By Kathy Chouteau
Catherine Edwards has been a beekeeper ever since moving to the city a decade ago. The owner of Richmond Gold Honey said her love of bees is rooted in her childhood in Upstate New York where she “grew up in the country with bees.”
“As a child I used to play with them,” the East Richmond resident said of bees. “I would pick them up off the flowers and hold them. I grew up in the country…kids who grow up in the country aren’t so afraid of getting stung.”
Although Edward’s life took different turns, she eventually decided to try beekeeping in her backyard. “I felt the need to have something I would love in my life,” she said. “There’s something about bees; they tend to be addictive.”
“I got myself a hive; before I knew it had two hives and then three hives,” Edwards added. “I had honey and then I needed business cards and a place to sell the honey,” she said of her business, which evolved organically. “I didn’t intend to have a business, but it turned out to be good.”
She sells her Richmond Gold Honey at the El Cerrito Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and plans to begin selling at the Richmond Farmers’ Market soon.
Edwards keeps five hives in her own backyard which, not surprisingly, features a spectacular garden. She also keeps hives in other people’s yards throughout Richmond, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Pinole and Martinez, amounting to 40 total. Those who host her hives receive some honey, pollination services “and the joy of seeing them fly around,” she said.
The frequency of Edwards’ visits to her hives depends on the time of year and the size (smaller hives are visited more often). On average, she visits the hives in and beyond her backyard once every three weeks. “By the time I get to the end, I have to start at the beginning again,” she said.
So what does Edwards do when she tends to her hives? One task is making sure the bees have enough room to make the honey by removing the honey that they’ve already made.
Another task is keeping the bees from swarming, which involves “giving the queen more room to lay eggs in so they can expand without deciding it’s too crowded and time to divide,” said Edwards. “If they swarm, about half the colony will take off with the queen and a new queen will take over the parent colony,” she said. “Then half my bees are gone…so it’s best to try and head off swarms.”
To avoid the dreaded swarms, Edwards said that she makes little divides or “nucs” (nucleus colonies), by taking some of the resources from each hive and putting them in a nuc.
Anyone who thinks they see a hive swarming can report it to the Alameda County Beekeepers Association (the closest such association to Richmond) at 510.898.6696. Edwards said swarms look like they sound—a large number of bees buzzing around a hive. “For a swarm, you want to get somebody to deal with it as quickly as possible,” she said.
Edwards also checks her hives for mites, which spread viruses that can make a hive die. Hives will keep going unless they get sick and die, she said. “It may not be the same queen but it can last for years.”
When tending to her hives, Edwards wears a bee suit—a jacket with a veil—and uses smoke to “keep the bees calm” and “out of harm’s way.”
This year’s dry and warm winter has resulted in the bees producing more honey than usual “because they had more flying time,” said Edwards. “In this area, there are things that bloom all year ‘round, but if it’s raining all the time, the bees can’t get to it.”
Edwards said she’s having trouble keeping up with the bees’ large honey production. “My winter harvest feels like the spring harvest normally feels,” she said.
While Edwards is uncertain about how many bees she keeps, she said a large hive has around 60,000 bees.
When asked what is it about working with bees and honey that she enjoys so much, Edwards’ said, “It’s the bees. Bees are magical. The more I learn about them, the more I fall in love.”
To purchase Edwards’ Richmond Gold Honey, look for her on Saturdays at the El Cerrito Farmers’ Market and soon at the Richmond Farmers’ Market. For more info, email her at [email protected].