Interest in beekeeping has surged over the past three or four years, spurred by the harsh and sudden realization that our trusty pollinating allies were on the brink of a devastating collapse. For many it was a rude awakening, but as the recovery continues we are learning more about bees than ever before.
Before any of these issues came to the public’s attention, honey-bees went through many decades of relative obscurity. Even around the middle of the century beekeeping was common and small-scale, but as commercial agriculture ramped up through the sixties and seventies beekeeping faded to a hobby enjoyed by a small few. Most of the bees went to work pollinating in the fields, transported from farm to farm.
Although we ate the fruit of their labor (literally), bees and their vital role in our food chain became largely forgotten. We knew they were out there, buzzing around in search of flowers, but we didn’t really give it much more thought. Then with the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder in the late 2000s, that perspective changed drastically.
Suddenly the backbone of the agriculture business was in danger of disappearing—a backbone that most people didn’t even realize was there. A backbone that depends on our pollinating allies, the honey bees.
Bees and their pollinating power touch nearly every fruit and vegetable on our tables. Without them, our non-meat related diets would rapidly shrink to consist of only grains like wheat and rice, and monocots that are open-pollinated by wind.
In reality, Colony Collapse Disorder wasn’t quite the extinction-level event that it was portrayed as in the news, but in its aftermath we are witnessing a renaissance in the awareness of bees, the challenges they face, and their tremendous importance in our lives.
More and more people are setting up hives in their yards, and the Santa Cruz Mountains have been at the forefront of the backyard beekeeping revolution.
The Santa Cruz Bee Guild is a great local resource (our Homestead Housewares Expert Karla is currently the President!)
We have hundreds of backyard beekeepers, with more starting each year. Many beginning beekeepers buy packages from suppliers (like Mountain Feed!) or contact a local beekeeper and purchase a ‘nuc’ (pronounced nuke), which is the ‘nucleus’ of an established hive and comes complete with several frames, a queen, and plenty of bees.
Of course, there are all of those wonderful swarms that can be caught. A swarm occurs when the colony within the hive grows too large to fit all the thousands of bees inside. The workers (all females) will begin to prepare a new queen bee, and the old queen will pack up with half the workers and most of the honey and take off for a new home.
It’s quite a sight to see thousands of bees move in a swirling cloud, and while it can frighten some people, honey bees in swarm are at their most docile. Late spring is a common time for swarms, so if you see one, be sure to contact a member of the Bee Guild for removal—they might even know a beekeeper who’ll take them home!
We are proud to offer education, resources and supplies to local beekeepers around California. We couldn’t do it without the help and expertise of our local beekeeping community, especially our in-house beekeeping expert Karla, who is the President of the Santa Cruz Bee Guild and owner-operator of Hart Creek Honey, producing artisanal micro-habitat varietals of local honey and honeybees.
Check out our video workshop overview of Karla's yearly beekeeping class, To Bee or Not to Bee? Learn to be a Responsible Beekeeper from the Start!
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