Sunday, April 8, 2012

Trials and tribulations: Breaking the law homestead style

Grrrr... Have you ever wanted to make your neighbor disappear? That's exactly how I feel right now - not like mafia style, more like bewitched style. Today was a challenging day at the homestead. It started when my elderly neighbor called yesterday on my way home from errands (including the hardware store) to let me know she was having her grandson over on Easter and they wanted to do an Easter egg hunt and could I please put a tarp over my bees for the afternoon. My neighbor hardly ever uses the back portion of her back yard and at some point my bees decided they liked that flight path better than the one they initially had where they went straight up from the hive box. If she wants kids easter egg hunting it would be fairly nerve wracking to have so many bees flying overhead. I totally understand that. Hmmm... I responded. I will have to figure out how to do that. "What? Your mom said you could just screen them off". I wonder when they had that conversation and I wonder how my Mom knew that. When I mentioned it to my Mom - "Hey Mom, how am I supposed to screen those bees?" she had no idea what I was talking about nor does she recall ever having that conversation with neighborlady. Just like I thought.
So I went to my handy dandy super resourceful backward beekeeping list and emailed them where I was instructed to get window screen and good duct tape and wait until night when the bees were back in the hive to screen off the opening. Okay - back to the hardware store! Got the supplies, waited til night. Way more challenging than I thought. I put the tape on the top and bottom of the screen at least as wide a strip as the hive is wide. I didn't think about the bees getting agitated by this and crawling out the sides but they sure did. So I was scrambling with my heavy clumsy bee gloves to peel off more duct tape and seal those edges (of course the tape was on the table several feet away and the bees were crawling out right now right in front of me. sigh. Okay - gonna lose a few bees.
So I taped the sides up and then had the bright idea to tear off a bunch of tape strips with the gloves off and moved them over to the hive where I overloaded every surface of screen/hive body intersection with several layers of heavy black duct tape and pressed it down to seal it. It was bomb proof! (or seemed that way). Took a lot longer than expected but I felt pleased with myself and went to bed.

Got up to check this morning. More bees outside the screen than I remembered getting loose last night but then it was dark and maybe I just didn't see them. Went to check around noon. Crap! Lots more bees. There has to be some breach of the duct tape but I don't see it anywhere. Ugggg... I thought she said they would be finished with the egg hunt by 3. It wasn't so bad at this point. I didn't see any activity. Perhaps they went to church early and are already done. If so, I'm safe. Relief!
Not so. At 2:30 the hive box is covered in bees trying to find their way back in to the hive. It looks wild and crazy and fairly scary to anyone without a full bee suit on. I also notice her sons car in the driveway. They must be starting around 3. Crap! At this point there is no way to appease the bees except to remove the screen but I don't want to do that because I told her I would screen them and I don't know if they'll be even more mad if I open the entrance. Or more calm because they can do their normal thing? I have no clue. I opt to race to OSH (3rd hardware store run!) to get some bamboo screen and hopefully make an obstruction that gets them to change their flight path so they don't zoom through her upper back yard. I suit up again and grab some zip ties to connect screen to fence (also comic with thick bee gloves on and considering I can't reach over to connect except on the edges and the screen is flopping over and the bees are buzzing all around me). I get it connected and go back inside. I know it's not good.

Later in the afternoon I call to her over the fence to apologize. She is not pleased. I try to explain that I did screen them and I was really careful about putting multiple layers of tape but they figured out a way to get out and that the screening probably made the whole bee scare even worse but she's not really listening. She reminds me that the neighbor two houses down got stung twice this summer. I heard the same story this summer from him. Without trying to avoid responsibility I want to mention that many people do not know a hornet from wasp from a bee. They see flying insect that stings and that's that. I don't know this man and don't know if he's familiar with how bees are different from other similar insects. Also the behavior doesn't sound like bees. I am able to get very close to my hives and work them and they are pretty docile. Bees sting to protect their hive or their lives. They are unlikely to sting unprovoked and away from their hive. According to him he was doing nothing and they just came and stung him. Twice. Since a single bee can't sting twice I'm already thinking this sounds like some other creature. Or maybe there is a feral hive closer to his house and they were defending that. It's possible they were my bees but not likely. But neighborlady mentions it. In fact it is getting even more clear that from now on if anyone in my neighborhood ever gets stung everyone is absolutely clear it's from my bees. I try to explain that my bees are not the only bees in the area - in fact, if there were no bees before I came no one would get fruit! There are a lot of fruit trees in my neighborhood and I'm sure there are a lot of bees in my neighborhood as well since long before I ever moved in. I've also read that bees do not typically pollinate close to home. I don't know how accurate that is and I don't really know how to tell my bees apart from others or if it would even matter. From now on if anyone is unhappy with bees they are my bees.

Sadly, neighborlady mentions that her son was very angry. He used to play in that backyard when he was 5 and now there are bees flying overhead (more than ever now because they are so agitated because I screened the entrance!) He makes a point of mentioning to her that he's surprised it's even legal to have bees in the city. This is the point where I start to feel doomed.
Let me insert something I just stumbled across on facebook:
‎"Peace isn't an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth; it's an experience that's expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened."
sigh. so this is my challenge. I adore my bees. I love what they stand for, that they are so gentle and graceful and allow me and my bumbling beginner beekeeping ways to be tolerated. The honey they make is magical to me. It is complex and golden and deliciously sweet. I love to share it with people (neighbors included) and I love to share what I know about bees with people. I talk about the bee dance language and quantum physics (read this! ), about colony collapse disorder, about the critical role bees play in food production, about different types of bees (honeybees being European imports), about the hype around Africanized bees(yes, they can be more aggressive but not absolutely so and European bees can also kill you if they are in a mood). I LOVE bees and beekeeping and inspiring others to explore that world. The municipal code on Los Angeles (archaic, bizarre, and seemingly random - has a lot more details about issues related to monkeys, circuses, and horse shoes than domestic urban livestock) states that you can have bees as long as they are 300 ft from any dwelling other than your own. 300ft! I'm not totally clear but that seems bigger than most lots in LA. Shoot. On the backwards beekeepers list there are periodic emails about folks who have been busted because neighbors didn't like that they had hives. I really don't want to be another one of those.
I felt really bad about making such a mess of trying to secure the bees but neighborlady didn't notice that. To her, she was not able to use her yard and I completely understand that is upsetting. I really did jump through a bunch of hoops to try and figure out how to make it work and, as this was my first attempt, I failed! Big time. I really hope this doesn't end up with the city ag inspector leaving me a little note. Makes me even more eager to work on getting the code changed to allow for small scale beekeeping. I wish there was a better understanding of how to live in harmony with all of nature and especially, in this case, with honeybees. They are magical and wondrous creatures. How to convey that to the uninitiated? and even more so to those who would rather watch tv than look at the stars or who think that dirt is "dirty" instead of cool or who think their food comes from the grocery store?
I guess that's my real question and I know the answer is the revolution/evolution starts from within. I suspect if I was less self-righteous about my urban homesteading path (and less defensive about feeling like everyone thinks my food forested landscape is a mess) I'd be more friendly. If I was more friendly I'd probably feel happier and would be more nice in general. That's probably my biggest urban homesteading challenge. The techniques I can google and read about. It's the communication strategies to spread the word (preach is sister!) in an inviting, inspiring way that make me stumble. Always more to learn...

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