Kenwood Press

Serving the communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont

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Guest Editor: 02/15/2015

Whose grocery store are you closing?

By Thea Vierling, Beekeeper

A bee gathers pollen from a red bottle brush.

Photo by Jen Espinoza.

Do you know that if you cut all the blackberries down in your neighborhood, you have just closed the “grocery store” for the honeybees? That’s right. Honeybees love blackberries – think of them as the bees’ August grocery store. And without honeybees you would have no blackberries. That’s true for lots of fruits and vegetables: apples, plums, pears, watermelons, raspberries, and strawberries, just to name a few.

These last few years of drought have been very difficult for our local honeybees and other pollinators. Without rain, flowers have a difficult time making enough nectar to attract bees to pollinate them. And, of course, nectar is what the bees use to make their honey. Honeybees need honey to live. Spring is nectar season and is the time when most plants bloom. That is what the bees “buy” at their “grocery store” when they fly out of their homes. They buy nectar.

Not all plants have nectar, and some plants have more nectar than others. Here are some plants that are major sources of nectar and also their blooming periods: eucalyptus (Dec.-Feb); manzanita (winter and spring); all kinds of sage (May-June); mint (summer and fall); bottle brush (Dec.-June); lavender (spring and summer). If you want to help the bees, plant more of these plants. You can’t go wrong, because they are beautiful plants, and many of them smell terrific.

The other thing that happens in the spring besides nectar flows are swarms. Swarms are an important part of a healthy honeybee colony, as this is how the colony naturally reproduces. It is important that we try to help swarms get into a new, safe home where they will be accepted. A swarm that is clustered (on a branch or fencepost for example) may hang out for several days, but it is best to call a beekeeper as soon as possible. The bees can become very stressed if they’re in the open too long, and they can become dehydrated and die.

Beekeepers know that collecting swarms is very important to the overall health of the local bee population, because 80 percent of all wild swarms do not survive. When you see a swarm and call a beekeeper, the beekeeper will put the swarm in a swarm box immediately, and then take the swarm to a new, permanent home. It’s also important to know that bees that are swarming are usually not aggressive. They loaded up their bellies on honey before they left the hive to find their new, safe home, and are focused on finding that home.

Please call local Kenwood beekeepers Thea Vierling at 833-2492 or 483-0426, John Krafft at 833-6776, or Jim Spencer at 481-3820 if you see a honeybee swarm this spring (or anytime of the year). We will come out to ensure they are relocated in an appropriate home. We do not charge for this service. By helping the honeybees, we are helping you.

Readers may submit articles of approximately 800 words on topics of local interest for The Guest Editor column. Email Although we intend to print all submissions, we do reserve the right to refuse to publish any article.

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