Years ago, the buzz of the bees captured the heart and imagination of a young girl in Australia. Whenever she visited her great-uncle, she was sure to visit his hives too. As the busy bees went about their business, all young Kate McEachen could say was, “wow” and hope that one day she can have her own hives as well.
As we celebrate the first day of National Pollinator Week (June 18-24), we’d like to create more buzz for backyard beekeepers in California. In particular, we shine a spotlight the grown-up Kate, who finally fulfilled a childhood dream of having her very own beehives this year. She joins the other 125,000 amateur beekeepers in the U.S., a 25% increase in the past five years, according to Bee Culture magazine. She is not only passionate about her bees, but she goes the extra mile to educate others on their importance to our food system and dispel any misconceptions about bees.
When Kate was in junior high, she went to a school in Australia that offered agriculture as an elective. They had a small farm with animals, a vegetable plot, fruit trees, and beehives. There, she learned more about bees, how to build the frames and racks to construct the hive, and how to maintain the hive. At 13, Kate knew how to extract honey and brought home a honeycomb for her excited mother who ate the whole thing!
Kate loves her bees. She loves watching them buzz around and finds them beautiful and entertaining. She doesn’t understand why people are so afraid of them because they will not sting unless you strike at them, and they die after the stinging anyway. They are responsible for pollinating 75% of our crops; without them, we will go hungry! She is also fascinated with the different roles and jobs the bees do in the colony, and they pretty much work nonstop. As a beekeeper, she also has a job to do.
“Be a bee!” Kate exclaimed. “Everyone in a hive has their role to play and so does the beekeeper. If you go into it with that demeanor and philosophy, the bees can sense it.”
She checks the hives to make sure that everything is working properly and that there are no mites. She also makes sure that there is fresh water for them within 15 feet of the hives, and does not spray pesticides in her garden which are harmful to bees.
A month ago, Kate volunteered to teach a class for our school program, “Your Peanut Butter Sandwich Can Save the World.” The kids were fascinated with what Kate has to say about bees, in particular that they have five eyes and there is no King bee (to which, the girls cheered!). Kate told the kids that bees will only sting you when “you swat at them like a giant ninja” and that bees can fly the circumference of the earth consuming only one ounce of honey!
Kate’s love and enthusiasm for bees and her unbridled passion for educating others (especially kids) about the importance of bees makes her a buzzworthy food literacy hero! She encourages others to become backyard beekeepers if they are able to. You will not only get rewarded with honey but you are also playing a part in promoting genetic diversity, balancing the ecosystem, and ensuring that we continue to have crops. For advice on beekeeping, visit UC Davis’ Getting Started in Beekeeping blog. Love honey? Our orange honey dessert will surely create a buzz in your summer meals.
Article and photos by Heather Teoh