An Interview with a Beekeeper
A Conversation with Sierra from Pollen & Fox
April 24, 2021
M y journey with bees started 15 years ago. I had been in the design industry for almost a decade when my sweetheart gave me a book about a woman beekeeper finding solace in the natural world. Reading through those pages, I remember the feeling that came over me that I had not experienced often before, if ever – I was called to tend honey bees. While it seemed out of the blue to consider at the time, I grew up on a small farm in the middle of an apple orchard in Sebastopol, California, making mud pies topped with fresh wildflowers with my best friend (also named Sierra), daring each other to pet bees without getting stung. In 2019 I broke ground on Pollen & Fox. I am happy to now offer a limited supply of seasonal, organically grown flowers, and host a variety of super cute pollinators, including my honey bees.
Bees teach me to slow down. I’ve never been very good at meditation but the moment I go into a beehive, the world around falls away. The scent of the hive envelops you as you experience the sight and sounds of a colony working together. It’s just you and them, and nothing else but the deliberate act of doing what you set out for that day, with the end goal of a healthy colony. I find the same kind of peace observing bees at the entrance and following them on flowers. I’ve learned a lot about honey bees this way, so it benefits us both. Bees also helped me take into consideration all of the changes I could make to support a healthier planet, starting with the food I eat. And Community! Honey bees are a social insect and make an amazing study in what can be accomplished when we work together, in addition to being the conduit for sparking conversation and making new connections with people.
Is there a flower that bees like best in your garden?
That’s a tough question! Bees love the flowering herbs and the medicinal qualities are an added benefit. Here we have borage, thyme, lavender, goldenrod, salvias, tons of basil and rosemary, to name a few. In the cutting garden aster, cosmos, zinnia, daucus, scabiosa and sunflowers are all super popular. At the end of the season I let the dahlias blow open and the bees will cover them four to a center!
I have been lucky to spend a lot of time in the garden with my niece and nephews. Watching bees on flowers is like a treasure hunt. Honey bees also have many jobs throughout their short life (6 weeks for a summer bee!), and children can easily grasp the concept of each of their different jobs when you break each duty into little stories. Also, drones (male honey bees) don’t sting. This makes holding a bee much less scary for a little one. My nephew learned so much about bees that he confidently corrected his kindergarten teacher in her bee presentation, and he was right! He is still an excellent drone spotter.
Beekeeping is unique to the individual. I don’t recall being as observant of the natural world before I got into bees. Everything from deciphering the sounds inside a beehive, to noticing the shadows grow longer when winter nears, or not wanting to sleep through a sunrise. Or maybe that’s just a sign of getting older. As one season turns into another, I’ve also begun to notice the subtle (and not so subtle) differences linked to our changing climate through flowers.
We rely heavily on large farms whose profit is often generated from growing one crop (monoculture) and we have become accustomed to enjoying fruits and vegetables out of season, year-round, and often from overseas. Much of this large-scale agriculture we depend on has depleted our soil and the biodiversity necessary to support healthy pollinators. It has also increased our use of herbicides, pesticides, and managed honey bee colonies for pollination. This comes with negative implications on the health and natural behavior of both wild and managed bees. Supporting local organic farms, and choosing seasonal flowers and produce when available, is a great start to boosting our local pollinator populations while taking greater care of our planet. Also, purchase local honey! Not all honey is equal. Find yourself a local beekeeper who harvests only true surplus honey and who doesn’t treat their bees with pesticides used to treat mites (another consequence of migratory beekeeping). Avoid harmful pesticides. Let your garden get a little wild and you will be rewarded with lots of sweet visitors.
Photography by Sierra
Designed by Sarah and inspired by the bees near her Northern California studio, our Bee Play House can be an invitation for play-based learning and a beautiful prop for a spring nature table.