The thousands of bees that died immediately or rushed to the entrance for fresh air fell onto the screened bottom board and clogged up the entrance to the hive, making escape impossible for any of the other bees and turning each hive into a gas chamber.
"I don't know of any other incidence of such violence against hives in San Francisco," says Peteros, who manages 50 hives in the Bay Area and southern Oregon. She recently founded SF Bee-Cause to offer urban beekeeping classes and public education. The slaughtered colonies actually belonged to Peteros but are on loan to SF Bee-Cause, which has been maintaining them in partnership with Hayes Valley Farm.
Peteros told SFoodie that there is a prime suspect, though she can't prove the person committed the crime: An apiphobic neighbor had a hostile reaction to the installation of the hives, and his or her home has a good view of the sunny spot on the old on-ramp where Peteros kept the boxes. Farm volunteers were in the process of building platforms for two new hives, and the beekeeper thinks that spurred the person to action.
Right now, she and the farm are trying to figure out what to do next. Today, Peteros is conducting a hive autopsy, and will dismantle the boxes, toss the frames inside, clean and burn out the equipment, and let it sit for a year to let all trace of the pesticide dissipate. More troublesome is figuring out how to prevent the slaughter from happening again. "I could bring in five more hives tomorrow," she says, "but I don't want to do that if we've got some obnoxious person trying to kill them." A new spot in the farm? Security cameras? Both are being considered.
On the farm's blog, Peteros estimated the market value of each hive at $1,000. But she's just as conscious of the year the colony spent building its honey stores and wax cells -- and the year that any new colonies she brings in will spend building their homes. Once the farm has determined the financial cost of replacing the equipment and moving in new bee colonies, they'll be asking the public for donations ― check the farm's blog or SFoodie for news on how to contribute.
"It's human nature to be afraid
of buzzing, crawling insects," Peteros says. "But most people's bad experiences are with wasps or yellow jackets, who can sting repeatedly. A honeybee doesn't want to sting. She stings once and she dies. Honeybees have evolved in a way that's a perfect partnership with humans. It's
unfortunate when people confuse them with a risk or a threat."