Have you been reading about how honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate from “Colony Collapse Disorder”? No one knows for sure what’s causing it, but it’s starting to look as if it’s a combination of viruses, pesticides, perhaps global warming and maybe stress from being trucked hither and yon to pollinate agribusinesses. So essential is the honeybee for American agriculture that ice cream giant Haagen Dazs has gotten into the act kicking in loads of money for bee research. They say half their ice cream will be “extinct” if the bees go.

After reading how beekeepers are small entrepreneurs, often operating on a shoestring, I figured out how I could help. I’ve got land — including lavender fields — that I’m managing organically; beekeepers have bees who need a safe place to do their thing. Let’s get together. Seemed like a win-win situation all around. A beekeeper gets to expand without the expense of buying or leasing land; I get the pleasure of seeing bees and their pollinating efforts. I’d read that one of Sonoma’s most famous beekeepers, Hector of Hector’s Bees, had expanded his operation just this way. He put his hives on willing landowners land in exchange for some honey.

My landscaper contacted Hector and he came to see the layout. Seems he’s not a small timer any more. He really wanted a bigger lavender field and roads for his trucks that went up into those fields. But he said the layout was perfect for a smaller operation and encouraged us to contact some local beekeeper associations.


These are the lavender fields I thought no beekeeper and his bees could resist.
Apparently they can. However, swarms of bumblebees love it.

Just so happens, I’d stumbled across one recently (which shall remain nameless) that fortuitously had a Yahoo Group I could join. Perfect.

I crafted a quick post saying that I had 40 organically-managed acres in Sonoma, including a lavender field, and was looking for a beekeeper who wanted a low-cost way to expand. I said I was willing to host the hives for a trade in some jars of honey.

Then the firestorm hit! Increasingly angry posts flamed out on nottobenamedbeekeepergroup@yahoogroups.com. It started with this grammar-challenged post:

So! What is going on here? Are the large beekeeper who bring bees to the Almonds field are paying the almond grower? Or, is that an indication the, lage beekeepers are smart and, smaller are___________ you fill up the space.
Either big or small operators, bees provide a service, the owner on that hive or few hives deserve to get compensate for the service rendered. How the bees get from here to there? How we get there to check the bees? How many time? How they get from there to here? How far from us here to there is? For the exchange with a little honey. How generous they are to be happy to be compensate with so little especially when we have spent hundreds of dollars in gas back and forth without counting the time. What is going on here? Any opinions?

It continued with indignant charges that I wanted to “relieve them of their hives” ignoring all the cost and time they put into beekeeping. They railed that I was trying to skip out on paying the fee usually given to beekeepers for pollinating crops. Finally the original poster weighed in again, by saying I could do all the work and heavy lifting of his hives, spend my gas to get there, then stop by his Not To Be Named Store and he’d give me a stick of jerky and a bottle of water for my efforts. That would be the same sort of “fair trade”.

Whoah! Did I not word my post correctly or are the beekeepers grabbing on to the wrong end of the honeycomb?

I posted again, clarifying that 1) I wasn’t looking for free pollinating services. I have enough bumblebees, birds and hummingbirds doing my pollinating, 2) I didn’t want anyone’s hives or a piece of their businesses, and 3) I just wanted to make some land available for a beekeeper needing to expand. Oh, and it would be nice to have a few jars of honey for my efforts — like the work and expense of maintaining the land organically.

At that point, a few brave beekeepers started emailing me privately to offer support. However, no one seemed willing to put that support online with a published post. Did I find a beekeeper? Well, not exactly. The letters of support were mostly to encourage me to get into beekeeping. Beekeeping? I’m struggling with growing crops! I don’t want to add “Clueless Beekeeper” to my current title of “Clueless Farmer.” I was looking for the no learning curve solution.

Now I’m getting very nervous. Forget about that invasion of that aggressive Africanized Honeybee that we’ve been warned about. The beekeepers are mad as hell and they’re not taking it any more!

And me, I’ll be tip-toeing very quietly past the honey stands at the local farmer’s market this summer.

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