You may have heard of backyard chickens in California cities. But backyard beekeeping?
Hundreds of Bay Area residents have installed beehives in recent years, a hobby that really took off when pandemic lockdowns forced people to stay home. Membership in the Alameda County Beekeepers Association alone has ballooned from about 60 in 2011 to 500, according to the association’s new president, Robert Matthews.
“It seems like every third house has a beehive and a chicken,” said Matthews, 57, a technician by day and bee lover on weekends.
Beekeepers say their hobby is a solitary, meditative pastime that helps them connect with nature amidst their busy lives. I first learned about the development of home beekeeping from my Oakland neighbor who was a full-time nurse and had three hives in his backyard.
Another Oakland resident, Tracy Fasanella, stumbled upon beekeeping this year. She adopted two hives from a friend in San Leandro. Fasanella, a semi-retired accountant, said she was gratified but occasionally intimidated by the wealth of knowledge she gained from the bees.
“I didn’t know what I’d put myself in,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by 40,000 bees and it’s scary.”
This year’s unseasonably rainy and cold California winter has created an extra challenge for newcomers who are still trying to learn the ropes.
The wind kept blowing down the hives, killing some of the bees and leaving little food for the bees that survived.unusually stormy winter Bees pollinating California cash crops pose problems elsewhere in the state.
Jill Lambie, an Oakland-based amateur turned professional bee consultant, said she had never seen a season as complicated as last winter. Bees don’t get enough food or pollen, making their larvae sick. There were more opportunistic viruses popping up than she had ever seen.
On the first sunny week in April, in the Berkeley Hills, Lambie and her business partner Karen Rhein (who call their consulting business BeeChicks) are inspecting a group of hives for mites. Mites can destroy hives by infecting them with viruses. One virus carried by the mites causes bees to be born without abdomens, while another deforms their wings, making them too weak to fly.
“Eleven mites!” Rhine exclaimed, counting and counting the samples.
To test, experts scooped a cup of bees from a hive, dropped them into a jar of sugar, and shook the container in a shallow bucket of water to count the number of mites that fell out. If you see more than 15 mites, it’s a sign that the hive may soon be in trouble and need to be treated.
While Rhein was testing, Lambie was on the phone with another panicked Bay Area customer. Client bees swarm and flee the hive in droves.
She turned and sighed. “That’s going to happen a lot this spring,” she said.
where we travel
Today’s tip comes from Levie Isaacks:
“I live in Sevastopol and my favorite city trip is from Freestone through Fort Valley to Petaluma and Hwy 101. Bright green rolling hills this time of year , fields of California poppies and happy cows is an uplifting, visceral experience. Stunningly beautiful.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more information in an upcoming newsletter.
Before you go, some good news
New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear recently published a lovely article about California superflowers.
The year Goodyear moved to Los Angeles, the winter of 2004-05 was the wettest in the region, and she remembers it as one of slick roads and fallen palm fronds. She remembers her understanding of Los Angeles as a place that was “rich, intoxicating, and nobody cared about.”
This spring is back to that era, with gentle hillsides turning purple and yellow, California poppies peeking out from sidewalk cracks, she wrote:
“It’s hard to be optimistic in a dry environment. A dry city is a metaphor for dysfunction and a mirror of it. Seems like the end of a story. The failure of an ill-conceived experiment. Proof of unsustainability . But when the desert comes back to life, the story begins again. There is a possibility beyond the simple joy of seeing so much color. The chaos feels generous and energizing.”