Whither The Bees???

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I was distressed to recently read an article in the Sacramento Bee about an Elk Grove Beekeeper, Ron Melluish, who was apparently taking lots of grief for the hive (several hives actually) that he was keeping in his backyard.

You can read the article, Elk Grove abuzz over regulating beekeepers, here. And it just sort of struck me as unfair I guess. See, like every other kid that's gone barefoot in the backyard or in a neighborhood park, I've been walloped by a bee. But, it happened just once. You learn, at a very young age, to give bees a wide berth. And, for the most part, if you don't bother them, they won't bother you.

I guess that doesn't work with some people. Because someone is complaining about the hives that Melluish is keeping in his Elk Grove backyard. Even more distressing than that, was the suggestion that "government should be involved." That really brought on another shudder of distress.

You see, I subscribe a lot to the Ronald Reagan way of thinking when it comes to government involvement. The former President once remarked that: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' Having worked in a government office for the past decade, I can tell you personally that there's a lot of truth to that statement.

As a "Weekend Warrior" and backyard gardener who has built numerous planter boxes and planted vast tracts of fruit trees, I really like what Melluish is doing. We don't have many bees in North Natomas. It's a brand new subdivision stacked on top of other new subdivisions. Trees are small, and there's little to any natural infrastructure around to support a colony or hive of bees.

And, if you're going to garden extensively, or grow fruit, the one thing you need is BEES. And I didn't have nearly enough of them last season. Oh sure, this being the Sacramento area, we did have hornets and lots of them. This is "hornet country" to be sure. And while hornets do get into the business of pollinating, they're not nearly successful as bees.

I first noticed my "bee" problem, or lack of them, last June when my Sweet Diane Watermelon vine failed to yield a single melon.

I was perplexed. The vine was healthy enough. It got plenty of water and fertilizer and grew like nobody's business. I could see the blooms. I could even see the small melons, that would then whither and die on the vine within the space of a day or two.

And I wondered; "what gives?"

It was then that I noticed my little problem. I hadn't seen a single bee in the backyard all spring or summer. We just don't have them yet. Like a lot of wildlife that you see in normal neighborhoods, North Natomas is simply too new and too young to support things like bees.

So, being the determined gardener that I am (you could also say lost cause), I set out to pollinate the melon vines by hand. And I was somewhat successful. I would say my pollination efforts, using a small paintbrush to scratch at the male flowers and then female flowers, was about 30% successful.

But I couldn't do the work of the modern-day honeybee. They're good. And when they started showing up in larger numbers when the sunflowers began to bloom, that translated into more watermelons on the watermelon vine. But, by this time, it was too late. Melons that germinate or appear on the vine in late July aren't going to make it. And these didn't make it.

So, when I read about the problems that Melluish was facing, I had to get my two-cents in and fired off the following letter to the Sacramento Bee. I was shocked to discover that they printed it, in full, three days later:

"Make room for bees

Re "Elk Grove abuzz over city's plan to regulate beekeeping" (Our Region, Jan. 30): I believe Ron Melluish deserves a medal, and I'd love to have him in my North Natomas neighborhood. If any regulation should be put into place, it should be one that encourages bee production, not stifle it.

Bee colonies are nearly nonexistent in the North Natomas area because there is little to no infrastructure and vegetation needed to support them. I had to hand-pollinate a large part of my garden last summer, simply because there weren't nearly enough bees around to do the job.

I have 10 fruit and citrus trees planted in my North Natomas backyard. Each and every single one of them needs the special magic that bees perform. No bees means no peaches, cherries, melons, etc.

Bees are a part of nature. If you stifle their production, you stifle the natural beauty of the Sacramento area.

– Bill Bird, Sacramento

You can access the letter here.

I had forgotten about the letter to be honest, until I received a phone call out of the blue from South Natomas gardener Nels Christenson, who congratulated me on the letter. And then I heard from Fred Hoffman, who hosts the popular KFBK and KSTE radio program "Get Growing with Farmer Fred." But they weren't the only two reading the letter on that day.

Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway, who represents the vast new tracts of cookie-cutter subdivisions that are North Natomas weighed in with the following email, that I would like to share with you:

Hi Bill -

I read your letter to the editor and wanted you to know that the city allows up to 2 bee hives per residential property. I have had bees in the past and gave my wife a bee hive for her birthday last year. They are so important to the ecology of our neighborhoods and wealth of our gardens. I am also encouraging a fellow councilmember in the city of west sacramento to write an ordinance allowing bee hives and now I will call on my friends in the city of elk grove to do the same. - love your garden site - ray

Ray Tretheway
Councilmember, District One
City of Sacramento
(916) 808-7001

Nice guy that Ray. He even responds when the trash cans don't get emptied on that wonderful, once-a-week holiday known as "Trash Day." I appreciate the note, and appreciate even more that bees are more than welcome in our Sacramento backyards.

Here's hoping someone in Elk Grove gets the message.

Here's to the bees. Perhaps they'll take on a dual job and keep my four cats from digging around in the planter beds.

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