Beekeepers part of SCV’s thriving agriculture

Saraf inspecting the hive for pests, such as varroa mites and hive beetles. Photo courtesy of A Bee Man.

For a lot of people, the story of bees begins and ends with knowing these little insects build hives, help pollinate and can sting. 

But the insects are also a cornerstone of our ecosystem, and a vital part of the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry.

In fact, honey bees contribute nearly $20 billion a year to the value of U.S. crop production, according to the American BeeKeeping Association, helping increase crop yield and quality for everything from apples to cranberries to broccoli. 

Almonds, which, according to a 2019 Iowa State University study, are California’s third-largest agricultural commodity, generating $21.5 billion for the state. The crop is wholly dependent on pollination by bees. 

But one thing people might not realize about bees in the United States: They’re actually disappearing. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has described this nationwide phenomena as the Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which is when a majority of the worker bees in a colony “disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.”

The leading theory on CCD, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is that this phenomena occurs due to a complex variety of factors, from pathogens to parasites to poor nutrition. However, year after year, beekeepers report that their hives are under serious pressure.

As part of the honey extraction process, David examines each frame. When extracting honey, we only take honeycombs from the top box, meaning we leave the hive with at least 10 frames of honey. Photo courtesy of A Bee Man.

Bee local

Despite the pressure, beekeepers have a self-sustaining community in the SCV, with bee-removal services available if needed, or if you want to go the other direction and be closer to the bees, tastings are available, too.

Just down Highway 126, Bennett’s Honey Farm not only produces its own honey right at the farm, but also offers guests a chance to purchase their various home grown products such as bee pollen, beeswax, creamed honey, candles, raw honeycomb or honey barbecue sauce. 

They even have a honey-tasting room, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. However, COVID-19-related  restrictions may apply.

Further into Ventura County are other bee farm options, including Ventura Bee Rescue, Mission Beekeeping and Blue Ridge Honey.

In order to help reverse the damage being done to bees, buying organic and local produce, especially local raw honey, is one of the best ways everyday residents can assist, said local beekeeper David Saraf. 

“Instead of buying store-bought honey, try going to a farmers market and getting honey,” said Saraf. “Because that helps your local beekeepers.”   

Bennett’s is located at 3176 Honey Lane, Fillmore.

Each hive has one queen bee. She is the largest bee in the hive and her coloring is different. The queen bee’s main job is laying eggs. Each day she lays about 2,000 eggs. Photo courtesy of A Bee Man.

The buzz about behavior

Given their desire to protect their favorite insects, local beekeepers are doing as much as they can to inform the public about what’s happening. 

Saraf, who removes hives in and around the Santa Clarita Valley, regularly shares interesting facts about bees, whether online or in-person. Through his family owned and operated business named A Bee Man, Saraf regularly shares that bees have been important to humanity for thousands of years with ancient societies using honey for everything from medical treatments to beauty regiments.

“The main thing though that we want people to know about bees is not only do they make honey, which is delicious, but they are also pollinators and they pollinate about one third of our food source,” said Talia Saraf, David’s daughter, who works with her father after learning about beekeeping while watching him over the years. “Especially here in California … I think that’s the most important thing: that people are scared of bees but they’re really friendly.”

Saraf said one of the biggest misconceptions around bees is that they’re aggressive or looking to hurt you, a stigma beekeepers have been fighting for years now.

Bees are, however, very-time consuming and difficult to raise if an aspiring-beekeeper is inexperienced, and knowing how they behave, or what they’re susceptible to, is critical to the species survival.

“It’s a daily thing to check on them constantly to make sure and make sure they’re not dealing with any mites, or there not dealing with little beetles that can infest the hive or even just making sure that the queen is laying eggs properly,” said Saraf. “Because if she gets too old, and she starts having problems laying eggs, then it will be a weaker hive.” 

All this is to say that not only are there people out there in the SCV and surrounding communities that are generally worried about the bees, but they are working hard to ensure their survival.

Before working with the bees and opening up their home, a bit of smoke is used to keep them calm. Photo courtesy of A Bee Man.

Hive mentality

So what then should you do if you find a beehive on your property, or even inside your house?

 “The first thing that we always recommend is to stay away from the hive,” said Saraf. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, just spray them with water.’ Don’t do that.”

The next step, Saraf said, would be to call a bee removal specialist who does not exterminate the hive, but rather humanely and carefully transfers them away from your home or property. 

A good bee specialist, if the hive is located on the outside of a building, can quickly remove the hive while limiting damage to the colony itself. The removal specialists ensure they have the queen secured, and then depending on the time of day, the beekeeper will either take the box away immediately or wait until sunset for all the bees to return and enter the transport container.

If the bees are located inside a structure, like an attic, Saraf says the humane strategy is time consuming, but helps to ensure that the colony survives after removal, and can be given to either a professional or hobbyist beekeeper. 

“A lot of times when people decide to go with the cheaper option of just killing the bees, they actually end up having bees return, end up with an even bigger problem and have to call us, and so it’s just a longer process for them” said Saraf “I think it’s always best to just do it right the first time. relocate these and do it properly so that you’re not dealing with this problem over and over again.”

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