Bee-curious
Long Beach beekeepers rescue swarms, generate buzz

Photos by Ashley Fowler/Signal Tribune From left: Roberta Kato, a member of Long Beach Beekeepers who teaches beginner classes on raising bees, and first-time bee-handler Mihail Nica, inspect new honeycombs in a hive at the Long Beach Organic South 40 Community Garden last Saturday morning.
Photos by Ashley Fowler/Signal Tribune

From left: Roberta Kato, a member of Long Beach Beekeepers who teaches beginner classes on raising bees, and first-time bee-handler Mihail Nica, inspect new honeycombs in a hive at the Long Beach Organic South 40 Community Garden last Saturday morning.

Ashley Fowler
Staff Writer

Swarms of bees are no problem for the Long Beach Beekeepers, a group who says its mission is to educate the general public and policy makers on urban beekeeping.
“We want people to lose their fear of the honey bee,” the club’s president, Henry Kurland, said.
Amateur beekeepers gather for the club’s beginner classes at 8am on the first Saturday of every month to learn how a hive is maintained at the Long Beach Organic South 40 Community Garden, 2813 South St.
Last Saturday, May 3, Long Beach Beekeeper Roberta Kato suited up with a group of nine others to inspect the club’s hive at the community garden. Once the zippers and hems were taped down on everyone’s white beekeeping suits, she explained how to open the hive.
First, especially if the bees are agitated, Kato said it was important to calm them with smoke. She puffed her beehive smoker, which contained burning shredded paper, into the hive. The smoke masks the pheromones that alert the other bees of possible danger and causes confusion.

Local beekeepers seem to not have as much trouble with Colony Collapse Disorder, when worker bees suddenly disappear from a hive, since they do not undergo much stress since they are rarely moved.
Local beekeepers seem to not have as much trouble with Colony Collapse Disorder, when worker bees suddenly disappear from a hive, since they do not undergo much stress since they are rarely moved.

Then, she encouraged the beekeepers-in-training to use soft voices and to be careful not to bang or clang around the equipment. Bees startle easily, she said.
When Kato asked the attendees who wanted to open the hive, first-time bee-handler Mihail Nica volunteered. He said he is looking for a swarm of his own but wanted some experience working with bees first before he would use them to help pollinate his fruit trees and vegetable garden.
“I’m also thinking about getting chickens later on, but I read that bees are a good animal to start with because they don’t require a ton of maintenance,’ Nica said. “I thought I would try it out.”
Kato showed him the proper technique to pop the hive open— slowly and carefully.
“You have to go into the hive being calm, knowing what you are going to do,” beekeeper Luis Sanchez said. “Beekeeping definitely relaxes you in a way because you have to be calm.”
Olivia Covarrubias, who calls herself “an animal lover,
Olivia Covarrubias, who calls herself “an animal lover,” and her mother, Eva Covarrubias, spent Saturday morning learning about bee-handling at the Long Beach Organic South 40 Community Garden.

“I’m not worried about handling the bees,” Nica said. “I’m actually more worried about my neighbors because not everyone is comfortable with it.”
Nica said he already has the necessary equipment.
“I have it, I bought it, I assembled it, and now I kind of need the one key part— bees,” Nica said.
Kato suggested that Nica take on a swarm the Beekeepers were planning to rescue from another location. Often times, they will do this to avoid the bees being exterminated.
“Without honey bees, we would have very little fruits, vegetables and grains,” Kurland said. “That, in turn, would affect livestock. Food prices would soar.”
There has been lots of media buzz about bees over the last few years, reports that the bee population was still on the decline, and Kurland said, “the problem hasn’t really changed or diminished.”
Commercial beekeepers are still suffering from the impact of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in other words, when worker bees suddenly disappear from the hive.
Many of the state’s honeybees are transported up to the almond fields to pollinate, but this year there was a major kill-off due to the use of insecticides near the almonds, according to Kurland, and the result was that fewer bees pollinated the crops.
Local beekeepers were not having as much trouble with CCD, which Kurland attributes to the relative stability of an urban hive. They do not undergo the same amount of stress as they are rarely moved.
But extermination and CCD could have some profound consequences, which could be avoided with a little education, Sanchez said. He is also a second-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School.
First-time handler Mihail Nica practices removing slats from a honeybee hive.
First-time handler Mihail Nica practices removing slats from a honeybee hive.

“There could be something like seven to 10 beehives in a square mile in the city, so people are always in contact with bees,” Sanchez said. “If they learned how to interact with them, they can avoid getting stung. I’m a teacher, and I tell my kids who swat at them to just let the bee be. I tell them they are not a flower, they aren’t after you, they are just exploring.”
Sanchez’s guidance of future generations seems aligned with the thinking of experts, who believe that humans should be sensitive to declining bee populations.
“Be a friend to the honey bee,” Kurland said. “Support urban agriculture, and support better testing of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.”