My first Backwards Beekeepers meeting
Under the Spring Street bridge near downtown Los Angeles, apiarists exchange ideas and experiences -- all in the interest of growing honey bee culture in the Southland.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - 10:51
CITY MEETS COUNTRY: Farmlab fields near the heart of downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Rachel Whitman)
I'm completely intrigued with the Backwards Beekeepers group and what the people in it are sharing. Though we live in a highly developed, urban, fast-paced environment, we're all choosing to make a connection with nature. A connection strong enough to drag us all out of bed this past Sunday morning and to a fantastic meeting space called Farmlab, situated under a bridge in downtown Los Angeles.
Kirk Anderson presided over what I understand is a monthly gathering of hive keepers and people interested in becoming bee patrons (like myself). The setting was oddly appropriate — unmistakably urban but with a clear desire for some wilderness and nature. Farmlab's spot boasts wildflowers, a variety of crops growing, numerous large water cisterns and even a solitary white bird (something in the chicken family, I believe).
The meeting got rolling right away, with people sharing stories about hive issues and seeking advice or, more plainly, help. In each case, Kirk asks questions to troubleshoot the problem, and gives opinions about possible remedial action. As always, his descriptions and views are colorful and practical.
With hive threats like wax worms or robber bees, Kirk says firmly and simply that the best defense is a strong hive. You can help your hive, though, by not collecting honey from mid-July through September. Kirk says the inevitable spills during collection would attract too many predators during those months — from ants to robber bees and others. Yes, you read that correctly: robber bees. "Hive wars" are medieval and not for the faint of heart. In this video you can see the grim aftermath of one that happened at Russell and Amy's Feral Bee a short few months ago. The hive is still recovering ...
On the honey bee health front, there was a discussion about preferred methods for feeding a struggling or malnourished hive. In Backwards Beekeeping, hive feeding is something done only out of necessity, and there are many acceptable methods, such as pollen cake (available here at LA Honey) coated in sugar water, honey and comb (preferably the hive's own, or at least organic), or sugar water in a gallon plastic baggie. Kirk's staunch specification, though, is to use cane sugar for sugar water feeding. It's important to distinguish cane sugar from plain sugar because of Monsanto's dominant genetically modified (GM) sugar beet crop.
The good news is that just two weeks ago a federal judge revoked government approval of GM sugar beets until regulators complete a more thorough review of how the scientifically engineered crops affect other food. Interestingly, in March of this year, the same judge who issued this newest GM sugar beet ruling, Judge Jeffrey S. White, denied a request for a preliminary injunction, which allowed plantings for 2010 to proceed.
So the bad news is that the so-called "Roundup Ready" beets (referring to the weed killer they're designed to be impervious to) are already planted on over 1 million acres across 10 states in the U.S. According to Associated Content, about "50 percent of refined sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets. Of that amount, almost all has been the Monsanto genetically modified seed since 2008."
It's probably obvious by this point that I enjoyed the BB gathering and heard all sorts of things (like the nugget of sugar beet info above) that I'm looking forward to exploring and learning more about. My apiary adventure has begun ...
Photos: Rachel Whitman