It’s possible to have a little “farm” in even the smallest of areas. Components such as worm composting, rainwater harvesting and planting a small garden don’t take up too much space. The cover story in this issue focuses on the benefits of having a small chicken coop in your yard for fresh eggs and using the chicken compost for a garden. A fantastic complement to raising chickens is “backyard beekeeping.”
Those sweet little bees greatly con- tribute to our entire food system. On average, every third mouthful of food we enjoy has been directly impacted by the persistent work of honeybees. According to the US Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate over 100 agricultural crops—from apples, to strawberries, to nuts.
Since 2006, bees have died each year at an alarming rate, known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists haven’t been able to figure out the exact reason for this unfortunate phenomenon.
In May 2013, the USDA and the EPA released a comprehensive report on honeybee health and included parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure as factors in this decline. Specifically, a class of widely-used pesticides called Neonicotinoids, have been closely linked to the death of many bee colonies. A month prior to the release of the USDA and EPA report, the European Union implemented a three-year ban on these chemicals so scientists can research the potential long-term effects on the bees and the pollination system. This class of pesticides has been shown to attack the bees’ nervous system, which they use to communicate with one another—and with the queen bee. The collapse of this system could potentially endanger all the foods we enjoy.
Luckily, there are a few options to alleviate this breakdown. Backyard beekeeping has recently increased in popularity as the overall bee population has decreased. People in both suburban and even urban areas are learning about bees by taking classes, reading books, and watching videos focused on safely cultivating this important ecosystem, right in their backyards. In addition to harvesting fresh honey, there are other benefits of backyard beekeeping. Not only will your own garden thrive, but your neighbor’s garden(s) will thrive as well.
First, check to see if backyard beekeeping is permitted in your area. Currently, beekeeping is allowed in Palm Springs with a Conditional Use Permit (we hope that in the future this will change so there will be no need for a permit).
Next, analyze where you’d like to house your bees. You’ll want to find your “starter hive” and accompanying equipment, such as a smoker, hive tool and a bee brush. Purchase protective gear, such as heavy gloves and a protective outfit. Last, acquire a packet of bees. You’ll need to research which type of bee’s you’d like to have (There are a few different types, such as Italian, Carniolan and German. The Italian bees are the most popular and the easiest to keep). These are the high-level steps, and there are many more details necessary to successfully maintain bees. It is helpful to find detailed step-by-step instructions online and contact a local experienced beekeeper to find out what works best for bees in your area.
Geralyn Motto is a local resident and beekeeper and shares that beekeeping is a fabulous benefit to her life. “My bees have instilled a stronger sense of community in my immediate, regional and global green community! I have personally connected with wonderful self-sustainable-minded individuals and green networks in the Coachella Valley along with the Southern and Northern California region.” Geralyn continues, “Additionally, due to my mild adult-onset pollen allergies, I chose the holistic way of addressing this issue by consuming a teaspoon of raw organic honey on a daily basis that is harvested within a fifty-mile radius of my home. I have achieved relief in doing so.”
For over a year, Geralyn has been maintaining four colonies of honeybees on five acres in the agriculturally-zoned Morongo Valley, a 25 minute drive north of her residence in the Miracle Hill area of Desert Hot Springs. For the past three years, she has maintained an incredible-edible gar- den and fruit and nut trees on her home property. Geralyn is consulting with the city of Desert Hot Springs in an effort to repeal the prohibitive beekeeping ordinance so that the city will follow suit with Palm Springs, its adjacent resort community, and at least allow beekeeping with a conditional use permit. Additionally, beekeeping is in her blood. “I coincidentally have Italian ancestry and lived in Italy for a year over twenty years ago. Beekeeping has brought me closer to my ancestral roots and I have been reconnecting with friends and extended family in Italy who have been beekeepers for many generations,” said Geralyn.
Geralyn shares this advice for those interested in raising colonies: “Check with your city to see first if beekeeping is allowed, and if it isn’t, make an effort to convince your city to change the law if possible. Network with fellow beekeepers in your immediate vicinity and through the magic of the Internet via social and green networking. Contact your local live bee removal service to inform them that you are in need of one or several colonies. Some bee removal services will assist you in this venture. Otherwise, you can purchase a queen bee and her colony online. Ideally, find a local beekeeper who is will- ing to assist you the first year in maintain- ing the hives, either compensating them monetarily or allowing them to take a certain percentage of the harvested honey.”
If more people maintain beehives, the overall honeybee population will increase and our food system will flourish. It’s been only in the last few years that more and more people have put an emphasis on buying only local fruit and vegetables. Now, more people are growing their own food in small and large gardens. Perhaps in the near future, the role of becoming a “backyard beekeeper” will become just as mainstream.