Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Kevin Spease of Elk Grove’s Spease Bees

“Bees are absolutely critical to our agriculture,” said Kevin Spease, co-owner of Spease Bees. “(Without them) agriculture would collapse.
“Bees are absolutely critical to our agriculture,” said Kevin Spease, co-owner of Spease Bees. “(Without them) agriculture would collapse. apierleoni@sacbee.com

We drove to rural Elk Grove in search of the “headquarters” of family-owned Spease Bees. It turned out to be 180 boxed beehives (with 40 more on the way) stacked on part of a 5-acre field surrounded by tall trees and heavily trafficked by winged insects with stingers.

There, we met co-owners Kevin Spease, an information security engineer; his wife, Angela Spease, who works with her husband; and his father, David Spease, a landscape architect who owns the property.

Spease Bees’ honey is sourced from wildflowers in the Cosumnes River Watershed area. It has a well-balanced, mild floral flavor that’s not too sweet. It sells for $8 per 12-ounce jar in 20 Save Mart stores. Ten percent of sales go to fund the Rotary Club-sponsored Laguna Sunrise-Elk Grove Literacy Project.

We asked Kevin Spease what all the buzz is about.

How did you get into this?

The business started by mistake. A beekeeper was moving his hives from one location to another when his truck broke down in front of this property, which is secured with a fence. He liked that, and made a long-term arrangement to store his hives here and pay my parents rent (in the form of) gallons of honey.

We built up (a stockpile) of honey and started selling it by word-of-mouth, at local special events and at a vegetable stand. Six months ago we started bottling and labeling it, (which led to) placing it in Save Marts and in restaurants.

How many bees live here?

A guesstimate is about 40,000 per hive, multiplied by 180 hives. So, 7.2 million. Most of the bees are inside the hives right now, and the 180 queens stay in their own boxes.

Do you get stung very often?

It happens every once in a while. You can walk through them, and they leave you alone if you leave them alone. Just don’t swat at them.

How much honey do they produce?

Over the past two weeks, we’ve packaged 1,600 12-ounce jars. Some of that went to restaurants, where they use it in recipes or put it on the tables.

What are those bottles of liquid on top of the hives?

There’s not much nectar for the bees to harvest this time of year, so they have to be fed corn syrup. A (pollen-based) solid food is inside that barrel over there, where all those bees are congregating.

What are some of the pluses of honey for people?

We’re not doctors and we can’t make any assertions, but a lot of people ask us for local honey because they believe it has benefits for their allergies. It also works as a lozenge because it coats and soothes the throat. It helps boost energy levels, too.

Colony collapse disorder and pesticides are blamed for helping decimate the world’s honeybee population.

We haven’t seen any dead bees or other evidence of that here. Typically, the greatest risk to bees is when they’re away from the hives, foraging for nectar.

The real job of honeybees is not to make honey, but to pollinate the fields. Bees are absolutely critical to our agriculture. They carry the pollen from one plant to another, while extracting the nectar (from the blossoms). If we didn’t have bees and other pollinators, agriculture would collapse.

What lessons can we learn from bees?

The ideas of community and mutual benefit, cooperation, teamwork and self-reliance. Economy, too, because they make what they consume and store the excess, and it’s all self-contained. They even help their own sick.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

KEVIN SPEASE

Co-owner of Spease Bees

Spease Bees of Elk Grove produces honey harvested from wildflowers in the Cosumnes River Watershed area. Find more information at www.speasebees.com.

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