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Healthy Bees in Pristine Locations
As beekeepers, the first thing that is on our minds is the health of our bees. Health of a bee hive is determined mainly by the nectar and pollen-producing flowers that are available to the forager bees throughout the season. We partner with local land-owners to place hives in the most secluded locations with the most abundant flowers that we can find. We also take care that our hives are positioned as far as possible from other commercial apiaries that will compete against our bees for resources. We are constantly in search of the best bee pasture available in Coastal California.
In winter, our honeybees begin the year with a boost from blue gum eucalyptus and ceanothus which both provide pollen and nectar. Manzanita flowers provide honey that the bees gather and store to consume during periods of cold weather. At the end of winter we carefully move our hives to the San Joaquin Valley where they participate in almond pollination. Almond farmers are completely dependent on honey bees to pollinate their trees in order to get a crop, and we are proud to be available to provide this important service.
Our hives flourish during the spring on the coast, where they have access to native nectar-producing plants such as black sage and poison oak. In farmed areas, avocado blossoms provide an excellent source of nectar for the bees. California poppies and wild blackberries provide abundant pollen that the bees use as protein. On the coast, the spring forage is dependent on steady rain in order to reach its full capacity for bloom. For this reason, surplus honey crops in our area only occur during rainy years (approximately four out of every seven years). In dry years we are very careful not to remove honey that the hives need to survive. The healthiest hives will put out reproductive swarms that attempt to begin new hives in hollow trees or other natural structures.
During summer, our bees feed on weeds and wildflowers until the soil dries and the plants stop blooming. Surplus honey may be produced from the native plants toyon or wild buckwheat. The bees begin to transition their hives into overwintering arrangement, that is moving the brood nest to the bottom of the hive, and moving honey into the top. At the end of the summer there is a dearth of pollen. At this time, hives take a break from the fast paced brood-rearing that they do throughout the late winter, spring, and summer.
In autumn we pamper our bees as much as possible to prepare them for the unfavorable months ahead. If they do not have enough stored honey, we feed them pure sucrose syrup, which is actually more healthy for the bees than honey for overwintering because it does not contain minerals that are indigestible to bees. In some locations, we feed hives pollen supplement in order to provide the bees with additional protein to that available from pollen during the dry fall months. When the bees are well fed, they naturally exhibit greater resistance to mites and viruses which plague honey bees during the fall.
Long Term Pollinator Health
It is widely known that honey bee populations are in decline. This is due to the persistence of parasitic mites and internal parasites. There are also numerous viruses that bees carry, any of which can cause an outbreak leaving hives weakened. The California Bee Company believes that selective breeding holds the key to preventing bee die-offs and restoring pollinator health. We consider it our responsibility to breed better bees.
Every year, we select our best hives and use them to raise new queen bees (the queen controls the genetics of a hive). These breeder queens are selected for survival and overall healthy appearance, as well as honey production and gentleness. We also bring outside stock into our operation from sources such as mite-resistant Russian queens, VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygiene) queens, and other survivor queens identified by other small beekeepers like us. We hope that we will be able to develop a line of gentle, productive survivor queens that are well adapted to coastal California.
How can you help? We need secluded apiary locations in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. These locations will be used for queen mating. The main catch is that the best mating locations are at least one mile, but better yet, three miles from other commercial apiary locations. In addition, the property must have abundant flowers for the bees throughout the winter and spring.
We have begun commercial distribution of open-mated locally-adapted queen bees. The main target will be small scale beekeepers with just a few hives on their property. By doing this, we can rapidly distribute quality honey bee stock throughout the coast, displacing inferior lines of bees such as the commercially available but very mite-susceptible Italian, and the more defensive African honey bee.
We have a vision of a better future for honey bees, in which hives do not suffer from pathogens and parasites. We would like to see more cities and counties create ordinances that allow people to keep one or two hives in the back yard. Cities like Santa Maria, CA already do this. Santa Maria allows people to keep up to four hives in the back yard, as long as the owner takes proper care of them and the neighbors do not mind.