how I became an urban beekeeper.

Last summer a colony of bees decided to move into my garage. I did not give it a second thought  until the beehive in the wall got too big to ignore. As an architect with a practice focussed on sustainability, I knew that bees are precious creatures responsible for helping us survive by pollinating our crops and providing honey, and also that lately there have been enough reports in the press about the fact that they were dying in record numbers. All I wanted was to find somebody to safely removed them. Not kill them, for sure, but remove them and find a new home for them.

After a couple of failed attempts at contacting bee removal companies, luck had it that I found Kirk Anderson of Kirk's Urban Bees. When he showed up that afternoon with his assistant Sebastian, he immediately took care of the situation explaining that it would be a process that would require patience, know how, $150, and mostly love and respect for the bees. Kirk came back 3 or 4 times to check on the progress of the enterprise, which included setting up a temporary box for the bees to move into, until the permanent home would be found. 
By then I had fallen under the spell of Kirk's charm, knowledge, and love for bees and people alike. Kirk, a house painter by trade, is a true guru... his boundless energy and  know how about bees and life does not cease to amaze me. He has now decided to make a living as a full time bee person. 
(213-300-7512 to order his delicious honey).

Next for me was deciding to keep the bees in my garden. I started reading about them, joined the Backwards Beekeeping Club, followed the news on the bulletin board, and...become a big bee enthusiast. I even gave a talk on bees at the Urban Livestock seminar organized by Homegrown Evolution

It turns out that the feral urban bee is the best kept secret in the apiary world. Since most of us do not use pesticides in our gardens and mostly leave the bees alone to do what bees do, they make healthy and vibrant colonies. Backwards beekeeping follows the teachings of Charles Martin Simon, which simply put states that the commercial way is all wrong, that "backwards is the new forward"!
Commercial beekeeping breeds a larger worker bee, which on one hand can carry larger amounts of pollen and produce more honey, but also has a lower metabolism and is highly susceptible to mites, their biggest enemy. Also, commercial bees are put to work pollinating large fields treated with heavy doses of pesticides, and transported long distances under harsh conditions in order to do this work. No wander!

In our communities of Silver Lake and Echo Park, in Los Angeles, lots of us keep bees, and our club has grown to over 90 members in the last month alone (when I joined we were about 10).
It seems that lately, wherever I turn is all about bees. KPCC has done a segment on us and the LATimes has published an article, Isabella Rossellini has done short films, the Obamas have beehives at the White House, and now I get my haircut at The Hive, a new salon/art gallery down the street... BEES, BEES, BEES!

Growing one's own food is to me the height of luxury, and the economic slowdown created the time to pursue it. The garden seems more complete with the little fellows buzzing around; trees, vegetables and flowers seem to be thriving, and by summer we'll be able to taste our own honey!
So this is how the bees found me, and through them I found a new passion. Keeping an open mind and trusting the serendipitous universe seems to have worked one more time.


  1. I love bees. Always worry that they do not have enough homes in the city. How big does your lot have to be? We have over 6,000 sq. feet but neighboring structures are only a few feet or less from the property lines here. What do you think?

  2. The requirements depend on your local codes.
    I understand in LA is 300 feet, but the best policy is to let your neighbors know that you are keeping bees, give them honey, listen to their concerns and try to accommodate them. Also, make sure the entrance to the beehive faces away from people's pathways.

  3. We have had bees in our Guatapa (sp?) tree for years now. At one time they moved to a small oak tree temporarily (I guess the Queen had to take a job) - and then left from there - maybe another queen was born and you know how it is when 2 queens are in the same room! LOL
    Anyway - we enjoy looking at our bees in our tree!

  4. What child does not like honey, what mom does not have at least offered the classic glass of milk, honey and propolis to baby cooled. Who has not encountered in his life a bee with his sympathetic whistle, or tried the pain of the poison of the sting ... and then, again, who has not lit scented candle wax in the summer sipping wine with friends. But who really know how these industrious "workers" produces a nectar that sought, among other things honey is one of the most apreciated thing of one of beloved animals by children: the bear?
    The world of these insects, is so complex and efficient, and has fascinated few philosophers, writers and scientists.
    The relationship between humans and insects has never been easy.
    Many insects have been for man a real disaster, for the damage caused in agriculture, and also because they were responsible for the transmission of diseases such as plague and malaria. Thus, even today, between humans and insects, there is a war ongoing. Man is always searching a ways of dealing with ever more effective at the same time insects take advantage of their great ability to adapt to survive the attacks of man.
    The insects are not well-seen and often, even unfairly, causing feelings of fear, contempt and disgust.
    But bees are a rare exception. The man, in fact, has always had respect for them and not just because it produced the honey.
    The bees have appeared on earth long before man. Even prehistoric people were affected by the bees. Indeed some graffiti discovered in a cave in Spain that dates back to around 20,000 years BC (Paleolithic era) depicting a hunting scene with honey.
    In spring, when the sun begins to warm, the first flowers appear and immediately flights of worker bees.
    The flowers with their colors and smells and summit, called and invite th bees to reach the flower, who are exploring in search of sugary liquid (nectar) from which the honey is produced. If the search is successful the bee begins to suck the nectar with its proboscis, till them are full, and only then, the bee returns arnia where the other bee workers of his family are waiting
    When a bee discovers a rich spoils goes back to their familt and inform their fellow doing a dance. Many bees closely follow the dancer and understand where is the pasture. After the dance the bees leave in a group home in a hurry to reach the place indicated.
    A spoils alone would take a long time to collect all the available nectar and the harvest could go up in smoke or because of competing insects or other reasons. The bees fly in great numbers and so are confident that all the nectar and pollen will be available in store.
    To get the honey bees had to work a lot, young and older togheter, when the weather is beautiful and the days are mild.
    The bees convert in honey the nectar that work tirelessly day and night.
    After seasons of flowers and warm winter arrives and the collection is no longer possible.