Have you ever met someone so passionate about their work, they drew you in with their excitement? I was lucky enough to run across a person just like that this summer! Meet Bill Walter, Owner and Head Beekeeper of Guerilla Beekeepers in Santa Ana, California.
I met Bill and his mother-in-law, Elaine, at the Orange Farmers and Artists Market, doing a foodie walking tour. We were exploring the market and chatting with vendors when I stopped to buy honey. After a brief visit with Bill, we were on our way, not only with great honey, but also some new knowledge about bees. Now I have NEVER done this before, but I was so taken with how Bill expressed himself and the passion he shared about bees and rescuing hives in a sustainable way, I simply had to go back and ask him for an interview. Thankfully, he said yes!
We met a few weeks ago at “The Hive” where Bill’s lovely wife Nicole, gave me a tour of their offices and work areas. I was mesmerized by the conversations going on around me while I was there. Discussions on how to build better display boxes for their products, collaboration on creating new and better ways of straining their honey, all done while answering the phone, filling honey sticks and sketching ideas. You could tell, everyone there loves what they do!
So what DO they do? At the core, Guerrilla Beekeepers provides safe, humane, and gentle honeybee rescue and relocation. What that means is, if you have an unwanted hive at your home or office, they will remove it, without harming any of the bees. The bees are carefully transferred to a hive box, then the colony is taken to one of Guerilla Beekeepers apiaries, where the bees get to live the rest of their lives buzzing happily away among the flowers of Orange and San Diego Counties. As their work revolves around bees and tending to them once they’ve been removed, Guerrilla Beekeepers also sells honey and they have a line of skin care products.
Bill shared some startling statistics with me while we were talking. Did you know there are over 300 crops 100% dependent on external pollinators? That’s ONE THIRD of our basic food supply! For every three bites of food we eat, a bee is the reason we can eat it. The number one crop, completely dependent on bees, is almonds. Almond growers have to bring in bees from all over the country to pollinate their crops during the flowering season. It takes two hives per acre of trees to ensure proper pollination. With 780 thousand acres of almond trees in California alone, that’s a lot of bees! Next time you have anything with almonds, thank a bee.
One of the other interesting facts Bill shared with me, is that honey is like rare wine. Honey will take on the flavor characteristics of the flowers the bees are around. That’s why you have so many varieties, from clover honey to blueberry honey to orange blossom. Honey can come in a wide variety of colors too. Look closely at these three bottles.
They range from a very pale blonde color to a deep amber. Bill says each one has its own rich, complex depth of flavor. It also takes two million flowers to produce a single pound of honey. Yes, you read that correctly. Two MILLION flowers for one pound of honey. That’s very impressive, considering this 18 pound jar was sitting on the desk…
That my friends, represents 36 million flowers and a lot of hard work, by a lot of diligent bees!
Speaking of hard work, I told you Guerilla Beekeepers processes all their own honey. While I was there, Ryan, one of the members of The Hive, was working on an order of three thousand honey sticks for a local church. They make their honey sticks ONE AT A TIME. Between Ryan and Kirk (another Hive member, and awesome display box builder), they can do about 500 sticks a day.
It’s refreshing and encouraging to meet someone who cares deeply about sustainable practices so we can keep enjoying those 300 dependent crops at our dinner tables. The other great thing about Guerilla Beekeepers is they never use antibiotics, mitecide or fungicides on their bees. Check out the natural hive boxes they build and how they recycle honey combs for the bees. Recycling the combs means the bees don’t have to expend energy making combs, they can focus on making honey!
Bill networks with great chefs and farmers to share the bigger picture of having sustainable harvests and using all natural, organic ingredients, with the help of his honeybees of course. They take the phrase from “Farm to Table” very seriously, especially considering without bees, those fantastic farm to table dinners would not have as many serving options. How many of you would miss these foods if they weren’t available in your grocery store? Almonds, Apples, Avocados, Blueberries, Cherries, Macadamia nuts, Asparagus, Broccoli, Carrots, any type of citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, etc.), Stone fruits (apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums etc), Pears, Grapes, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumbers, Onions, Legume seeds (beans, peas, lentils), Pumpkins, Squash, Strawberries, Olives, Melons (Cantaloupe, Watermelon, Honeydew etc.), Peanuts, Soybeans,Sugar beets? There are plenty of things I would miss on this list and it is only a partial list! It’s important we start taking care of these little bees and keep them around (safely, of course).
My eyes were opened meeting Bill at the Market that day but I’ve learned so much more since then. I’m very grateful to Bill and his crew for taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down with me for a little while and share their knowledge and passion. If you want to learn more about bees, or want Bill to come speak at your event, check out his website at: Guerilla Beekeepers.
Or follow them on Twitter: @GuerillaBeek
And like them on Facebook: Guerilla Beekeepers
Thank you Bill (and Nicole, James, Ryan and Kirk) for sharing your amazing work with me! I will never look at bees or honey the same way again! Keep up the GREAT job!!!