A TASTE OF HONEY Humans and bees alike enjoy the sweet spoils of the hive
The hive-minded inhabitants give drones the boot in winter, when it's just the queen and her brood eating honey they've stashed away in the comb—or, if the hand of a human is involved, drinking sugar water from a bottle near the entrance.
With the onset of spring, a new queen is born; the hive splits in two, and the old queen leaves with her brood. These homeless broods are the source of the swarms that North Bay residents will start to see in March, inciting panic, fear and indiscriminate use of insecticides, Lance says.
But truthfully, the swarm is a comparatively less dangerous way to encounter bees, Lance says. They don't have babies, honey or a hive to protect, and are just flying around looking for a new place to hive-up.
Are You the Beekeeper?
It's the bimonthly meeting of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association at the 4-H Club in Rohnert Park, and the place is buzzing with activity. In the wake of the 2006 CCD outbreak, North Bay beekeepers flew into action, and local beekeeping groups saw their ranks explode with new members.
Organizations in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties led public-education campaigns, started monitoring naturally occurring hives and gave nervous homeowners options other than poisoning the bees they'd suddenly discovered had taken a liking to that walnut tree on their property.
Katia Vincent is co-owner (with her husband, Doug) of Beekind in Sebastopol, a store that opened in 2004, just a couple of years before the big bee crisis. As beekeepers and would-be beekeepers start to gather at the 4-H, Vincent marvels at the growth in interest among North Bay residents in the plight of the honeybee. The Marin beekeepers group, she says, had eight members before 2006. "Now it's huge," she says. The Sonoma group was a handful of bee loyalists, now it numbers over 400, says attendee Jim Spencer.
A father-son team is chatting up the sign-up folks near the door, expressing interest in becoming beekeepers. Others are sharing information on swarm locations in their towns and trading war stories about the health of their hives. There's even a guy walking around barefoot.
Katia says her store gets up to 500 calls a year from terrified homeowners, many of whom have already sprayed the bees on their property by the time they call the store. Now there is a network of beekeepers who will go and collect the bees, as an army of bee friends has spanned out across the North Bay to keep an eye out for hives.
She notes that California has protocols and applications for agribusiness when it wants to deploy a particular pesticide or fungicide, but none for home use of pesticides in urban areas. "Individuals are not monitored at all," she says. "We tell them, 'Don't spray, call the beekeeper.'"
Doug Vincent got into beekeeping around 1999, when he was trying to figure out why his vegetable garden was a bust. "Then it dawned on me that what I was lacking was pollinators," he says. He ordered a kit for amateur beekeepers, "and made every mistake you can make," he says with a laugh. But within a few years he went from having three, to six, to 25 hives, and before long he and his wife had so much honey they were selling it on the side of the road.
They opened Beekind in 2004 and saw their business double every year for the next six years. "My husband was a quiet fisherman before this," says Katia. "Now he has bee fever."