90.1 FM San Luis Obispo | 91.7 FM Paso Robles | 91.1 FM Cayucos | 95.1 FM Lompoc | 90.9 FM Avila
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cal Poly beekeeper optimistic about local honeybees after winter rains

Students learn general beekeeping practices at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. They also make honey.
Students study beekeeping at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. They also make honey.

Honeybees are essential pollinators for our local and global food supply, and after years of drought and other threats, a local beekeeper is optimistic about the coming season.

Jeremy Rose teaches beekeeping at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also owns a local bee business.

He said honeybee colonies managed by beekeepers live in wooden boxes that stack on top of one another. The boxes have small openings so the worker bees can go in and out.

“There can be upwards of 10 to 20 to 30,000 bees in a wintering colony,” Rose said.

Each colony makes its own honey and has its own queen.

“Almost all of the queen’s life is spent within the hive laying eggs. She remains fertile for her life which can be 2 years or more,” he said.

Jeremy Rose and Patrick Frazier teach beekeeping classes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Frazier/Cal Poly SLO
Beekeeping students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo learn to tend the hives. Tens of thousands of honeybees can live in bee boxes like the one shown here.

Rose said after many years of drought, California’s strong winter rains will help boost pollination activity which is good for the bees and the plants.

“My outlook varies from year to year. Last year, I was very downcast because it was a drought. This year we’ve had some of the best rain we’ve had since 2019 and things are looking really good. We’ve got green grass, we’ve got flowers starting to bloom,” he said.

Honeybees don’t just make honey, they also pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. We rely on them for fruits, vegetables, and nuts. And of course, California’s wildflowers need them, too.

According to USDA agricultural statistics, honeybees pollinate around $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year.

But Rose said in the early 2000s, hives around the country began to die off at an alarming rate.

“2005 is when I started my business and that was a very tough time. There was something called Colony Collapse Disorder which was decimating the honeybee colonies,” he said.

Researchers say a combination of factors including diseases, pesticides, and malnutrition likely contributed to the loss of so many hives. Rose said the situation has improved and fewer hives are now lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, but it’s never far from his mind.

The critical role honey bees play in our food supply was finally recognized in 2008, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Bill made protecting honey bees and pollinators a national priority. The government now allocates millions of dollars to research and scientific advancements. There’s even a new vaccine with conditional approval to help prevent a bacteria called American Foulbrood.

“American Foulbrood is one of our most devastating honeybee diseases. It is fortunately very uncommon in our area. There are certainly pockets where American Foulbrood does exist,” Rose said.

Cal Poly instructor Jeremy Rose with the honey extractor
Frazier/Cal Poly
Cal Poly beekeeping instructor Jeremy Rose with the honey extractor.

In Cal Poly’s Bee Lab, Rose’s students use microscopes to check bees for parasites and other health threats. They also spend time outside tending the hives.

“We teach general beekeeping practices. We cover how to manage the beehives during both spring and fall. We talk about identifying the various diseases that honeybees get and how to manage those,” he said.

And of course, students learn about honey.

“We have a honey extractor here at Cal Poly, so we can teach honey harvesting and honey extracting as well as honey bottling,” Rose said.

When Rose isn’t teaching, he raises bees and makes honey at his family-run business near Avila Beach. He rents bee colonies to farmers around the state and said he just placed several bee boxes in an almond orchard in Fresno.

“We truck a lot of the hives over there and drop them off in the orchards. The farmer pays to rent the hives. For my business, that’s part of our springtime revenue to get the year started,” he said.

The pollinators will be hard at work throughout the spring, and Rose anticipates lots of honey this year.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
Related Content