Bee cool

These local beekeepers aren't afraid of the sting

“Every time I go out, I get stung,” says beekeeper Albert Sindlinger.

“Every time I go out, I get stung,” says beekeeper Albert Sindlinger.

Photo By Allison Young

Bees are not exactly what most of us want swarming in our backyard. In fact, we pay people specifically to dispose of them. We run, we scream, we swat … we conjure up tear-jerking memories of My Girl … but like anything else, there are exceptions. People who not only embrace bees, but who join clubs and go to committee meetings to learn all about them.

We took to the Reno local honey scene to discover what it takes to be a bee enthusiast. To be bold enough to walk calmly into an angry swarm—and remain cool long enough to sneak off with their life’s work.

The hobbyist

Meet Lindsey Pastrell, of local honey producer Over the Roof. While you may not have heard of it by name, you might have already tasted it.

The word-of-mouth father-daughter team produces nature’s nectar right in their backyard, and what they don’t give out in hand-to-hand service, they provide for use in local businesses, such as Too Soul Tea Co. on Plumas Street and PJ & Company on South Wells Avenue.

The self-proclaimed hobbyists, who now own 20 hives, fell into the art of beekeeping with a little help from the local godfather of honey making himself.

“My dad was driving down the street and saw some hives in a backyard,” Pastrell recalls. “He’d always been interested in beekeeping, so he decided to stop and talk to the owner. It ended up being the house of Nevada’s only certified beekeeper of the time—Joe Nunce. Joe talked my dad into it. This was over 10 years ago.”

Once her dad put on the bee suit, Pastrell soon followed. Only her attire of choice was a little more tailor-made. The sterile look of head-to-toe white didn’t appeal to her, but seeing as bees are hostile to dark colors, her options where limited. She wisely settled on a pale blue hue to dye her beekeeping garb.

“I think I’m the only one in Nevada with a colored suit,” Pastrell laughs.

Her tendency to favor color doesn’t end with the thread. Pastrell also prefers her honey to have a bit more distinct hue. While it’s tricky to predict exactly what flavors you’ll get from batch to batch—bees travel around a two-mile radius from their hives, so you never quite know what they’re sampling—different seasons bring different blooms, and the late fall varietal tends to be darker, thanks to shrubs such as rabbitbrush.

“We call it the Black Locust Honey,” explains Pastrell of her favorite fall product. “Darker tends to be the most flavorful. It’s got a little something extra in it.”

When it comes to the question of keeping bees as your household pets, the danger of an aggressive hive naturally comes up—just like people, different beehives can have different temperaments. An upset one, typically caused by a failing queen who’s not keeping her hive in productive order—can be intimidating. But Pastrell says a sting or two doesn’t scare her. No, she has a bigger fear: Spiders.

“I’m more scared of them than bees!” she says.

The thrill seeker

Albert Sindlinger, of Al Bees Honey, has ADD. At least that’s how he explains it—“it” being the multiple career hats he wears. Keeping up with him is tough—good thing he has swarms of coworkers at his side.

Sindlinger, a seventh and eighth grade math teacher at Traner Middle School by day, plays with bees by night. And like any good man living a double life, he fights for the safety of others on top of it all, battling blazes in the Sequoia National Forest for the last 20 years as a seasonal firefighter.

So why does a man versed in so many fields that he’s even written a book, Common Sense Survival Guide, on how to survive natural disasters, choose to spend the vast majority of his bountiful energy on bees?

“It’s the connection to nature,” Sindlinger explains. “When you’re inside teaching school all day and it’s stressful, it’s nice to get outside and work with the bees—away from the city.”

Sindlinger originally grew Armenian cucumbers in California where he discovered it was more economical to provide his own pollination system. What started as a means to an end 14 years ago has since become a successful small business, with 13 different locations, ranging from Minden to Reno.

Al Bees’ honey can be found at the local Whole Foods Market, Murray Ranch in Pleasant Valley, and Agape Organic Apples in Washoe Valley. He specializes in a lighter colored honey that he says is an effect of keeping his hives tucked up against the Sierra and near a natural creek.

Despite his years of experience, Sindlinger says he’s constantly learning something new from the bees.

His greatest lesson, he found out the hard way.

“When I first came to Reno, I was a bearkeeper, not a beekeeper,” he says with a chuckle. Bears really do have a sweet tooth.

As for learning to deal with the wrath of the bees, well, he’s toughened up his skin.

“Every time I go out I get stung,” he says. “But I don’t worry about it, it’s like fighting fire and being around the smoke—it’s just the nature of the job.”

The scientist

When it comes to the physics of beekeeping, who better than a scientist?

After Chris Foster, who runs Hidden Valley Honey with his wife, Karen, quit his job as a molecular biologist, he devoted his life to the local business, which has grown steadily from 10 hives back in 2002 and sales at local farmers’ markets, to 70 colonies on their property alone, and being carried at Great Basin Community Food Co-op, Whole Foods Market, Scolari’s, Sak ’N Save, and most local Raley’s—to name a few.

But it’s more than the entrepreneur success for Foster—it also provides a mental stimulation he may have missed in retirement.

After being asked time and time again by customers about local honey’s effect on allergies—Foster, ever the scientific skeptic—decided to search for an answer himself.

His hunt resulted in writing a published article titled “Evidence for the Use of Local Honey for the Relief of Pollen Allergies.” After much exhaustive research, coupled with his customers’ testimonials, Foster was not able to come up with a conclusive yes, but he himself was more convinced of honey’s medicinal properties.

“Eighty percent of people who buy our honey buy it for that reason,” Foster says of honey’s pollen defense. “One lady’s 7-year-old son was getting shots and the allergist recommended local honey. As a result, he got off the shots.”

As for the scientific theory, Foster explains that there is pollen inside the honey, and by ingesting it, your body is able to acclimate and no longer perceive it as a foreign substance.

So according to Foster’s research, that old wives tale about taking a spoonful of honey a day may not be a bad idea for your health, after all—but now what about those stingers?

The Fosters, like the rest of the beekeeping club, don’t bat an eye—or swing at any aggressive bees that may be circling.