Last month on our California tour, one of our highlights in Sonoma was learning about our friend’s bees. YUP, bees. Kim, is the proud new owner of thousands of bees and can add “beekeeper” to the many prestigious titles on her resume. After taking a class in Marin (with lots of young-professionals-in-Teslas), Kim bought her kit and bees, and is now a bee-keeper. It is fascinating and so interesting, that even though I got stung recently from a yellow jacket (yes, I know, it is different), I am still committed to set up a beekeeping shop in Pound Ridge this Spring (thanks for letting me do this, Babers). Read on!
How did you get interested in beekeeping?
My sister-in-law, Amie, had honey bees at her house in Marin and would show my kids her bees when we’d visit. I thought it was the coolest thing. I was also amazed at how fearless the kids were (ages 3 and 5 at the time) around the bees. And, of course, who doesn’t love honey?!
Kate, my oldest now 7, is our naturalist. She and I found a beekeeping class in Sebastopol (about an hour north of San Francisco), and we spent a day together last spring learning about bees and getting excited about making honey! I was hooked — I ordered the bees and bought all of the equipment that very day, and we picked up our hive at the end of April. We’re only 3 months in and still very much beginners, but it’s been an even more fun and rewarding experience than I ever anticipated.
What do you like about beekeeping?
It’s kind of like an X Games version of gardening. Extreme sports are great because they force you to be present, and I think beekeeping has similar effects. I fail miserably at meditation, so bee keeping is as close as I can get! It takes about an hour to inspect the hive and I find that time so peaceful.
What are the responsibilities of beekeeping?
The goal as a beekeeper is to keep the honey bees healthy and happy in the hive. I check on the bees every 2-3 weeks, looking for signs of disease or unwanted intruders. I also leave sugar water for them to eat. The beekeeper also wants to make sure the bees have the right amount of space in the hive and between the boards. It’s a delicate balance — bees like to be cozy, but if they get too crowded, they’ll swarm and find a new home.
What do you do to take care of the bees?
Beekeeping is a never-ending learning experience. Despite all the books, classes, or instructional videos I use, I learn the most from inspecting my bees and getting to know them. In the beginning I was always nervous about what I needed to be doing, but now that we have about 60,000 bees working away, I’m more comfortable that they know the drill and I’m just along for the ride.
When do you get honey?
A healthy, vibrant hive builds and stores up honey to eat during the winter months. The best time to harvest honey depends on the local climate, but in Sonoma, we will most likely harvest in September and again towards the end of March. Bees need 60 to 70 lbs of honey to make it through the winter, which gives you an idea of how much to expect from those little guys!
Have you been stung?
Yes, but only twice. I prepared myself that getting stung is part of the process, but I found that it’s much less common you would think. First, you can select a type of honey bee that is known to be docile. Honey bees die once they sting, so they aren’t looking to get you. Second, you can take precautions to avoid bee stings with proper equipment, clothing, and techniques. I always smoke the bee hive before going in to calm the bees. I have a bee suit (hat, mask, shirt, and gloves), but I typically only wear the hat, mask, and gloves. The first time I was stung on my finger because I wasn’t wearing gloves, and the second time I was stung on my big toe because I wasn’t wearing shoes. Both were easy to remedy, and my bees haven’t gotten me since!
Give us some random bee facts.
* Honey is loaded with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that has been used since the early days of Egyptian tombs for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
* Bee venom (what makes the bee sting so painful) has medicinal effects used to help people battling everything from rheumatoid arthritis to multiple sclerosis and even cancer.
* Not all bees sting, in fact, drones don’t even have stingers.
* The Queen lives 3 to 4 years and lays up to 1,500 eggs per day!
* Honey bees communicate by dancing and by giving off scents.
* Honey bees never sleep.
* Honey bees are the only insect that produce food for humans.
* Honey is the ONLY food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
* Honey never spoils.
* Top honey producing states are California, Florida, and North Dakota, and you can keep honey bees anywhere, even New York City if you have access to a rooftop!
Thanks, Kimmers for educating us: both on the blog and in person. Love you loads, sister.