The rhythmic hum coming from Barbara Sinclair’s backyard is the sweet sound of survival. Bees, thousands of them, are living, thriving and producing honey under the watchful eyes of Sinclair, a self-proclaimed bee activist.
Sinclair, a staff emerita, loves the noise from her three hives. Goofy, she admits, but she finds the bees’ activity soothing and somewhat transcendent.
“I love watching them. They are magical to watch, and they create,” she said. “I know this will sound odd to some, but they create a spiritual atmosphere. Plus, they make honey.”
Sinclair, a former office manager in the school’s Women’s Resource Center, has owned bees since 2012 when she and three other bee enthusiasts formed the Long Beach Beekeepers Club, an organization dedicated to rescuing bees and ensuring their growth. Sinclair and the others not only want to provide safe haven for bees, honey bees in particular, but also educate the community about the plight of the buzzy creatures.
It’s a vision, Sinclair said, that everyone should get behind.
Sinclair, a longtime environmental activist, was alarmed when she first learned bees were disappearing. Her concern grew when one of her hives died from suspected pesticide use.
She said that the circumstances can be deadly if bees land on dandelions that have been sprayed with a weed killer and then manages to make it back to the hive. Sinclair said they tell each other when there is a good spot for pollen and then all of them are exposed. She believes that’s what led to the death of her bees.
“It used to be pesticides, pesticides and pesticides,” she said, adding that now the decline of native bees can be tied a combination of pesticides, viruses and parasites.
Wild honey bees were found to be quite susceptible to these commercial bee maladies, causing major colony losses, in a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Losses also can be traced to a combination of stress from being moved across the country.
Sinclair delved into the business of saving bees and eventually she and three friends – Dick Barnes, Henry Kurland and Roberta Kato – formed the LB Beekeepers Club.
“There were clubs in Los Angeles and Orange County, but we all thought ‘this is really a drag to drive this far.’ So, we decided to form our own club.”
Initially, it was just three of them. Today, enrollment in the LB Beekeepers Club tops 200, with 35 to 50 regular attendees at the monthly meetings. The group meets on the first Sunday of each month at the EDCO facility on California Avenue.
“I would like the club to continue to grow, but I think the most important thing is educating the public,” Sinclair said. “The bees really are important. They really are troubled, despite the fact that in areas like this they are really doing better because there is so much diversity and stuff around here where they can get pollen and nectar from.
“Urban areas are filled with people’s flowers and trees and landscapes. In the agricultural areas, they have more of a problem, so they feed them sugar water and what is called pollen patties which is a manmade protein source resembling natural pollen,” she added.
Sinclair enjoys teaching the public about the honey bees’ role in society, the importance of protecting this natural resource and eliminating the use of pesticides, her specialty is rescuing bees. This process involves humanly extracting bees from a backyard or structure by cutting out the honeycomb and shaking the bees into a hive box. She said a resident recently called to ask her to remove a swarm that had collected on a canvas sheet hanging in her backyard.
“That was an easy one. I tapped on the canvas and they just fell into the box,” Sinclair said, adding that bees are the most docile when they swarm.
Sinclair said she never was afraid of bees growing in Maryland, where fields surrounded her home. Not even after getting stung when she ran across a neighbor’s clover-filled yard.
“I took three steps and bam, bam, bam,” she said. “I had three stings.” Sinclair laughs at the memory. Yet that recollection reminds Sinclair of the delicate balance between nature and mankind, and how the two worlds need to coexist peacefully.