Jeremy Brickner is called almost every day to remove swarms of bees from places where they conflict with bug-weary residents in Sacramento. Brickner isn't an exterminator; he is one of the increasing number of urban beekeepers in Sacramento.
With growing concern for a waning bee population, more people are trying to do their part by raising healthy, hearty bees, according to Pamela Hill at Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. And people like Brickner are discovering that the city is an excellent place to raise happy bees.
Morrie Waldon, a 69-year-old retiree with gardens and fruit trees, got into bees not just as a hobby, but to enliven his fruit and vegetable production.
Waldon came into the Sacramento bee store with a problem, so patrons gathered and brainstormed over potential solutions. Meanwhile, the staff buzzed around the store, poured jars of honey, grabbed beeswax candles and offered samples of bee propolis, touting its health benefits.
"I started about three years ago when they sprayed for apple moth. They got rid of a lot of bees," Waldon said. "I needed the bees as pollinators for my trees. I live in the Bay Area, and when I come here I can visit my daughter."
With all the squawking in Sacramento over allowing city residents to have chickens, urban beekeepers have chosen to fly under the radar.
Lately the hobby has gotten more attention because of colony collapse disorder, the mysterious disappearance of bee colonies worldwide, according to Hill at the bee store.
Brickner, 35, a former high school social science teacher and bounty hunter, likes responding to calls for bee removal because of the adrenaline rush he gets. He described getting a hive out of a wall in a residence with thousands of bees flying over him. Another time, when he was responding to a call off Del Paso Boulevard, he said his shirt got stapled to his back with stingers from what he described as a honeybee and yellow jacket hybrid that he sent to a lab.
"There is a wide spectrum of issues," said Brickner. "From experience, we might be able to guess what the bees are going to do, but it is a different group of bees each time, with different personalities and different genetics. We can say what they'll probably do, but they can decide to do something different."
Many urban beekeepers such as Brickner remove unwanted bees for a small fee, or free with lunch and gas money. They do it for many reasons, driven by their love of bees and the art of working with them.
Hobbyist beekeepers respond to calls with two goals: bee rescue instead of extermination, and an opportunity to expand their own colonies, or brood.
"It's getting huge; it kind of is a hipster thing," Brickner said. "I can bet there is one beehive per block. What's getting real popular is restaurants putting a hive on their roof, and they can use their own fresh honeycomb on desserts."
The rewards of beekeeping are sweet fresh, raw honey made from bees that forage a three-mile radius. Eucalyptus and star thistle flavors are among local beekeepers' favorites, but there are blackberry, rose and citrus blossoms, not to mention all the flowers and urban gardens people have growing throughout the city.
In Sacramento, residents are allowed to harbor two bee colonies that live in bee boxes. Any more than that, you're asking for problems, said Brian Fishback, co-owner of BD Ranch & Apiary.
Fishback and his wife, Darla, run a working, educational ranch in Wilton. They offer beekeeping lessons and sell local raw honey.
"Inner-city beekeeping is paradise for bees," Fishback said. "There is a wide variety of food for them; huge diversity provides a balanced meal."
And sprinklers, bird baths and puddles offer fresh water for the bees when it gets hot in the afternoon, said Fishback.
Sacramento provides a healthy environment for bees; likewise, urban beekeepers and people interested in pursuing the hobby have abundant sources of information to feed their minds.
On X Street just east of 21st Street sits Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies.
"Nancy and Fred (Stewart, the owners), I really need to give them credit," said Robert Harlan, a bee enthusiast for 15 years. "They've provided a framework for association and networking. We're almost like a fraternity, kind of like sailors with our own language."
Getting to know people and learning from their mistakes and successes is an integral piece of good beekeeping, according to Fishback and Harlan. They both encourage people to track them down through the beekeeping supply store if they need help, or are looking for a mentor "Beekeepers helping beekeepers," said Fishback.
Fishback is a strong proponent of research and reading. After networking, educating yourself is the second-most-important thing you can do to help ensure happy bee colonies, he said. He recommends reading "Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees" (Hobby Farm Press, $14.95, 144 pages) by UC Davis entomologist Norman Gary. Sacramento beekeepers like Gary because he writes of the area's environment.
The final piece of advice Fishback has for potential beekeepers: "Plan on having another family member; prepare for commitment."