There’s a real buzz over sustainable honeybees in Napa Valley. Just ask Jason Grace of the Napa Valley Bee Co., which thrives on the practice of breeding local bees without using antibiotics or chemicals.
“It’s the responsible and sustainable thing to do,” he said.
Grace and Rob Keller own and operate the small company, serving primarily Napa Valley but also handling a few clients in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Grace met his business partner a few years ago when he enrolled in a Napa Valley Adult Education class in beekeeping, taught by Keller.
“We just hit it off right away,” he said. “We developed a great friendship.”
Grace holds an MBA from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and a degree in economics from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He moved to Napa from San Luis Obispo in 2004.
His interest in bees started when he was a home brewer and winemaker and saw an advertisement about Keller’s class.
He had worked for eight years in the banking and finance business, dealing primarily with local wineries and vineyards.
“Many wineries now have gardens and promote local produce and fruit, of which bees are an important part,” he said. He noted, however, that grapes do not depend on bees. Instead, they are pollinated by the wind.
Napa Valley Bee Co. provides bees for honey and flower and fruit pollination to its clients. The firm then provides ongoing hive management services and education.
Honeybees face major challenges and are dwindling in alarming numbers. They have thrived for millions of years, but entire colonies are dying off. Scientists blame the die-off on exposure to viral and bacterial diseases carried by tiny parasitic mites. Chemical treatments used to control the mites may in fact weaken the bees genetic ability to deal with disease.
“The losses are great,” according to Grace. “We are propagating stock from local bees that have shown natural ability to resist pathogens. We allow them to develop their own resistance to the diseases they are faced with.”
Napa Valley Bee Co. manages about 100 bee colonies in the North Bay. A colony can include up to 60,000 honeybees and one queen bee.
The company works with a mixed breed of the European honeybee. When he finds a healthy colony, Grace said, he tries to get more queens from it. “That’s a way to capture some of the genetics, somewhat similar to grafting from a plant,” he said.
Customers purchase the bees and the hives. Napa Valley Bee Co. helps set up and maintain them. He said each customer is visited by himself, Keller, or a third, part-time business partner (Michael Lauher) about twice a month “to make sure they are in good health.”
Asked how often bees sting him, he replied, “We get stung very little. Bees are like any animal … they pick up on your energy. If you are calm, they are calm.
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