For some, the thought of a bee sting conjures up the fear of anaphylactic shock, and potentially, fatality. Others consider bees to be an extreme annoyance and try to avoid them if possible. But a group of local bee enthusiasts known as the Davis Bee Collective views bees as pertinent members of the ecosystem as well as gentle, cooperative creatures.
In order to educate the public and create a safe space for bees, the Collective held a grand opening of the Davis Bee Sanctuary on Sunday afternoon.
Located behind the Domes on Orchard Park Drive, the Bee Sanctuary’s apiary, or bee yard, serves as a place for bees to swarm and nurture their young. Additionally, the sanctuary is an educational garden where people can learn about keeping bees and harvesting honey without using chemicals.
The grand opening was attended by a diverse crowd of interested bee supporters, including small children, students and experienced beekeepers. Free samples of honey were distributed, and several workshops were given on beekeeping tactics.
The Bee Sanctuary is home to thousands of bees, as well as dozens of different flowers and several types of fruits. The sanctuary features a labyrinth-shaped walkway, seven hives that are currently occupied by bees and a myriad of gardens, including raspberries, shrubs, perennials, and catnip.
The garden portion of the apiary implements modern techniques, such as hugelkultur, to make the area cost effective and environmentally efficient. Hugelkultur is essentially a raised garden comprised of buried wood. The wood provides nutrients and air pockets for roots of plants and holds water, diminishing the need for irrigation.
Derek Downey, a member of the Davis Bee Collective who graduated from UC Davis with a degree in engineering in 2009, said that one of the most important functions of the Bee Sanctuary is to provide bees with a source of food year-round.
“The flowers we planted have different blooming times, so the bees have a constant food source,” Downey said.
Downey, who has been beekeeping for seven years, described the sanctuary as a place where aspiring beekeepers can keep their bees, use shared tools and information and collect honey during the summer. In January, he taught a workshop on building beehives.
The Collective is open to any aspiring beekeepers, and new members can build a hive to keep at the Bee Sanctuary.
“We provide the tools, and each hive costs $40. If someone was to build the same hives on their own, it would cost them several hundred dollars,” Downey said.
Additionally, Downey said the bees are often misunderstood, as well as underappreciated.
“They support us. We use them. They account for $16 billion of value from their pollination in food production in America. Without them, the quality and quantity of food would decrease dramatically. Every third bite you eat, you should thank a honeybee,” Downey said.
Fellow bee lover Melanie Lataste said that her work at the Davis Bee Sanctuary can be attributed to her natural love of wildlife.
“I used to be a biologist, so bees are a natural attraction for me. If you get to learn from them, you get completely seduced. I’m always afraid to get stung, though; I’m a very cautious person. But to be a beekeeper and think that you’re never going to get stung is an illusion,” Lataste said.
Downey also acknowledged the reality of bee stings, but said there is a way to minimize the possibility of a sting.
“You get stung once in awhile. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve built up immunity to it. The best way to get over a fear of bees is to learn how to calm the mind when you’re opening a bee hive,” Downey said.
Sophomore theatre major Sarah Salem said that her residency at the Domes gives her a front row seat to Davis Bee Sanctuary.
“Since I live right at the Domes, I can get honey from friends. The whole process of just watching how the bees live together is interesting. It’s like a little universe,” Salem said.
In addition to the honey that the majority of the bees at the sanctuary produce, the apiary has the means to produce wax, lotion, lip balms, candles and medicine from some of the herbs.
“The easy way out is to go to the store and buy stuff. The better way is to talk to your neighbors. The bee sanctuary is entirely donation-based,” Downey said.
For those interested in getting involved with the project, the Davis Bee Collective meets at the apiary every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Additionally, they post information about the Bee sanctuary on DavisWiki.
The bee lovers hope to continue to expand the Bee sanctuary and possibly connect it with some of the gardens at the Domes.
“You get into beekeeping for the honey. You stay for the bees,” Lataste said.
KELSEY SMOOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.