Next time you dip a spoon into your honey pot consider this: A single bee will only gather enough nectar to make one teaspoon of the syrupy sweetener during a short and busy life span--which can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Honey is a crop produced in a wide variety of locations and climates. In North County, coastal areas are better suited to honey production because of the abundance of eucalyptus trees, according to Alan Mikolich, vice president of the Beekeepers' Assn. of San Diego County. The Department of Agriculture Crop Report for last year lists the value of honey production in San Diego County at $475,000.
Among North County beekeepers is Salvador Mendoza, a veteran of 20 years in apiculture in Mexico who now tends bees at the Peterson Farm in Fallbrook. Mendoza speaks of beekeeping in almost reverential tones: "I feel such an affection for my bees, that, for me, raising them is not work, it's a labor of love."
On a recent morning, Mendoza--his head hidden under a protective veil--went about checking his 12 beehives. He temporarily calmed the bees with a puff of smoke from his smoker, and carefully lifted off the top of a hive. "You have to concentrate on what you're doing," he said as he gently pulled out a frame alive with insects. "The bees sense when you make a mistake.
"Bees understand our moods, they can sense if we're afraid," Mendoza said. The bees around him were gathering nectar from eucalyptus trees, and bushes of sumac and toyon--a protected California plant. "Do you know that they even recognize me?" he added, with a smile.
The knowledge that bees are sensitive to a person's mood is shared by Emil Stoll, another North County apiculturist.
Stoll began beekeeping as a hobby eight years ago in his back yard. Today, his hobby has grown to about 350 hives, with an annual yield of 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of honey.
Stoll's bees favor mesquite and desert flowers, which bloom year-round in Fallbrook.
For the Stolls, beekeeping is a family affair. On farmers' market days, it falls upon Stoll's wife, Mable, and his daughter, Patricia Ann, to help sell honey, honeycombs, bee pollen and beeswax candles.
Although honey is a natural product, it is difficult to call it completely organic because there is no way to control the honeybees' feeding grounds.
The clearest, or Grade A honey is the most popular with American consumers, said Mikolich of the Beekeepers Assn.
Bee pollen and royal jelly (which purportedly has rejuvenating properties) are also prized among connoisseurs of natural foods.
MORE ON HONEY
Local honey producers include:
Peterson Farm, Fallbrook. 439-6466. (Salvador Mendoza or Andrea Peterson) California wildflower honey sold for $2 per pound at the Vista Farmer's Market.
Emil Stoll, Fallbrook. 728-4332. Sells honey, beeswax, and candles at farmers' markets in Vista and Del Mar. Mesquite and desert flower honey sells for $1.75 per pound; $3 for 2 pounds and $4 for 3 pounds.
Additional information about honey production is available from Alan Mikolich at the San Diego County Beekeepers' Assn. (714) 676-4761.