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Walnut Creek Magazine


Jul 06, 2016 08:02PM ● By Pam Kessler
It’s said we should thank the hardworking honeybee for every third bite of food off of our plates. These creatures discretely perform the job of pollinating our fruits, flowers, and vegetables. They are an important and vital part of our ecosystem. Thanks to the growth of backyard and community organic gardens, the Bay Area has become a hive of activity in urban beekeeping.

The Mt. Diablo Beekeepers Association spreads “the buzz” about beekeeping at schools and gardening groups. “We want people to understand how important bees are to our environment and our food source,” says beekeeper Mike Stephanos. “They are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for our food supply. It really tells us what’s going on.” In fact, about 1/3 of our vegetable, fruit, and nut crops depend on the pollinating services of bees.

Honeybee colonies are predominantly female. Queens mate with drones, which exist solely for reproductive purposes. The recipe for honey is simple but labor intensive. Field bees will fly up to 18 square miles in pursuit of nectar and pollen. Once they return to the hive, they “vomit” nectar out of one of two stomachs; then house bees take over, fluttering their wings over the enzyme and nectar concoction to reduce the moisture content. The creatures ingeniously lay wax at an angle on hive frames to reduce spillage, fill it with the fresh honey, and then cap it off for safe storage.  

Hive boxes are like apartment complexes. They have three ‘floors,’ with ‘apartments’ inside each box. The top floor is where you find the honey. Most beekeepers position their hives near lush landscaping where bees thrive on everything from eucalyptus and rosemary to wild mustard seed and poppies. They especially like purple, white and yellow flowers like lavender and sunflowers.  The community gardens at Howe Homestead Park provide an eclectic mix of blooms for the honey bees that live at this city-owned garden.  –PK

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