The earth has a serious bee problem. Since 2005-2006 between 20-35% of all bees have been dying off every winter in what has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Though bees have inherent value unrelated to their impact on humans, obviously, it is worth noting that bees are responsible for pollinating much of our food, and play a crucial role in the earth’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that the main cause of CCD is use of neonicotinoid pesticides, so it’s kind of on us to fix this. What can you do to help? Keep a pesticide-free garden, offer water sources to passing bees, and embark on a path of urban beekeeping! If you live in L.A., you can get hands-on assistance from Chelsea and Rob McFarland, founders of HoneyLove, who provide resources and a community of like-minded people. Chelsea kindly took the time to answer a few of my bee-related questions:
1. What kind of physical set up does an L.A. resident need to keep a beehive on their property?
There are no official rules. Here are some general guidelines:
(1) Hives should be located at least five feet from all property lines.
(2) Hive entrances should face away from or parallel to the nearest property line(s).
(3) Hives must either be screened so that the bees fly over a six-foot barrier, which may be vegetative, before leaving the property, or be placed at least eight feet above the adjacent ground level.
2. What kind of financial and time commitment does beekeeping require?
Approximately $500 and 2+ hours every two to three weeks. More details are available on the HoneyLove site.
3. What is the current legal status of beekeeping in the city?
Beekeeping is legal in Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, and the county of Los Angeles. However, L.A. currently only allows beekeeping in manufacturing and commercial zones. The L.A. City Council is still studying our motion to allow beekeeping in residential zones and is scheduled to vote on it at some point in the next few months. (Fingers crossed!)
4. You note that HoneyLove encourages people to contact live bee removal services for stray unwanted hives. How much does this cost, and where do they take the bees?
It costs roughly the same as an exterminator. The live bee removal services take bees and give them a new home, while the exterminators simply kill them.
5. Do urban beekeepers ever run into issues with neighbors that may have bee allergies? Are there potential legal ramifications with this? The city of Seattle legalized beekeeping over 50 years ago and has rarely received complaints about it, categorizing beekeeping as a “non-issue.” That’s typical of cities which have legalized the practice. On average, there are already between nine and eleven colonies of bees in every square mile of Los Angeles. We are hoping to add a dedicated base of volunteers to expand on this already natural occurrence — bees in the city!
6. A lot of concern about Colony Collapse Disorder centers around bees not being around to pollinate plants. Given their relatively short reach, what plants are bees likely to pollinate in an urban, non-agricultural, area?
Bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants (including 100 different food crops), and cities actually provide more robust habitats than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping. That’s because the practice of monoculture — planting of a single crop over a large area — means that all the plants in a given area are either in bloom or not at any given time. When they’re not, these vast plots are devoid of the pollen and nectar that hives require for survival. Cities, however, provide greater biodiversity for foraging bees throughout the year, because of the greater variety of plant life.
City bees are also less likely to encounter pesticides when feeding than their rural counterparts, thus eliminating one more reason for their decline.
7. How many hives are being kept by urban beekeepers in L.A.? Is this trend also catching on nationally and internationally? There is no official registration for beekeepers, but we have nearly 500 members in our Meetup group. When I speak to the other cities around the nation who have legalized beekeeping, they report around one percent of their population registering as beekeepers. This is an international trend for sure.
Thanks so much, Chelsea! Be sure to contact HoneyLove if you want to pursue your urban beekeeping dream!