The need-to-know on backyard beekeeping in Lake Tahoe
Donning a beekeeper’s hat and veil, Brandi Bannister picks up a bee-covered frame from a hive outside her South Lake Tahoe home to show off the hexagonal honeycomb beginning to form.
“I normally get at least a couple of gallons of honey from one hive,” said Bannister, who has a dozen hives in total, some located at her home in South Lake Tahoe and others spread out between Sacramento and Genoa.
This particular hive, which is a new addition to her apiary, houses roughly 30,000 bees. It’s honey will have an “earthy sweet flavor,” said Bannister, compared to the citrusy honey coming from her Sacramento hives, where the bees pollinate the orchards, or the hint of sagebrush detected in the honey from Genoa.
Bannister became fascinated with bees eight years ago, reading everything she could get her hands on, and started beekeeping in her backyard three years ago.
“Originally when I first started beekeeping I did it to give to people who have allergies in the area that they live, and also to give it to senior citizens who have never had real honey. Honey is a luxury item. It’s not something they would tend to buy because it’s so expensive,” said Bannister.
Honey has anecdotally been reported to lessen symptoms in people with seasonal allergies since it contains traces of flower pollen.
Though Bannister still harvests and gives away her honey, boosting the declining bee population by splitting hives and spreading the word on backyard beekeeping have become other passions of hers.
According to a report released in March by the Center for Biological Diversity, population levels of more than 700 North American bee species are declining at an alarming rate due to habitat loss and pesticide use.
A 2015 report from a United Nations group on biodiversity found that populations are declining for 37 percent of bee species around the world, with 9 percent of bee populations facing extinction. The study noted that three-quarters of the “leading types of global food crops” rely to a certain extent on animal pollination.
“Next year I may start selling my honey in local stores, but for now I am more into the education part,” said Bannister. “I want to teach kids in school how important bees are.”
This past school year Bannister did a presentation on beekeeping for the second grade classes at Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School.
“I was amazed by how much they knew and the questions they asked,” said Bannister.
As for advice for any budding backyard beekeepers in Lake Tahoe, Bannister said the biggest hurdle is finding a location that the bears can’t reach.
“Bears can smell honey from a mile away,” said Bannister. “That’s why I started rooftop beekeeping.”
Debbie Gilmore, a fourth-generation beekeeper from Yerington, Nevada, agreed that keeping bears away from hives is the No. 1 issue with beekeeping in the basin.
Gilmore has an apiary of 70 hives and will be teaching a workshop on the basics of backyard beekeeping this Saturday, Aug. 5, through the Lake Tahoe Community College Connect program.
“We’re going to start off with some basic bee biology and behavior, go over how people can get their equipment and bees, and how to process honey,” said Gilmore.
Gilmore will also be offering suggestions on how to keep bears away from the hives and preferred plants to have in the garden for the honeybees.
“Beekeeping is fun, fascinating and a continual learning experience,” said Gilmore.
There is still availability in Gilmore’s one-day workshop. The course lasts from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and costs $85. For more information, visit http://www.ltccconnect.com.