This article published in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.
It’s fitting that, driving through scenic back roads to beekeeper Gary Kula’s home in a tiny, pastoral hideaway just on the city’s south edge, the song “Country Honey” by 70s glam rockers T-Rex plays. It certainly fed my lively expectations in meeting Kula on a bright, nearly-spring afternoon: our first interaction was by phone, where he amicably remarked, “whatever helps the bees get more exposure,” which summoned up visions of slick showbiz agents. I felt I was driving out not to meet Kula, but the Bees; in a royal “we” sense, queen and all.
In truth, Kula is a mild-mannered bee enthusiast. A beekeeper for five years now, Kula is a previous president of the Omaha Bee Club and runs the Youtube channel “Generalbomax,” dedicated to beekeeping tricks of the trade. Beyond that, he’s a veteran police officer for the City of Omaha, having spent nine years as a narcotics officer before trading the street for a seat as a polygraph examiner. Kula is also the city’s man of action when it comes to all things bee-related, responding to 911 calls for swarms and other perils.
“This is my excitement now,” he cheerily told me, “though I get a lot of razzing from the other officers when the news claims I’ve rounded up 10,000 fugitives.” We suited up in traditional beekeeper veils, and he showed me his beehives under the cover of smoky, burning brush. Kula is a wellspring of bee knowledge: The smoke masks their alarm pheromone. Some factoids uncover a mindful, zen-like side to him: The queen doesn’t choose if the eggs are male or female; the hive does. Some beg comparison to his life on the beat, reminiscent of Mafioso pulp: Russian and Italian bees are the most aggressive.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the life of a cop and that of a beekeeper, though harvesting a hive for its succulents may hold a smidgen less danger and intrigue than busting methamphetamine operations.
“Nobody likes you coming through their home and dumping out their dresser drawers for cocaine,” Kula says. Still, the bees will make you pay if you accidentally squish a few of them when combing through their hive, he informs me. “I had one follow me all the way around the house, one time.”
Ultimately though, Kula sees the bees as virtuous creatures. “Beekeeping is a learning tool. I’m always learning something new about bees, and I love showing others. It’s my hope they’ll teach their kids, too.” Chiefly, he’s concerned about education and promoting awareness about bees. Most bees won’t hurt you, and during menacing swarms they are at their most docile. “It’s rewarding working with bees. The accomplishment I feel with them is like how I feel when encountering past drug addicts I’ve helped rescue.” He and the Omaha Bee Club love supporting keepers, and have brought over five million bees into Omaha over the last five years.
On that note, Kula left me with some advice for any would-bee keepers, perhaps to the dismay of T-Rex: “get in for the bees, get out for the honey. Once you’re that far invested, it becomes too commercial.”