P. Michael Henderson
Villa Park, CA
I'm adding this note at the beginning because I keep getting asked about it. If you want to keep bees in Southern California, you have two choices: you can keep European bees or you can keep feral bees. What's the difference?
European bees are generally pretty docile and easy to handle. The problem is that they're susceptible to varroa mites so you have to treat the hive with various chemicals to control the varroa or the varroa will kill the hive.
Feral bees can deal with varroa so you don't have to use any chemicals in a feral hive to control varroa. But feral bees are hybrids of Africanized bees and are not as docile and easy to handle as European bees.
If you start with European bees, you'll have to requeen the hive every year or two. If the hive swarms or supersedes the original queen, the new queen will mate with feral drones and you'll have hybrid bees.
Some years ago, I started keeping urban bees in southern California. While I read everything I could find about bees, I found it very difficult to find any literature about keeping bees in southern California.
You may ask "What difference does it make? Is there that much difference in beekeeping across the US?"
I think there is. Southern California is different in several ways:
1. We don't have a really cold winter and nectar is usually available year round in urban areas, although in diminished quantity during the winter.
2. We have had Africanized bees in this area for the past 20 or so years.
I choose to keep feral bees, even though this area has Africanized bees, because the Africanized bees have the ability to coexist with varroa mites. People who choose to keep pure European bees have to treat for varroa, and the problem is that the varroa keep developing resistance to the chemicals that are used to treat for them. It's my opinion that we can't keep throwing chemicals at the bees - we have to have bees that can resist varroa. Africanized bees groom varroa off of each other and can detect varroa in brood cells - and then clean out the infected brood cell.
The problem with keeping Africanized bees is that they are more defensive than pure European bees. But Africanized bees are not genetically monolithic - some are a lot less defensive than others. Remember that the term "Africanized" means that the bees are a hybrid and have some genes from the African bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) mixed with the genes from the European honey bee (most likely Apis mellifera ligustica). We need to keep selecting for the less defensive Africanized bees and exterminating the more defensive Africanized bees. Basically, that's the way European bees were developed into very docile bees - European beekeepers kept the more docile bees and exterminated the more defensive bees. Over time, the bee population becomes less defensive.
Those of us who work with Africanized bees have to decide, hive by hive, how much defensiveness we're willing to put up with, and how much defensiveness is safe in a backyard. Those hives that are too defensive we generally destroy to keep their genes out of the wild gene pool.
The local beekeeping club seems to avoid talking about feral bees and encourages its members to keep pure European bees. I'm glad they do because it keeps drones with pure European genes available for mating with the feral virgin queens. Hopefully, the offspring will be bees that have the varroa hygiene behavior of Africanized bees, but will be less defensive than pure Africanized bees. The downside for the club members is that they have to treat their hives for varroa or risk losing them.
Through this web site I hope to pass along what I've learned about feral bees in the southern California. I don't claim to be an expert and I make mistakes. But I learn from my mistakes and, hopefully, I won't make the same mistakes in the future.
If you would like to contact me, you can email me at mike at this URL (socal-beekeeping.com).
10/14/2019 Bees in a Birdhouse
8/14/2019 Getting a swarm high in a tree
6/26/2019 Amanda's Bees
5/1/2019 Swarm Season
4/11/2019 Exterminating a Hive
3/17/2019 Hive Split
2/24/2019 An Early Swarm
2/2/2019 Factory tour of Pierco Beekeeping Equipment
1/3/2019 Adding Insulation to the Hive Covers
12/13/2018 A Hive Absconding
11/11/2018 A Hive for Elizabeth
07/08/2018 A Harvest and Bearding
06/14/2017 Bee Quilts in the Summer
05/10/2018 An 8 Frame Bee Vacuum
04/24/2018 Building the Bee Vacuum.
04/14/2018 A couple of hive adjustments.
04/12/2018 Swarm Removal with the Bee Vacuum.
04/11/2018 New Smoker and Bees doing their Orientation Flight.
04/10/2018 Removing the Bee Quilts
03/31/2018 Bee Seminar at Cal Poly Pomona
03/30/2018 Routine Checkup.
02/24/2018 How large should the hive entrance be?
02/13/2018 Replacing woodware of a hive
02/07/2018 Talk by Murray Mosco of Wildflower Meadows.
01/22/2018 Books on Bees.
01/17/2017 My oldest hive
01/11/2018 Using wood pellets in the smoker
01/03/2018 Small Hive Beetles
12/27/2017 How I started beekeeping.
12/17/2017 A Bee Quilt for the winter.
12/11/2017 Research on Varroa in Feral Colonies.
11/11/2017 Bee Seminar at Cal Poly Pomona
11/7/2017 Making a telescoping hive cover.
10/18/2017 Field expedient bee veil.
10/14/2017 Swarm or Cutout? Which is the better choice?
10/07/2017 Cutout in the floor of an old shed.
10/02/2017 Can we domesticate Africanized bees?
10/01/2017 Making a top bar hive
9/30/2017 Bee class with Randy Oliver
9/27/2017 A cutout in a utility box - Only established about two days.
9/02/2017 Hive cover - to shade a hive.
8/26/2017 Why are African (especially sub-Saharan Africa) bees so defensive?
8/25/2017 Moving comb when doing a cutout
8/24/2017 Varroa Resistance in Feral Hives
8/23/2017 How to keep ants out of a hive
8/22/2017 A cutout in an outbuilding
8/21/2017 Discussion of a Bee Vacuum
3/09/2016 Harvesting Honey with a Friend