A local beekeeper visited the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on Thursday to share his experiences with making honey and raising healthy bees.
Eli Lichter-Marck of Eli’s Bees, a bee farm based in the Santa Monica Mountains, said the goal of his event, titled “Making Honey in Los Angeles County: From Flower to Jar,” was to share his passion for beekeeping with students. During the event, he taught students how to raise healthy bees by planting gardens and explained the relationship between flowers and bees. He also offered tastings of honey from his collection, which included honey from around the world.
“I love insects and biology, so my interest in ecology and plants found a niche with honeybees because you can interact with them in a way that’s really personal,” Lichter-Marck said.
Lichter-Marck said healthy hives must be kept dry and contain a store of honey. He said beekeepers should not take all the honey from their bees, but instead only take the excess honey to ensure the bees have enough to remain healthy.
Evan Meyer, assistant director of the botanical gardens, said he met Lichter-Marck when the beekeeper spent two months removing bees from the UCLA gardens. Meyer said bees’ role within the botanical garden is complicated because the garden’s staffers want to support healthy insects while being aware of visitor safety. Meyer said Lichter-Marck’s event was the first of at least two bee-related events at the garden aimed at informing the campus community about the importance of bees.
“Bees have this intimate relationship with plants, and at the garden we really want to tell the stories of plants and all the ways they connect with nature and people,” Meyer said. “Honey sums that all up because it’s bringing nature – insects, animals and people – all together.”
As a beekeeper, Lichter-Marck said he checks on his 200 bee colonies every day to see if the queen bee is laying enough eggs or if any bees look ill. He said many beekeepers in the past tended to focus on producing as much honey as possible, but recent trends in beekeeping focus on the insects’ health, Lichter-Marck said. He added the more honey a beekeeper is harvesting, the healthier their bees are.
Lichter-Marck said Southern California’s climate presents a challenge for beekeepers because bees tend to hibernate through dry winters and thrive in humid, hot summers with many flowers, which are difficult to find in California’s dry summers.
The honey Lichter-Marck sells is single-source honey, which means that each batch will be different in terms of consistency, color, taste or texture. Each batch of honey is dependent upon the pollen from the flowers from which it is derived, he said.
The honey tasting after his talk featured the raw honey his bees produced from the Santa Monica Mountains as well as locations such as Greece and Hawaii.
Glory Thai, a third-year biochemistry student, tasted all of the honey and said the sample from Ventura County was her favorite.
“It was smooth and classic sweet,” Thai said. “It didn’t have any weird aftertastes.”
Bee populations have been declining in recent years, with 700 bee species in North America in danger of extinction due to colony collapse and pesticide use. Lichter-Marck said that while honeybees are not going extinct, it is becoming more difficult for beekeepers to keep their bees alive because many hives have suffered colony collapse due to varroa mites, parasites that take over hives and completely destroy them.
While some of activists’ enthusiasm toward saving the bees has died down, he said the issue has not been solved.
“People got really excited for a while, and I think when people get excited you hear a lot about it and then it goes out of the limelight,” Lichter-Marck said. “There’s still a ton of work that needs to be done.”