Bees gone wild
It turns out the future of bees may involve getting back to basics. Meet the Backwards Beekeepers.
Thursday, August 19, 2010 - 21:44
A BEEKEEPER IS BORN: My visit to Feral Bee, with hosts Amy (on left) and Russell (right). (Photo: Rachel Whitman)
"The more I studied beekeeping, the less I knew, until, finally, I knew nothing."
—Charles Martin Simon
"There's no future in dead bees."
My world has been turned upside down by a visit to some "backwards beekeepers." Local apiarists Russell Bates and Amy Seidenwurm, whose operation Feral Bee is based in Silver Lake, were kind enough to let me get up close and personal with their hives last weekend. I've come away from the experience thoroughly smitten with the swarming insects, as well as with the notion of getting back to basics when it comes to honey bees.
By now, most people are aware of the bee phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. CCD began rather mysteriously in 2006, when beekeepers across the U.S. and worldwide reported hives being abandoned and bees dying off in large numbers. Investigation has pointed to a variety of possible culprits, and pesticides have been considered a prime suspect as a potential contributing factor. No determination has yet been made, though, as to what truly leads to what a recent document documentary calls the "Vanishing of the Bees."
Backwards Beekeepers believe it isn't necessarily the pesticides or chemicals — though, to be clear, they're not in favor of using these substances to sustain hives — but that large-scale commercial beekeeping operations are the true antagonists to healthy apis mellifera colonies. Shipping hives to wide-ranging locations to pollinate crops, feeding those often undernourished traveling hives corn syrup to sustain them and breeding bees in ways that don't promote survivors are just some of the harmful practices that occur in the commercial beekeeping community. Backwards Beekeepers advocate a return to simple, natural hive tending.
"Let bees be bees" is basically their motto, and they are of the firm belief that bees require minimal assistance from humans — relocation if the bees choose an unfortunate location to swarm, maybe some cane sugar water if a hive is depleted or lacking a food source, and that's about it.
During my visit to the Feral Bee hives, Russell and Amy introduced me to Los Angeles honey bee wrangler extraordinaire, Kirk Anderson. Kirk has a ton of experience with bees, and is an excellent ambassador for the Backwards Beekeepers. His bee-loving spirit is infectious, and his way with hives is amazing. Kirk urged me to check out one of his inspirations, the apiarist Charles Martin Simon, who's a pretty intense guy. Simon grapples with the full spectrum of honey bee behavior: the swarming, the social order, the naturally occurring wisdom and the wildness that leads to their inexplicable, sometimes fatal decisions. Tending honey bee hives as Simon does is not just about entomology — it holds a touch of philosophy, as well.
Suffice it to say, I'm hooked. And in my quest to become more environmentally connected in the urban jungle that is Los Angeles, and to share my eco-adventures with the MNN audience, I joined the Backwards Beekeepers Yahoo! Group and am planning to mix and mingle with them and others interested in local agriculture and the like at the meeting later this month. Check back to see what happens ...
For now, I'm enjoying a sample of honey produced by hives in Eagle Rock (thank you, Kirk!) and looking forward to a heartfelt celebration of National Honey Bee Awareness Day on August 21.
For an entertaining glimpse into Kirk's bee wrangling exploits, take a look at these videos. I warn you, though, you won't be able to stop with just one - and that speaks to the beauty that is nature, the beauty that is the elegant, industrious, venomous, sweet honey bee.
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