Can Urban Beekeeping Stop the Beepocalypse?

[Note:  Quote from Stacy McKenna, Secretary of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association: "I fundamentally agree with the post - urban bees will help with urban gardening but not commercial agriculture.  Of course, he totally leaves out the issue of Best Management Practices to deal with the Africanization in our area."

Quote from William Lewis, President of the California State Beekeepers Association and past President of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association: "I am certainly in support of bees in the city, but only if Best Management Practices, which was provided to the city planners, are adhered to which means "known gentle genetics".  I don't think this can be achieved by keeping local feral colonies.  I have not seen proof that they are well behaved and in my experience, the ferals I catch have turned out to be very aggressive."]     By Bryan Walsh   2/13/14

Los Angeles is ready to make urban beekeeping legal, just as colony collapse disorder is ravaging commercial bee populations

I’m just going to say it: Los Angeles is abuzz over urban beekeeping. For years the city has had a thriving underground beekeeping culture, with hives kept in backyards by Los Angelenos who want their honey extra local. It’s part of a national trend that has even luxury hotels like the Waldorf-Astoria in New York keeping bees on city roofs or in tiny urban backyards. But while Los Angeles is ideal for amateur apiaries—bees, like people, are drawn to southern California’s warm climate and plentiful forage—keeping bees in residential areas of the city has been illegal, as it still is in much of the U.S. Beekeepers like Rob McFarland, who keeps 25,000 bees on the roof of his house in West L.A., were essentially breaking the law.

That’s going to change. On Feb. 12 the Los Angeles City Council ordered a review of the city’s zoning laws to allow urban beekeeping in residential areas. And the council did so in part because they believed that promoting urban beekeeping could help fight the perplexing problem of severe bee morality, including the still mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD). As L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz put it:

This puts our long-term food security at risk because pollinators are vital to our food supply. One-third of what we eat is due to pollinators, and they are a key to our agricultural industry.

(MORE: The Plight of the Honeybee)

There’s little reason that city dwellers shouldn’t be allowed to keep bees if they have the space, the money and the patience. Besides producing honey, urban bees can pollinate local gardens, helping green their city. But will the uptick in urban beekeeping really be enough to offset the mounting losses for commercial beekeepers, who this past winter lost nearly a third of their colonies?

Not exactly. While hobbyists beekeepers in cities and elsewhere certainly help keep bee populations going, there simply aren’t anywhere near enough of them to meet the enormous pollination needs of agriculture, should commercial bees keep dying. It takes billions of honeybees from around the U.S. to pollinate the spring’s almond crop in California, for example. Even if there were enough urban bees to do that job, location matters. Honeybees generally stay close to home when foraging for nutrition, so they’re unlikely to offer much help to the large farms that need them. And since bees need plants and flowers for forage, there may also be a limit to how many urban hives could ever be packed into a city like L.A. Already there are concerns in cities like New York and London that urban bees are running out of forage. The hard truth is that there simply aren’t enough urban bees out there to compensate for high mortality rates in commercial hives—and there probably never will be.

(PHOTO: The Bee, Magnified)

But that doesn’t mean that city bees can’t help. Urban bees can be a boon for urban agriculture, which is on the rise as well. And there’s some evidence that urban bees are healthier than their country counterparts. In a TEDx talk from 2012, Noah Wilson-Rich, a biologist at Tufts University and the founder of the Best Bees Company, reported research that found significantly higher survival rates in urban bees versus traditional rural bees, as well as higher honey yields. It’s not clear why that’s the case—it could be that urban bees are exposed to fewer toxic pesticides, or that they simply face less competition for resources. Plant diversity in city parks and gardens, surprisingly, is often better than in rural areas, which are increasingly dominated by crop monocultures that offer little nutrition for hungry honeybees. Commercial bees are also frequently shipped around the country to pollination sites, something that can stress populations—and something that homebody urban bees don’t have to worry about.

So Los Angelenos, embrace your city bees. They may not stave off the beepocalypse alone, but you can’t beat the buzz.

Read more: Los Angeles Moves to Legalize Urban Beekeeping in the City |

L.A. Backyard Beekeeping Picking Up Buzz

Los Angeles Times    By Emily Alpert Reyes   2/12/14

Keeping bees is officially banned in L.A.'s residential neighborhoods, but widely tolerated. Now the City Council is exploring regulations to permit home beekeeping. 

When Max Wong first "outed" herself to her neighbors, she wondered when the police would be knocking on her door. Until then, she had kept her passion a secret.

But Wong said most of her Mount Washington neighbors were simply puzzled. Beekeeping? Illegal? In Los Angeles?

"It's the yummiest way of breaking the law," said Wong, one of the backyard beekeepers who is pushing for Los Angeles to allow apiaries in residential zones. In a city so proud of its orange trees and urban greenery, "beekeeping should never have been illegal," she said.

Under Los Angeles codes, beekeeping isn't allowed in residential zones like her Mount Washington yard, according to city planning officials. Backyard beekeeping has nonetheless blossomed as Angelenos worried about honeybee health or devoted to urban farming have started tending hives at home. Now backyard beekeepers want Los Angeles to follow in the footsteps of New York and Santa Monica, spelling out rules to let people keep bees in residential neighborhoods.

If Los Angeles gives backyard beekeepers the stamp of approval, "they can come out of the closet, so to speak," said William Lewis, president of the California State Beekeepers Assn. "They won't need to fear that a neighbor will force them to move their hives."

The City Council took its first step Wednesday toward exploring the idea, asking staffers to draft a report. At a news conference before the meeting, Councilman Paul Koretz argued that urban beekeeping was especially needed in the face of colony collapse disorder, which has devastated agricultural hives that pollinate avocados, almonds and other crucial crops.

"If you care about blueberries," Councilman Mike Bonin added, "you care about this."

Not everyone was convinced that new rules were needed. Southern California beekeeper Dael Wilcox argued that backyard beekeeping wasn't actually illegal, just not spelled out in law, and that the city should keep it that way. So far, complaints about managed hives have been so rare that the city doesn't track them in their own category, Department of Building and Safety spokesman Luke Zamperini said.

Other beekeepers countered that regulations would get rid of any "gray area" and ensure that hives were tended safely. Santa Monica approved such rules three years ago, restricting backyard beekeepers to no more than two hives and regulating how and where the hives could be placed near property lines. New York set forth its own rules even earlier, much to the chagrin of locals who argue that Los Angeles should have led the way.

"We should at least keep up with New York City on things like this, if not surpass them!" said Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council President Nina Zippay, whose group backs urban beekeeping.

Beekeeping seems to have boomed in recent years. Lewis said that when he started keeping bees in the Los Angeles area, fewer than a dozen people showed up at local beekeeping meetings. Last month the number was near 70, he said. Rob McFarland, co-founder of the Los Angeles beekeeping nonprofit HoneyLove, estimated that Los Angeles beekeepers number "somewhere in the thousands." Swelling interest in sustainability has driven the trend.

"If we can protect honeybees," McFarland said, "we can go a long way in protecting our ecosystems."

On his Del Rey rooftop, McFarland pried open a hive Tuesday to show a reporter rows of wooden frames coated with bees, moseying over honeycomb. He estimates as many as 30,000 bees call it home, but neighbors and bypassers would scarcely know it was there if he hadn't told them about it. In Santa Monica, police and city officials said backyard beekeeping hadn't caused any serious problems.

The idea still stirs up fears. City Council member Bernard Parks asked city staffers to make sure the report explains how hazards and potential health issues such as bee allergies would be addressed. Before the meeting, McFarland argued that beekeeping would actually diminish those threats, because people were less likely to be stung by a "managed colony" than by untended bees. Koretz and other backers also said that worries about aggressive Africanized bees, a concern raised by some biologists and critics, were overblown because such bees had long since interbred.

Experienced beekeepers know how to handle a hive that turns aggressive, but "the worry is if someone just doesn't pay attention," UCLA ecology professor Peter Nonacs said.

Besides exploring backyard beekeeping, the City Council also voted to instruct the Bureau of Street Services, which handles calls about unwanted hives, to promote alternatives to extermination such as relocating "nuisance" hives. It also threw its support behind a federal bill calling for certain pesticides to be suspended until they were proved not to harm bees and other pollinators.

"If we don't vote for it," Councilman Mitchell Englander joked before the unanimous vote, "it'll be a buzz kill.",0,6217453.story#ixzz2tEgddalE

[NOTE from William Lewis, President of the California State Beekeepers Association and past President of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association: "I am certainly in support of bees in the city, but only if Best Management Practices, which was provided to the city planners, are adhered to which means "known gentle genetics".  I don't think this can be achieved by keeping local feral colonies.  I have not seen proof that they are well behaved and in my experience, the ferals I catch have turned out to be very aggressive."] 

[QUOTE: "To just haul them (feral bees) out of the fences and stick them in the backyard, that's not a good idea," said Eric Mussen, a bee expert at the University of California, Davis.]

See this link for guidelines for Best Management Practices.

See this link for more information on Africanized Honey Bees

Los Angeles Considers Legalizing Urban Beekeeping  2/12/14

Urban beekeeping, along with other more typically rural pursuits like raising chickens and planting edible gardens, has become more popular as a part of the homesteading movement. Not only do urban beekeepersactually have several advantages over their rural counterparts—rural areas are doused with pesticides, they don't offer the same variety of plants as cities and the bees don't have to be trucked in to Los Angeles—but the bees are already here. They also have a more diverse, year-round source for pollen. Unfortunately, up until this point, beekeeping in city limits has been against the law.

Many have been campaigning to change that. And today the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to conduct a study on legalizing urban beekeeping in Los Angeles, according to City News Service.

The study would look into overturning the law banning beekeeping in areas where there are single-family homes. The council also passed a motion that calls on the city to explore more humane ways of removing bees other than extermination. A third motion passed supports federal protections for bees against pesticides.