Let me start off by saying that I had no idea how much I’d be affected by my adventures in beekeeping, all because I dared myself to earn this badge. I can’t remember the last time I dove into a new subject with such curiosity, and even though the month is up, I have a feeling it’s only the beginning.
I started my ‘beesearch’ as it were (har har) by heading to my local juice store. I knew they sold bee pollen and royal jelly in their smoothies and on their shelves, and thought I might start there, but the owner wasn’t around and he had all the answers about those items. The guy at the register did, however, ask if I’d seen the ‘Vanishing of the Bees‘ documentary, and lo and behold, I had found my starting point. I went home and started watching it right away (thanks, Netflix) while searching the internet for beekeeping groups in LA.
The documentary horrified and educated me on the state of bees in America, and their rapidly declining population. Terms like Colony Collapse Disorder were introduced into my life, and everyone from farmers and families to the general public were talking about it and upset, as they should be. My mind started getting carried away with thoughts of a post-apocalyptic Soylent Green-esque world when I realized how much we depend on bees for our produce and how, if this problem continues, we’ll have to start importing 90% or more of our fruits and vegetables from other countries. We already import bees from other places like Australia to pollinate our own crops because our bees are disappearing. I was stunned. I had no idea this was happening, and all of my like-minded friends who I’m sure think we’re at least trying to be aware of what’s happening in the world seemed more puzzled or scared as to why I would pick beekeeping of all badges, because, let’s face it: Bees have a bad rap. They get confused with yellowjackets, wasps and hornets, which as far as I’ve read, are just jerks that look similar to bees. In fact, in the city of Los Angeles, if bees are found on your property, they are required to be removed or exterminated. Some folks are trying to change this.
Already, I was shocked at what I’d learned.
After looking at a few different classes and groups, I stumbled upon this LA Weekly article about a very colorful couple, Rob and Chelsea MacFarland who are part of the Backwards Beekepers, a group of organic, treatment-free beekeeper and rescuers, and who also founded HoneyLove.org. As luck would have it, National Honey Bee Day was on the horizon and they were in charge of it. I packed up a bag with the library books I’d checked out from HoneyLove’s GoodReads list, armed with my newfound knowledge and horror from the documentary, as well as a million questions, and boarded the 720 bus to Santa Monica. That was quite a trek from DTLA to Santa Monica, but it gave me more time to study.
When I got to LUSH, where National Honey Bee Day was being held, it was a party indeed. The LUSH employees were dressed up in bee costumes putting products on everyone and buzzing around, Chelsea was in a bee costume, Rob was in his beekeeping suit, HoneyLove Director Ashley was putting temporary bee tattoos on everyone at the Tattoo Station, and Ceebs, called the HoneyLove Factotum, was outside greeting people with a little bee headband on, and she was soon to be my divine leader into the catacombs of ‘bee church,’ as she calls it.
After surveying the scene and being greeted by a number of friendly folks, I honed in on Ceebs and started asking her a million questions. Here’s what I initially learned that was fascinating to me:
- Honeybees are not native to North America. They were introduced in the 1600s for honey production, mostly from Italy, Germany and later Africa (and all of these bees have different temperaments, ranging from the more gentle Italian bees to the more ‘defensive’ African bees, which are taking over the US and have more resistance to mites and other honeybee killers). Now bees join horses and pigeons in my ‘what? these weren’t here to begin with?’ Hall of Fame.
- Honeybees are 90-95% female. The drones (males) spend their entire lives eating (gorging) on honey and lazing around the hive like a bunch of unhelpful dolts (from what I gather), until it’s time for them to fulfill their sole purpose in life – to mate with the queen the one day in her life that she does this. Upon mating their ‘parts’ shall I say, break off in the queen, and they die. What a life eh?
- If a hive thinks their queen is ‘underperforming’ in any way, for example, not laying enough eggs, they do something called ‘balling the queen,’ or ‘cuddle death,’ where they huddle so close to her that she overheats and expires. Before they do this though, they lay 4-5 bigger cells for new queens to be hatched, feed the cells royal jelly, which is given to all bees the first 3 days of life, then only for to-be queens afterwards, and the new queens duke it out until there is a new Queen Bee Supreme.
Pretty interesting stuff, right? This whole universe is happening under our very noses and most people don’t even know about it!
To bee continued…