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Column: A New Keeper on the "Honeybee Revolution"

Several bee swarms have been reported in the past week around Bay Area communities. Swarming is mainly a spring phenomenon, usually within a two- or three-week period. One East Bay beekeeper, and entrepreneur, shares her thoughts here.

[Larkspur-Corte Madera Patch would love your guest columns and letters.]

There is a honeybee revolution happening right in your community! In response to the devastating Colony Collapse Disorder there has been a resurgence of .

Concurrently, many beekeepers are using more gentle methods of beekeeping that are slightly less honey-centric and instead more holistic. Natural beekeepers are doing away with medications, sugar water feeders and active management of the hive’s behavior, as well as using the resurgently popular Top Bar or Warre hives.

Because these more natural hive styles are easier to build and design than the more common Langstroth hive it takes less money to get started, making beekeeping a hobby that more people can afford. 

Bee Guardians 

As one beekeeper I spoke with said, “I don’t call myself a beekeeper, I call myself a bee guardian. I don’t collect my honey in the fall and take the chance that the bees will run out of food. I wait until the winter is over and take what the bees didn’t eat.”

As a student of landscape design and a serious gardener, I have long appreciated honeybees and all the helpful pollinators buzzing around my neighborhood. When I discovered the Top Bar beekeeping method I knew I had to be a part of this powerful movement.

Since 1990, 25 percent of all managed bees have died off. There has been no one reason named for this crisis, but there is little disagreement we caused it (and if you watch any of the edifying bee documentaries, the reasons behind the die off are pretty clear as well).

Bees make possible 30 percent of all the food we eat and quite frankly, the human race cannot survive without them. Keeping bees helps to keep the population large and thriving, as well as giving the keeper honey and wax. 

Since I have a carpenter as a husband and we are entrepreneurial types, we weren’t satisfied with just keeping hives (not all are at our home, some are scattered in other people’s yards who want the pollinating benefits and some honey but not the responsibility). We decided to start a small hive business selling beautiful Kenyan Top Bar Hives.

I also offer wild caught swarms with the hives for an additional fee when they are available. Swarm season starts in the spring and slows down in summer. Bees swarm to reproduce. About half the existing bees and the old queen leave the hive and find a new living space. While the scouts are out looking for their new home, thousands of other bees hang around in a beard shape from a bush or a tree branch (sometimes house eaves or a drain pipe) waiting for about one to four days. 

Nothing to Fear

Swarms might look scary but actually are generally harmless. The bees have nothing to protect except themselves—no honey, no babies, no comb—so they are docile and calm. There are many beekeepers that will jump at the chance to capture a swarm. A quick internet search will provide information, as will the fire department.

If you see a swarm, give one of us a call and let us help the bees. Make sure to tell your friends and neighbors so that people don’t confuse honeybees with wasps, hornets and the like. And please, don’t kill the bees. 

I am happy to speak with anyone who would like to chat about bees – I am still a new keeper and love to learn from the oldtimers as well as share what I know.

If you would like more information about purchasing a hive and/or swarm or to report a swarm sighting feel free to call me anytime with at 510-860-3435 or email me at sarahhridge@rocketmail.com. Happy Beekeeping!

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