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All The Buzz

More than just producing the sweet stuff, Marin’s beekeepers also have a hand in improving the environment and the quality of your garden.

A NATURAL, AIRBORNE STEWARD of our environment, honeybees have been making national news for the last decade or so. High population collapses due to a variety of factors — including varroa mites, pesticides, bad agricultural practices and a lack of resources — put the buzzing insect into the spotlight, inspiring a subsequent increase in beekeepers to take up their cause. We talked to a few members of the Marin Beekeepers Club to learn about the hobby’s appeal, and we discovered that in addition to bolstering the surrounding environment, improving garden quality and providing a source of that amber-hued sweet stuff, bees are simply nice to have around.

Who enjoys beekeeping? Bonnie Morse, a longtime Marin Beekeeper Club member, and her husband, Gary, own Bonnie Bee and Company, a local, sustainable supplier of bees, maintaining 130 hives at 18 apiaries throughout the county. She introduced us to fellow club members Dave Peterson and Linda Albion. All are lovers of gardening, honey, flowers and the buzzing backyard company only contented honeybees can provide. Whether you are a retiree or a nine-to-fiver or are looking for a fun family activity, keeping bees on a small scale is a great way to enhance your home while helping the planet.

What is it all about? “Beekeeping has really exploded in Marin over the last 10 years,” says Morse. “When we joined Marin Beekeepers back in 2007, about 20 of us used to meet in the barn at Draper Farms. Now we have more than 350 members, with an average of 80 attendees each month.” Most members keep bees for personal enjoyment and join the club to learn more, ask questions and enjoy access to the honey extractors, hive carriers, wax melters and other pieces of equipment that are available to borrow. For those new to the practice: backyard hives are contained in wooden crates that are set on cement blocks and filled with stackable foundation frames on which bees build comb, raise colonies and store honey. A colony consists of 40,000– 60,000 bees during the summer, with numbers decreasing to 20,000 and below during the winter. The female workers can visit up to 10 flowers in the span of one minute, collecting pollen — a source of protein, fat, minerals and vitamins — on their hind legs to bring back to the hive. And no, honey is not created solely for human enjoyment: bees produce honey as a food store that allows them to survive during winter, when nectar and pollen are scarce.

Where does this activity take place? When they aren’t gathering at the American Legion Log Cabin for monthly meetings, Marin’s beekeepers can be found in their own backyards.

When is a good time to participate in the hobby? The county’s beekeeping season begins more or less in April, when it is finally warm enough to open hives and assess winter losses. That said, in Marin, winter temperatures are mild enough to allow bees to forage throughout the entire year — even in the midst of the February chill, plants like eucalyptus are in full bloom. The Marin Beekeeper Club meets monthly, with a smattering of workshops and classes thrown in every couple of weeks for good measure. Each meeting typically includes 15 to 20 minutes of question-and-answer followed by a speaker who lectures for a little over an hour.

Why should someone consider giving it a try? “I got into beekeeping because I appreciate bees and flowers, and I love honey,” says Linda Albion, who began keeping bees in her Woodacre backyard two years ago. “I had a friend who did it, and I needed a project.”

How can one get involved? Become a member of the Marin Beekeepers Club ($20 a year); marinbeekeepers.org. Or check out Audacious Visions for the Future of Bees and Beekeeping, a collaborative conference taking place this December at the Marconi Conference Center; beeaudacious.com.

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