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The buzz about bees

Local guild helps residents appreciate bees — without the sting

Bees collect around the entrance to their box, entering and exiting to get more pollen or drop it off in the hive. Photo by Ben Hacker.

Kenneth McKenzie always had an interest in bees and pollination, so he decided to take a daylong beginner beekeeping course to learn the basics.

The following Monday, McKenzie went to work as usual and noticed a beehive hanging down from a building. This felt like his moment, McKenzie said.

Newly trained, he didn't feel confident enough to take down the hive on his own. He called the Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild and asked for help. Instead, the group encouraged him to use his new skills and take it down himself.

After some consideration, McKenzie put together some makeshift gear, including a cardboard box and wire screens. He was able to take down the hive on his own.

Today, McKenzie is the president of the Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild and has produced over 1,000 pounds of honey in the last year.

Once a rather obscure pastime, beekeeping has become more popular in the last decade, McKenzie said. Many new beekeepers begin out of personal desire to have bees pollinate their gardens. The hobby can be very creative and very specific to the environment. McKenzie described it as an "intimate and personal experience."

He suggests that an aspiring beekeeper prepare as much as possible and get the proper equipment. This should include extensive reading as well as making sure the environment where you want to keep the bees is conducive to success.

McKenzie's Bee Guild colleague Elizabeth Victor said aspiring beekeepers can get their hive equipment from many reputable dealers online. Mann Lake, Dadant & Sons and Brushy Mountain all have the full complement of tools, equipment, hive parts, and protective gear, often assembled into starter kits. Locally, there are a few retailers that sell hive components and beekeeping supplies.

Victor noted that new equipment is preferable to used equipment, as there can be mismatched or odd-sized hives or damaged equipment. Altogether a new hive setup with bees and protective gear will start at upwards of $500, she said.

If homeowners discover bees or see a regular flight pattern of honeybees (make sure they are not wasps) in an opening in a wall, masonry, flower pot or irrigation box, then they may have a colony that has set up its nest, Victor said. As a courtesy, the Bee Guild lists professional beekeepers who are trained in colony extraction on their website. A beekeeper contracted to remove a colony in a structure should have excellent references, a license and insurance, Victor said.

If you are planning to keep bees, it is also important to check local ordinances to see if beehives are allowed within a certain distance from the street. Midpeninsula cities vary wildly in their acceptance of beekeeping although many are softening their stances. In the City of Mountain View, beekeepers must keep their hives at least 10 feet from the property line, and at least 20 feet from any public road.

It's also crucial to follow and know the natural patterns of bee hives. Before establishing a hive, make sure the direction in which the bees may fly is acceptable for the surrounding community.

"Many people get emotionally (involved) before they are logically ready," McKenzie said. "There is a lot of work involvebut new people get anxious to get them.

"Beekeeping is very experimental and creative hobby for me," he added.

According to Victor, bees produce honey whenever abundant nectar from flowering trees and shrubs is available, usually in early spring through midsummer. Bee colonies build to maximum size by the middle of summer, she said, "all the while the older bees are bringing in resources to build their honey reserves to get the colony through winter.

"A beekeeper will make sure there is abundant honey stores in the hive to sustain the colony during the fall and winter before they remove any honey for their own use," she added. "Once a beekeeper has brought a hive through a winter in good shape, there should be extra honey to harvest in spring. Honey production is part of a year-long, seasonal cycle."

Local honey can also be extremely beneficial for seasonal allergies to pollen and grass. All it takes, bee enthusiasts say, is a spoonful of local honey per day to alleviate allergies, although this claim is not necessarily supported by scientists. The guild itself does not sell honey because it can be a long process to become county certified, but many of its approximately 230 members sell their own honey.

The Bee Guild recommends that people interested in beekeeping attend a few of its free monthly meetings. The guild offers instruction for beginners at the start of each meeting and also recommends taking a class on hive management.

The Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild is a nonprofit organization for beekeepers within the Santa Clara Valley. Members are beekeepers of all levels, from backyard hobbyists to professional apiarists.

Sophie Pollock is a former intern at the Palo Alto Weekly. Home and Real Estate Editor Elizabeth Lorenz contributed to this story.

Local beekeeping resources:

Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers' Guild, meetings the first Monday of every month (no meeting in September 2017), at Dwell Christian Church, 1292 Minnesota Ave. in San Jose.

Contact the Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers' Guild at 408-634-BEES (2337) or email

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