By Robin Bartholow
Spring has sprung and the warmer days are nudging plants to grow and bloom. After a long and cold winter season, pollen is everywhere, and the bees are loving it. Spring is a very busy time for beekeepers, and we are grateful to have spent a morning with Trevor Tauzer of Tauzer Apiaries to explore the fascinating world of bee keeping on their 200-acre Bloomfield Ranch.
As we approached the white and beige boxes housing 30 or so hives the intense, almost other-worldly buzzing sound became louder and louder. Small black and yellow flecks darted to and from the boxes, and the level of activity was palpable. These particular bees had just returned from a stint pollinating blooming crops in the Sacramento Valley. After working hard at that task, they returned to the ranch to “rest.” But bees don’t actually rest, they just do their work locally to pollinate and create the scrumptious honey the Tauzer’s sell under the Sola Bee label.
The Tauzer family has been in the business of bees for 50 years, and they have been part of Sonoma County’s agricultural community for the past 20 years. Trevor’s dad Mark started the business on the family ranch in Woodland, a property that has been held by the Tauzer family since 1861. When Mark was twelve years old, he worked for a beekeeper and coincidentally found his calling. As a young man, after a few years attending Chico State, he decided to turn his attention to the ranch and dedicate his time to farming his bees.
After purchasing the business of a retiring beekeeper who kept bees throughout Sonoma, the Tauzers were introduced to many of the families that make up the heart of the agricultural community in this county. Trevor, and his wife Claire, manage the day to day beekeeping along with juggling their two boys. Tauzer’s bees are hired to pollinate other farmer’s crops and travel from Chico to Chowchilla. In the spring they pollinate almonds, apples, cherries and onion seed, and during the summer they pollinate sunflowers, cucumbers, watermelons and even kale and coriander.
Trevor’s enthusiasm for these important creatures is contagious. “It is estimated that bees produce one out of three bites of the food that we eat,” Trevor said, “they are a keystone species in agriculture and without them many other areas of agriculture would crumble.” He explained that an example of the inter-relatedness of bees and other ag products is alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is an important feed for many livestock operations. To produce alfalfa seed, pollinators must be brought to fields grown specifically for seed propagation. Without those pollinators we would not have alfalfa. This only one example of the importance of honeybees.
Many beekeepers, including the Tauzers, have symbiotic relationships with vineyard owners, dairies and sheep operations, among others. Once back home from their travels pollinating for other farmers, many of Tauzer’s hives are hosted by local agricultural producers. The host operation benefits from the bees and the bees need places to go to spread out for forage. In addition to supporting the health of the beleaguered honeybee, hive hosts receive honey produced from their property among other sweet benefits. It is a win-win arrangement.
But placing bees in off-farm locations takes much thought and consideration. The Tauzers take into account whether there are other bees nearby, the amount of food present and the natural landscape. “We are very conscious of other pollinators, including bees, butterflies and bats,” said Trevor, “We don’t want to overcrowd an area.”
The biggest challenge for the Tauzer operation is to keep the bees as healthy as possible, a task that has become harder over the past 25 years or so. The goal is to manage the stress level of the bees, and the most important factor in managing stress is positive forage nutrition through access to adequate pasture. If the bees are well-fed, they can withstand stress caused by other factors such as weather, mites and pesticides. Trevor explained, “Bees can keep the core temperature of the hive at 93 degrees when the weather outside is freezing just by rubbing their wings together, but that necessitates using a lot of energy. One hive of bees can eat a pound of honey a day when the temperatures fall.” It is important that the bee’s nutrition is monitored closely and they are left with enough honey to support themselves.
Three drought years in a row took a toll on the health of the bees. Flowers need rain, and the lack of rain created a deficit of nutrition for the bees, which made other stresses much more difficult to manage. Now that we have received an abundance of rain and the weather is warming, Trevor stated that “the bees are looking fairly healthy this year.”
Additional challenges Tauzer Apiaries face are similar to those faced by most farmers, including low profit margins and high costs, and having to defend your way of life and explain why your operation is valuable. Trevor said there is an expectation in the general community that ag needs to function without any impact on neighbors. He has observed that divisions are created and conflict arises when non-ag producers who don’t understand what farming entails move into farming areas. “Ag needs to talk to folks and tell our story,” said Trevor, “I think people are more aware after the bare shelves during Covid and the recent egg shortages of the importance of a healthy agricultural sector to our food supplies.”
Trevor is committed to communicating with others as a representative of ag producers. He feels that listening to and respecting the opinions of others is key to doing business here, or anywhere. His philosophy was in play recently when the County of Sonoma agreed to host several of his hives on County space that is currently not in use. One site in Healdsburg at the Healdsburg Transfer Station waste and recycling site, was particularly controversial. This site is more than 200 acres in size with only about 15 acres being used by the County, and provides ample water, pasture and nutrition for the bees. When the Beekeeper Association, a community of smaller beekeepers held a town hall to discuss the issue, Trevor attended. “I want to engage with the community because I am part of the community,” said Trevor, “It is important to listen to their concerns and find the common ground. Our bees’ well-being and future health is a good place to start.”