(Photo courtesy iStockPhoto)

By Ken Hansen

The word “bee” can elicit one of two reactions. One of fear or one of beauty. Growing up, bees frightened me. I actually had one fly into my eye as a kid. Thankfully, the bee did not leave its stinger behind. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my fear of bee’s abated and I began to see the beauty in bees. I began to fully understand their importance in our world as I became a gardener at the Santa Monica Community Gardens.

I had the opportunity to interview a Santa Monica resident who maintains a bee hive for personal use. I wanted her to share her love of bees and beekeeping as well as any insight.

Vilma Zenelaj has been in Santa Monica for 14 years. Originally from Albania, Vilma grew up with bees. “My grandmother used to have bees and so my father gained an interest and he continued the tradition” says Vilma. “He’s had bees for as long as I can remember and he used to bring home the honey extractor machine to get the honey out of the honey comb. I learned almost everything about bees from my dad.”

Living in a condo in Santa Monica with her father, she can not have her own bee hives. She was fortunate to have a neighbor friend who allows her to have a bee hive at their house on their property. Vilma is just one resident keeping one bee hive at a neighbors house. Vilma says “There are many wild hives that are at residences and locals call for an exterminator to get rid of them, but there is a better way to preserve these bees that are simply looking for ways to survive. There should be a beekeeper community in Santa Monica, where locals can learn more about bees/beekeeping and how bees help gardens because they play a big role in the ecosystem.” Vilma continues, “The other day, I was reading how about 80-90% of all US bees are shipped to California for almond pollination every January/February, because if there are no bees there are no almonds.”

As a gardener, I’ve learned how important bees are to the ecosystem. Bees provide pollination for many plants, fruit trees, and vegetables. Vilma believes “if we have more bees around we would see better results.” I believe this to be true as well and have begun planting many more flowers around my garden plot to attract more bees.

Of course bees provide more then just pollination, they provide honey. I grew up with allergies and still get allergies from time to time. I recently read that locally harvested honey can help with allergies. I have never been a honey eater, I don’t care much for the texture or sweetness, but one of our friends is also a local bee keeper hobbyist and we’ve received honey from him. It is the only honey I will eat. I strongly believe it has helped me with my allergies.

My final question to Vilma was what the city and people can do to better insure a successful future for bees?

“I think allowing bee hives at a safe distance in public gardens or parks would be a start. Many people have no idea what a bee hive looks like and many are very afraid of bees. Educating the public about bees and beekeeping and encouraging them to have one at home or at their garden is important. We have perfect whether here for bees. They work year around. I hope I’ve sparked some interest on anyone who reads this about the joy of beekeeping and please help keep the bees alive before you make that call to the exterminator.”

Residents can look up the City of Santa Monica’s webpage about beekeeping for more information, “Santa Monica OSA – Beekeeping”. If a resident has an issue, they can reach out to SMPD’s Animal Control at 310-458-8594. Another great resource is HoneyLove.org. You may also contact Vilma Zenelaj at VilmaZenelaj@yahoo.com.

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