Although close to 80% of our land burned in the big Wine Country fires, all but a few insignificant outbuildings were saved. We lost mostly infrastructure which can be easily replaced. The land will heal itself with a little help from Ranch Manager Louis and his crews.
The most devastating loss was to a legendary local beekeeper who had the bulk of his hives — nearly 100 — in our pasture where his bees had access to fresh drinking water in our little Lake Charles and a ready food supply in our lavender fields. Every single one of those hives burned to the ground with all Hector Alvarez’s bees in them. To understand this loss, you need to know that what was lost goes far beyond the replacement value of the wooden hives (all hand built by Hector) and his bees and Queens. Hector arrived in this country from Mexico as a young man with nothing but a capacity for hard work and two generations of beekeeping knowledge behind him. He is one of the last of the traditional beekeepers and, as such, his bees were especially strong and resilient and his honey greatly prized in Sonoma County. For instance, Hector never used the trick of feeding sugar water to his bees to goose up honey production. And he locates his bees only on organic farms. That meant production volumes varied based on the available pollen. The years of the drought were particularly lean times for Hector. But this year, after a record wet winter, was expected to be a banner year. Hector told me each of his hives may have had up to 50 lbs. of premium honey ready to be harvested. If you’ve ever found premium organic honey in your local health food store, price a small bottle then imagine what fifty pounds of it would cost. Multiply that by nearly 100 hives. That’s not counting the beeswax products Hector and his family make. But again, the price of honey and the replacement price of bees can’t begin to address the cost of a colony of bees carefully bred and nurtured through hundreds of bee generations to be especially resilient to the diseases and conditions that continue to plague the world’s honeybees.
Sandra Sutton, Hector’s daughter posted very eloquently about how her father loves his bees as if they were all his children.
With the drought, the honey supply has been very minimal. He had to pull it out of all the health food stores he sold it in, and just sell at farmers markets. This year was the first year my father felt like he could start building his supply back up again. His determination to have the best honey around makes me so proud to be a beekeepers daughter!
He never feeds his bees syrups, or sugar waters when there are no flowers… which means he has to move them and provide pastures of flowers and water for them. He never buys honey from others and labels it as his own…
And if anyone knows him, he is so dang picky that he does all the work himself. He truly cares about his bees. They’re his livelihood. Its how my parents make a living. It’s what his father, and HIS father loved to do. Beekeeping is in his blood.
Hector is a proud man and everything he’s done he’s done with his own labor. But some of us are trying to convince him that getting him up and running again at full capacity is critical — not just for him, but for Sonoma’s ecosystem and for bee health in general. There are a dwindling number of Hectors in the world and we desperately need them to protect the bees.
So far, Hector’s insurance will only replace the cost of the wooden hives, not the bees. In response, Hector’s daughters have started this YouCaring site to work toward the $75,000 that we think is a conservative estimate of what it would take to approximate what Hector lost. Andy and I are looking a variety of other funding options and we are committed to meeting the figure Hector needs to get back up and running. But for people who care about the planet, I think it’s important to be able to make one small contribution to a steward of the Earth. So dig into those couch cushions for spare change. Forego a week of lattes. Skip a first run movie or two. Have your kids start a lemonade stand to aid the cause. Pledge some money to restore Hector’s Bees. It will be the best money you’ve spent in years. I guarantee, every penny you put into Hector Alvarez will be repaid three-fold in a stronger little corner of our ecosystem. As we all link hands to get Hector and his bees back to doing their work to better the planet, I’ll be posting frequent updates so you can see the good your contributions have done.
Do it! Save the bees!
Here again is the link to the funding site. Contribute. Share.
(And follow Hector’s Honey on Facebook.)