When most people think about bee keeping, honey is the first thing that comes to mind. However, Trevor and Claire Tauzer say that it’s important to remember that the sweetest thing about bees is the essential function they fulfill for agriculture—pollination.
Trevor and Claire Tauzer of Tauzer Apiaries pride themselves on nurturing healthy honeybee hives in Sonoma County that travel throughout Northern California pollinating crops like almonds, apples, cherries, melons, and alfalfa.
“Bees pollinate one out of every 3 bites of food,” Trevor said. “The biggest misconception is that people keep bees for honey, and that is not true in California. There are no professional beekeepers who can sustain a business with honey alone.”
Today, Trevor and Claire work year-round to sustain and grow the family-owned and operated business while being parents to two young children.
“We are always trying to figure out how to sustain our hives and our business year-round for our employees and ourselves,” Trevor said. “We appreciate that we can live an agricultural lifestyle and have a schedule that works for our family.”
Tauzer Apiaries, founded by Trevor’s father Mark Tauzer in 1973, offers dependable service that is backed by generations of experience.
Mark Tauzer started working with bees when he was just 12 years old and is still the company president to this day.
“My dad grew up on our family farm in Woodland, which was next to UC Davis,” Trevor said. “One of the researchers there was starting to research pollination, which was new. Although many people had bees around farms no one had studied the correlation between yields and pollination. In the early 1960s my dad helped the researcher out then in the early 1970s he attended Chico State University for school.”
Trevor explained that the Chico area is a hotbed for queen bee breeders and generational knowledge of beekeeping. Martin learned from others in the industry and eventually dropped out of college and brought his own hives back to the family farm, which was originally homesteaded by Trevor’s family in the 1860s, in Woodland.
Mark solely operated the business from the 1970s to 1990s before hiring Martin Gutierrez, who still works with the family.
“My dad was the first in the family to do beekeeping,” Trevor said. “I am proud to be the 2nd generation in the family business.
Trevor said that wasn’t sure he would end up working as a beekeeper.
“I always loved bees,” Trevor said. “I grew up in the family business though and definitely took it for granted. After college, I explored a lot of different avenues from teaching to scuba diving, but I ultimately went with plan B and came back to the family farm.”
When he was in high school, Tauzer Apiaries had about 500 hives. Today, the family business has 30,000 hives and 20 fulltime beekeepers.
“Beekeeping is an art. You need to gain experience and it takes years to gain the skillset,” Trevor said. “So we don’t use any contract or seasonal labor and train all of our employees in house.”
Trevor said that it takes 3 years of working full time for one of his employees to become someone he can trust to go out and do the job. That is due largely to the ever-increasing challenges that come with raising bees.
“One of the biggest challenges actually comes from people who think that they are helping honey bees by raising them as a hobby in their backyards,” Claire said. “They hear that bees are challenged and want to help. However, they don’t know how to manage bees properly like we do as professional pollinators. So, because bees can travel in a five mile radius, hobbyists’ bees can negatively influence our bees.”
One of the main culprits is the varroa mite, which Trevor said easily spreads from one hive to another and can pass 14 different viruses to honeybees.
“Bees from a strong hive will go into a weak hive and the mites will hop onto the healthy honeybees,” Trevor said. “Even the most well-intentioned bee enthusiast who didn’t know that they had to treat for varroa mites will cause our hives to be infected. Varroa mites are everywhere now and we have to work very hard to manage the threshold.
Overall, Trevor said that hives need much more management due to the changing landscape and to the negative impact of widespread varroa mites.
“It costs us so much time and energy to constantly check our hives and make adjustments,” Trevor said. “It used to be that one person could manage 3,000 hives, but now it’s down to 1 person to 500 hives.
In the past, in the fall when the weather was cooler and the bees weren’t as active, professional beekeepers could take about three months off of constantly monitoring them and they would fare just fine. Today, Claire said that is not the case. Now, to keep hives alive, year-round, they check each of their hives every two weeks to a month.
“We have to move hives when there is not enough food in the area or if there are too many bees total in the area,” Trevor said. “Financially and logistically it is difficult, but it is the responsible thing to do.”
The Tauzers take that responsibility seriously.
“Honeybees are responsible for pollinating so much of the food that we all eat,” Claire said. “I think that most people don’t fully understand what it takes to care for the bees and why it’s so important.”
Claire said that the beekeeping industry has become highly dependent on certain crops that require pollination, including the almond industry which is 100% reliant upon bees for pollination.
“Almond trees will not produce a crop without bees. So, as that industry has grown, so has the beekeeping industry,” Claire said.
Claire explained that nearly 80% of all the honeybees—over two million hives—in the United States travel to California to pollinate almond orchards from mid-January to mid-April.
Claire added that most other professional beekeepers must travel between multiple states to maintain their business, but as a regional beekeeping company, Tauzer Apiaries’ bees don’t leave Northern California.
When the Tauzer’s honeybees aren’t at “work” they need places to forage on diverse plants and flowers. That’s where Sonoma County and Tauzer Apiaries’ Hive Hosts come into play.
“Sonoma County is special because we have so many relationships with landowners who support us,” Caire said. “We call them our Hive Hosts and they are crucial for our business.”
Tauzer Apiaries’ hives are hosted on over 100 different sites through Sonoma, Napa, and Marin counties.
“We love living and working in Sonoma County and continue to look for ways to get involved in the agriculture community because we would not be able to sustain our business as a regional beekeeper—we would have to go out of state for half the year—if we didn’t have the land that we have and the amazing stewards that are here,” Trevor said.
Claire said that their gracious Hive Hosts epitomize the true spirit of Sonoma County.
“We rely on the stewardship of local wineries, ranchers and landowners who allow us to keep our honeybee hives on their diverse landscapes,” Claire said. “We cannot possibly own enough property to keep our hives healthy year-round. So much of our success comes from families like the Camozzis and the Poncias, who host our hives for us. We try to be as supportive of their business as they are of ours, in whatever way possible.”
Sola Bee, the Tauzer’s honey brand, is one way Claire said they have been able to create mutually beneficial relationships with Hive Hosts and as a vehicle to get out into the community to raise awareness about their business as professional pollinators.
Claire and Trevor started Sola Bee in 2011 and, together, they grew the brand into over 200 markets in Northern California. Sola Bee’s 7 different varietals come straight out of the hive.
“We produce 100% pure, raw, local honey,” Claire said. “It is not pasteurized so customers can receive all of the many health benefits including many different vitamins and antioxidants and so the integrity of honey is maintained to preserve the pollens and proteins that are found in raw honey.”
However, Claire said that their bees’ health always comes first.
“We never extract honey unless there is extra honey in the hive and when the bees are not in pollination,” Claire said.
Sola Bee honey is available online and at Oliver’s market, Whole Foods, Nugget market, and in many tasting rooms throughout the county.
Claire, who left her job as a teacher to focus on growing the Sola Bee brand and their young family, said that in the future, she hopes to focus efforts on public education so those interested in keeping bees can better understand how to do so properly.
“We are committed to this community and industry for the long-run,” Claire said. “We want everyone to love honeybees and support honeybees but, also caution to be careful that hobbyists are doing so properly. When you keep bees, you are not just working in your back yard. Bees, after all, impact the whole agricultural community and environment.”
To learn more about Tauzer Apiaries visit http://tauzerbees.com/