A few months back I spent some time shooting Lia Navarro at the apiary she runs from her home in La Tuna Canyon, a rural area on the north side of Los Angeles. After moving to the property with her husband a couple years ago she fell into the hobby of beekeeping and it quickly became a passion. In short time she grew her apiary, which she named Olivewood Bees after the many olive trees on the property, eventually keeping several colonies comprising around a million bees on site. She is now in the process of forming a non-profit dedicated to rescuing and protecting honeybees, as well as educating the public about their value to nature and society. She also offers a tour of the apiary as an AirBnB “experience.” Her love of bees is contagious and it was really fun spending time there and learning more about them.
In addition to photographing her amongst her hives I accompanied her on an educational outing hosted by a synagogue and on a rescue in which she saved a rather large hive whose occupants did not care to be saved. The immediate swarm they formed around us upon being exposed tipped me off to their sentiments. If you’ve never been swarmed by hundreds of angry bees, it’s not something I’d recommend! It was overwhelming enough that I had to put the camera down and walk away to get them to leave me alone. For the most part though, I learned that bees are generally docile if not aggravated and was comfortable working up close with them throughout the project. In this case she was able to calm them down with her smoker and soon enough was able to get in and remove the hives.
One of the things that drew me to this project was the knowledge that bees continue to die off in large numbers every year in a phenomenon generally known as colony collapse. While it’s not entirely known what the causes are, the main culprits are global warming, use of pesticides and an infestation of parasitic varroa mites. It’s a sad situation, but also quite concerning as about 1/3 of all food humans consume rely on pollination.
While this is an ongoing problem, this post is even more timely as a new threat has entered the picture…MURDER HORNETS! In fact, I just heard a piece on the NYTimes’ The Daily podcast today. Murder hornets, aka Asian giant hornets, are large predatory hornets that recently made their way to the state of Washington and are known to decapitate honeybees by the thousands in order to eat their thorax. So far it’s a regional problem, but if not contained could be a major threat. One interesting thing I learned from the podcast is that bees in Asia have developed a defense in which they swarm the murder hornets, forming a tight ball around them that creates enough heat to literally cook the hornets to death. Pretty amazing. Bees here, however, don’t yet know that trick and are thus vulnerable. Check out the podcast here as well as this recent article from The Guardian to for general info on colony collapse if interested.
If you’re in need of a bee rescue, want to adopt a colony or are just interested in finding out more about Olivewood Bees the best way to find her is to follow Lia’s Instagram at @olivewoodbees.