CHAPTER 1 - Bugs and Berries
So technically our family adventure begins with our garden. It had been doing really well all spring. Especially our strawberries. We didn’t plant strawberries last year because, after trying for several years, we finally decided that the only beneficiaries were the slugs who consistently ravaged the berries before they had a chance to fully ripen. As much as my family loves strawberries, the plants were just taking up valuable real estate in our garden so sadly, we pulled them out. This year, we found the hanging strawberries. They were kind of expensive but we bought two anyway. When we found some cheap planter boxes at a garage sale we realized we could mount those on a wall in our garden and fill them with strawberries too. So we did. We had mounds of plump, fragrant, delicious strawberries for our pancakes and for desert and for dipping in Nutela and for sharing and for simply devouring right off the plant. Many of our berries never made it to the inside of our house, except maybe for the pink juicy goodness smeared all over the kids‘ faces... It was glorious.
Then all of a sudden our strawberries became small and misshapen. I had been watering and fertilizing (organic) regularly. In addition, our squash, for the last 5 years easily our most bountiful crop, wasn’t doing anything. And where did all the bees go? I am no master gardener, but my best guess under the circumstances was pollination. This is peak bee season and I have seen only one bee in our garden in the last month. And it only likes the fennel, which I let flower specifically for the bees. Prior to that the bees were everywhere. This Spring they were especially fond of the Manzanita blossoms in the draught tolerant portion of our yard.
Now, based on the various going’s on in our neighborhood, I have a pretty good idea that our local wild bee colonies have been hit pretty hard by exterminators and by vector control lately. Of course, I have also been loosely following the colony collapse disorder (CCD) mystery (not a mystery anymore-more on that another time) and I didn’t completely rule that out as a contributing factor. The poor bees don’t seem to be catching any brakes over the last few years. If it isn’t mites or fungus or mysterious sudden death, hysterical people commonly fumigate bees as a matter of standard practice. Did you know our “health” department advises people to call 911 for swarming bees? EEEK! A bee SWARM! Don’t tell me they wont attack because they don’t have anything to defend! Just KILL them! QUICK!
Anyway, our bee adventure technically begins with a love of strawberries AND a long standing sympathy for and appreciation of insects of many kinds. We have a tarantula (an arachnid, I know) and we had silk worms and moths, stick bugs, raised numerous types of caterpillars and butterflies and we have participated in many butterfly counts and have a growing collection of bugs that the husband and son pin themselves and well, you have the idea. We like bugs… and strawberries.
A brief conversation and it was decided. It was time. We couldn’t rely on feral bee populations in our neighborhood and having bees fit very well with our environmental ethic. Of course this would require detailed study and we also soon understood that we would not be complying with current city codes. We also discovered that there was a growing movement within Long Beach (as well as other cities) for the regulations to be modified to accommodate backyard beekeepers in dense neighborhoods such as ours.
Off to the library then. We checked out a number of dvd’s, and the one I liked best was “Vanishing of the Bees” and NOVA’s “Tales from the Hive” has some spectacular footage. I perused the “Beekeeping for Dummies” book and decided that it was a keeper so we also went to BioQuip, a local bug lovers super store. Of course they had it, and a different book for the husband too. Apparently he isn’t a dummy. (cough, cough) In addition, we confirmed that they carry all the necessary beekeeping equipment when we are ready for some bees. They do not carry live bee colonies though. We would have to get the bees from somewhere else.
As the days passed and we got into our books and videos, I was becoming more acutely aware that we would probably need advice and possibly some supervision from a local experienced beekeeper.
- Jenni Gomez et. al.