The book was illustrated by author Judith Adamson's sister. coutesy of Judith Adamson Photos (2)
“Before working on the book, I had no idea that the bees were endangered,” she says. “In fact, I didn’t know much about the mechanics of pollination. Everything has been a total eye-opener.”
Though not a beekeeper herself, Adamson quickly found out the importance of honeybees in our lives. Pollinators such as honeybees play a critical role in the production of crops. Without honeybees, we wouldn’t have almonds or much else to eat.
Her recently published book, Backyard Beekeepers of the Bay Area, features interviews that Adamson conducted with beekeepers from a variety of local communities, including Healdsburg, Sebastopol and Davis, as well as Walnut Creek, Oakland, San Francisco and Mountain View.
The book also serves as a primer on the lives of bees – their behaviors and roles in the beehive, such as a seemingly inherent understanding of structural engineering and how they know to evaporate the nectar to the right amount of moisture to make honey. Another section offers a short history of beekeeping that ends with the plight of bees today.
An added bonus comes near the end, where Adamson includes uses and properties of bee products such as bee pollen and propolis, recipes for honey from the interviewees, and a list of bee-preferred plants. Adamson’s relaxed, easy-to-read style keeps the information-filled book entertaining.
Adamson, who'll be signing books in El Cerrito Saturday, is a relatively new Bay Area transplant. She worked in New York City in publishing, entertainment business, and academia and then spent a few years in Santa Fe, where she worked as an editor of several hotel magazines. Since 2005, she has lived in a house that straddles the Berkeley-Kensington border.
“I immediately fell in love with the physical beauty – the hills, water, architecture – and the constant spring,” says Adamson. Shortly after moving to Berkeley, she found , then located on Arlington Avenune, where she would go to look at rabbits. The owner of the shop, Judy Hardin, rescues rabbits and actively promotes community education about animals and animal rights. She also happens to be “totally into pollinators,” as Adamson puts it.
Hardin “has an instinctive sense of what people might be interested in, and thought a small book dealing with a small community but [with] a big idea that impacts the planet would make an interesting book,” recalls Adamson, who was urged by Hardin to write a book about rogue beekeepers of Kensington.
Once Adamson started interviewing Kensington beekeepers, she found many reluctant to talk or to have their stories published because of strict Contra Costa County zoning regulations about beekeeping in residential zones.
However reluctant the Kensington beekeepers may have been, one interview led to another, and with the help of Catherine Butler, a documentary filmmaker in Berkeley, her book’s focus quickly expanded beyond Kensington. She was able to interview many beekeepers all around the Bay Area, including beekeepers on the Google campus and a chef at the Fairmont who keeps bees on the hotel rooftop where guests can see the bees and the herbs that contribute to their meals.
“Beekeepers are very special people,” said Adamson. “They are generous people with a love of the natural world. They realize that we are all tied to everything else, that we’re all a part of a larger whole. They love honey, and are all bound by a total fascination and a constant learning.” For some, beekeeping takes on a spiritual or philosophical meaning, almost like a religion.
Adamson mentions in her book that in 1923 Rudolf Steiner — who developed Waldorf education, designed buildings and inspired Weleda products — “predicted that within eighty to a hundred years, commercial beekeeping would annihilate the honeybee.” Though the honeybee population was recently reported to be on the rise in California, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where worker bees abruptly leave the colony, remains a serious threat to honeybee populations in the United States and around the world.
The cause of colony collapse is still being studied. One study published in May 2010 in India found EMF (electromagnetic fields) generated by cell phones to have negative effects on bees. Other possible causes include mites and other pathogens, malnutrition, pesticides, and genetically modified crops that have pesticide-like characteristics. Some reports indicate that the collapse is more prevalent in large, industrial-type beekeeping operations.
With her book, Adamson “would like to help raise the consciousness about pollinators and their roles in our world and our food.” One easy way to help bees is to plant bee-and-pollinator-friendly gardens or to keep bees in one's backyard.
In return for offering sanctuary for a colony or two, the backyard beekeepers reaps the benefit of a lush garden (as does his/her neighbors), fruit bearing trees, a little honey, the privilege of witnessing the endless mysteries of the honeybee, and the honor of entering a sustainable loop where nothing is wasted and nothing harmed.
— from Backyard Beekeepers of the Bay Area
Are you a backyard beekeeper? Know something about colony collapse disorder? Tell us in the comments.