There’s a growing buzz for backyard beekeeping
Beekeeping is growing in popularity in Santa Monica, but Vilma Zenelaj has been at it for a long while. Photos by Clara Harter.
Backyard beekeeping is growing in popularity in Santa Monica, but Vilma Zenelaj, a fourth generation beekeeper from Albania, was way ahead of the buzz.
Zenelaj has been beekeeping for years and recently decided to post on Nextdoor to see if anyone would be willing to open up space in their backyard for some of her hives. She was amazed to find over 25 neighbors that are interested and is now on a mission to spread love for these furry critters across the City.
“It’s a great hobby for people who have a fascination with bees or want to help the environment and help their neighborhood by helping bees pollinate the trees and flowers,” said Zenelaj. “We need bees; they produce 35% percent of our food, so they are very important for our ecosystem.”
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, honey bees are not aggressive creatures and will not bother humans if they are given their own space. Zenelaj has been setting up her hives in high areas in neighbors gardens, where they can get to work without causing any trouble. She urges fellow community members to be open minded about bees.
“When people find bees in their tree or roof or walls they often call a terminator and kill them and that really breaks my heart,” said Zenelaj. “No wonder my friend who has an avocado tree never gets an avocado—because you are killing the bees. No wonder my lemon tree is hardly producing lemons!”
Although many people are still afraid of bees, the attitude towards urban beekeeping has shifted a lot in recent years. In Jan. 2011, City Council voted to legalize backyard beekeeping in Santa Monica and in Oct. 2015 Los Angeles lawmakers voted to do the same.
Local honey has several medicinal purposes and contains many benefits that cannot be found in processed store bought honey. It is a natural antiseptic and can help kill bacteria in the throat and in wounds. It can also help with seasonal allergies because it contains local pollen, which helps the body develop immunity to local allergens.
“I had someone contact me for my local honey as her daughter had a really bad case of allergies,” said Zenelaj. “She contacted me a few weeks later and said ‘oh wow, my daughter’s allergies are 50 to 60 percent better’.”
Zenelaj’s great grandmother started harvesting wild hives in Albania in the early 1900s and the family’s love for bees has been passed down through generations. Zenelaj came to America to attend school in Michigan and then relocated to Santa Monica in 2003 where she began beekeeping herself.
“The reason why I started beekeeping is because my father had bees back home and he would go every year or two for the bees, because he just loves it,” said Zenelaj. “I told my dad listen if you got a beehive would your trips be less? Because my dad is in his 80s it’s hard to go back and forth so often.”
Her father agreed to the deal, so she set up a backyard hive and they have been beekeeping together ever since.
Residents in Santa Monica are allowed to have two hives on a single family residential property as long as they are well managed and kept at least five feet away from property lines. Anyone interested in learning more about backyard beekeeping can contact Zenelaj at firstname.lastname@example.org