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City Bees, Country Bees, and Guerrilla Beekeeping

Bohemian.com, an online news portal for the Napa Valley and surrounding areas, is running a story by Alastair Bland about the current state of beekeeping in northern California. Apparently, city bees are having more success than country bees. One theory is the increasing monoculture of the country’s crops. Almonds for miles. Self-pollinating grapes blanketing the valley floors. It’s possible the area’s bees are dying of malnutrition due to a poor diet.

From the article:

“When you come to the reasons that bees are dying, like colony collapse, loss of habitat, stress, loss of genetic diversity and the use of pesticides—all of these things can be addressed to an extent by beekeeping in urbanized areas,” says Serge Labesque, a beekeeping teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College.

But many cities, like Santa Rosa and Napa, have safety ordinances against keeping bees, and the political climate is not entirely apiarian-friendly. Rob Keller, an artist and leading figure in the local beekeeping community, lives in Napa and keeps scores of hives around the North Bay. Keller has observed his rural bee colonies deteriorate, showing particular susceptibility to the problematic Varroa mite. For most of the past year, however, he stashed over a dozen hives in his Napa backyard.

“Those colonies of mine were of great genetic material, and I had them here in the city to make it easy on them to get food and to keep their health up,” he says. “They were getting a much more varied diet here.”

So what does one do when your city’s ordinances prevent urban beekeeping?

For Keller, beekeeping borders on a personal responsibility. While he negotiates on cordial terms with city officials for the right to bring his bees back to town, he encourages others to take a beekeeping class, invest in the basic equipment and, he smiles, “go guerrilla.”

“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” Keller says. “This is the right thing to do. You can’t go to the city and ask, ‘Can I please keep bees within the city limit?’ They’ll say no.

“You just do it.”


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