Are your apples asymmetrical? Are your blueberries behind in their ripening schedule? Is the growth of your strawberries stunted? The problem might be insufficient bee activity.
When bees are abundant and flowers properly pollinated, fruit size increases, ripening happens faster, and evenly shaped, symmetrical fruit develop. Just because a flower is pollinated once by a bee does not mean that the fruit developing from that flower will grow to its full potential.
With certain crops, multiple pollinations are needed to ensure multiple seeds which send out the hormones necessary for optimal fruit development. Even the quantity of calcium in an apple, for example, and the shelf life of that apple upon which the presence of calcium depends, will be decreased when pollination is inadequate.
But how do you go about significantly increasing bee activity in your garden so that your fruit, and many vegetables, too, for that matter, receive the pollination they need?
Enter The Valley Hive. As luck would have it, the Los Angeles area’s major center for education about beekeeping, for supply of beekeeping apparatus and products such as beeswax and honey, and for distribution of the bees themselves, is located in the Valley.
The address is 10538 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, not far from the 118 Freeway. You can visit their website — thevalleyhive.com — for information about beekeeping, including classes and events, or call 818-280-6500.
Talk about being (bee-ing?) in the right place at the right time. Not long after The Valley Hive opened its doors, the Los Angeles City Council enacted an ordinance permitting backyard beekeeping.
Living in Los Angeles, not only are you now permitted to grow vegetables in your parkway and collect eggs laid by your chickens, but you can make honey, too. Increasingly, it would seem, we are being guided down the path toward self-sufficiency. Who needs to trudge off to work every day in a gas guzzling automobile when you can sustain yourself from parkway grown veggies, from eggs laid by backyard frolicking free-range chickens, and from honey collected from your own hives, all within arm’s reach?
The Valley Hive was an enterprise that neither of its owners could have imagined not too long ago. Robin Finkelstein told me their story.
“Owners Keith Roberts and Danny Finkelstein,” she wrote, “weren’t always big fans of bees. While Danny was aware of the challenges facing honey bees, his personal journey as a beekeeper began when he enlisted someone to remove bees from a wall inside a house he was remodeling. The experience sparked an interest and desire that led him to the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association.
“It was there he met Keith, then the vice president of the club. Keith’s love of bees began in 2008 when he stumbled across the bee booth at the L.A. County Fair.
“Completely mesmerized by the Observation Hive display, he immediately set out to learn everything he could about this fascinating insect. Since founding The Valley Hive, the duo, along with their partners — Robin Finkelstein and Cheryl Thiele — have helped hundreds of novice beekeepers transform their own fascination with bees into urban hives of their own.
“The backyard beekeeping buzz,” she continued, “really took off in Los Angeles after the L.A. City Council passed an ordinance in 2015 to allow backyard beekeeping, which overturned a 136-year-old ban.
The ordinance allows one hive per 2,500 square feet of property — in single-family home neighborhoods only — and requires a barrier at least 6 feet tall between hives and neighboring lots (so bees fly upward as they leave), as well as a water source (so bees don’t go looking elsewhere).
Hives are still banned in front yards and within 5 feet of any lot lines. Beekeepers will also have to be registered with the County of Los Angeles Agricultural Commission.”
While you should not expect to harvest honey the first year, it could happen, depending on weather conditions and the vegetation around you.
“We have quite a few new customers,” Robin Finkelstein informed me, “who got honey from their hives this year due to the incredible super bloom that took place this spring because of all the rainfall we had.”
Yes, a super bloom or an abundance of flowers means more honey since it is the nectar located at the base of flower petals, that bees turn into honey.
The color and flavor of honey depends on which flowers are visited by the bees. At The Valley Hive, they have “various honey varieties available depending on the time of year, including wildflower, sage, orange, buckwheat and avocado.”
And “No,” she assures me, “we don’t add avocado to the honey! It is produced when the bees are moved to an avocado planting and, as they pollinate (transfer male pollen grains to female stigmas), the bees collect nectar from the flowers.”
Commercial growers of avocados and almonds, two of California’s most important tree crops, are absolutely dependent on honey bee colonies placed next to their orchards, an expensive but essential accessory where maximizing yield of these crops is concerned.
As for how much honey you can expect to harvest from a backyard setup, Finkelstein estimated that “the average for Southern California would be anywhere from 40-70 pounds,” while “some clients in Beverly Hills have honey extracted from their hives 2-3 times a year because of the lush area in which the bees live.”
Furthermore, “some people will get hundreds of pounds of honey, while others will not get any.”
Experienced beekeepers know that occasional death of the bees in a hive comes with the territory. Death of a hive or colony may be caused by varroa mites, which carry a virus, by location, weather, drought, exposure to pesticide or some other toxin, or hive death may be due to some unknown factor.
I was curious about the compatibility of bees with pets.
“Quite a few of our customers keep chickens,” she responded. “I have dogs and a backyard hive at home. I put up a fence to keep the dogs out of the hive area. But my dogs are aware of the hives and have a healthy respect for the bees. When the fence gate is open, they keep their distance.”
Tip of the week
It costs $800-$1,000 to set up a backyard beekeeping operation, but you can sleep peacefully knowing that making honey is literally money in the bank and that, no matter what happens, your honey will never go to waste.
Honey has no expiration date and, placed in a tightly sealed container will, theoretically, last forever. For instance, 2,000-year-old honey found in Egyptian tombs was perfectly edible.
Do not put honey in the refrigerator, however, since it will crystallize there. Yet, to return the honey to its original state, simply heat it up until the crystals melt and disperse.
Although there are 3,500 species of bees native to North America, the honey bees mentioned here are European, first arriving on American shores in Virginia, in 1621, in a hive carried on an English ship.