In many parts of the world honeybees are in trouble, with their populations in sharp decline. That decline has scientists, environmentalists, farmers and bee lovers worried because of the bees/ importance to pollination and, thus, agriculture.
But there’s some good news: here in Los Angeles the wild bee population is thriving, with as many as a dozen hives per square mile in some neighborhoods. And where there are bees there are beekeepers. L.A. has a surprisingly big community of urban beekeepers who have backyard hives. These urban beekeepers are motivated both by their love of straight, fresh-from-the-hive honey and a desire to do something to help save the global bee population.
However, when it comes to municipal rules and regulations, urban beekeeping in the City of L.A. isn’t explicitly legal. Urban beekeeping advocates, led by a group called HoneyLove, are trying to change that. They’d like to see the city adopt rules and regulations that both promote urban beekeeping and safeguard wild bee hives reported by the public.
Rob McFarland, seen here in full bee protection gear, is the co-founder of HoneyLove, a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect honeybees and promote urban beekeeping. He’s harvesting honey from a rooftop hive of bees we visited in West Los Angeles. “Bees are the most fascinating creatures” says McFarland. “The more you learn about them, the more they pull you into their world.” (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
McFarland shows off bees and a rack of their honeycomb. From just this one hive, with its 50,000 bees, McFarland says he can harvest up 30 to 40 pounds of honey. McFarland calls L.A. a “bee nirvana.” with as many as a dozen hives per square mile in some places. Why the big bee populations? It’s partly because of the city’s quantity of well-irrigated gardens rich in nectar and pollen and the relative lack of harmful pesticides in the air compared to agricultural areas. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
Rob McFarland (left) prepares to meet the bees by lighting a “smoker.” as KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez records. As its name suggests, the device releases smoke into the hive and tranquilizes the honeybees for a short period so that the honey can be safely harvested. Urban beekeepers emphasize that most bees found in Los Angeles aren’t aggressive, especially if you leave them alone. Beekeepers say people’s fear of getting stung is a big PR obstacle in the way of promoting urban beekeeping. The City of Los Angeles says it does everything possible to relocate hives instead of destroying them when people call to complain. (Photo by Kareem Maddox)
Paul Hekimian, also with HoneyLove, is a second-generation beekeeper in Santa Monica. Beekeeping isn’t explicitly legal in Los Angeles, like it is in New York, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Hekimian and other members of HoneyLove are lobbying to change that. He’d like to see L.A. adopt rules similar to what his community has in place. “The ordinance here in Santa Monica is very simple,” says Hekimian. You are allowed to have two hives facing five feet away from your neighbor’s property line.”
(Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
HoneyLove spreads the word about urban beekeeping by holding public events and tutorials. In HoneyLove’s Culver City offices, people can learn how to take honey straight from the honeycomb, crush and strain it, and place it into jars for storage. Talking about producing home honey, urban beekeeper Paul Hekimian says “It’s like if you owned a vineyard, and within the community we share each others honey. It’s like fine wine.” (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)