Bar Shacterman, backyard beekeeper


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Like a veteran vintner, Fair Oaks beekeeper Bar Shacterman considers his DIY honey to be unrivaled. Unlike the store-bought stuff, at least he knows where it comes from: straight out of the bee hives colonizing in his backyard. Shacterman has tamed honey bees for seven years, and he organizes beginning and advanced classes for the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association. SN&R caught up with Shacterman to chat about the art of beekeeping, why honey straight from the hive is the sweetest and why you’re probably seeing fewer bees buzzing around here.

What got you into beekeeping?

It was completely by chance. All I wanted to do was grow organic vegetables for my family. I started doing a little garden, and I was getting a very low count of vegetables and fruit. I couldn’t understand what was going on, because my soil was good. Everything was looking very nice. … At some point, I went and got myself a little beehive. The only complaint I have from people now is that I have so much fruit and vegetables.

How many hives do you have now?

I’m running 15 hives [in different locations around Fair Oaks].

Do you raise them for honey?

Yes, but honey is just a byproduct. … Mostly, people are interested in pollinating their plants and fruits.

Tell me about the life of honey bees.

The average life of a bee is three to five weeks. They’re born. They come out of the eggs. They start with hive duties. They clean. They feed. They nurture, and in the last week or two weeks of their life, they go out and collect pollen, nectar and other stuff that the hive needs.

And the queen?

The queen can live up to a couple of years. … The only thing that she does is lay eggs. A good queen will lay approximately 1,000 to 2,000 eggs a day. … She stays in the hive mostly, and you’ll see her running around. It’s a very big bee with a big abdomen.

What are bees doing this time of year?

They’re sleeping in their bee hives. Barely going out. … They use the honey to keep themselves warm. … They’re basically waiting for spring.

And in the spring?

They start going out, the queen starts laying eggs and the number of bees increases. During the winter, the numbers shrink. They’re collecting resources, and they create enough for us to take a little bit and for them to pass the winter. This is kind of their life cycle.

How does honey straight from the hive compare to the stuff on supermarket shelves?

It’s almost like asking a winemaker about his own wine, versus wine he gets from the store. I will say that my wine is the best. It really depends on the vegetation the bees are collecting from. … There is also different vegetation and pollen growing elsewhere, so if you are buying honey from the store and not from a local beekeeper, it won’t help you with allergies.

What’s the biggest challenge facing bees?

They have something that’s called colony collapse disorder. Bees seem like they’re not doing so well lately. We have these parasites called mites that invade the hive. We don’t know if the mites are a symptom of the disorder, [or the other way around]. [It could also be] because of chemically engineered crops from companies like Monsanto, that put in these new seeds with new pollination that weaken the bee hives. [Another reason could be] the cell phone towers that that interfere with their way of navigating. The bottom line is that we’re losing quite a lot of bees every year, and we don’t really know what the main reason is.

And why is it important that bees survive?

I’ll give you an example: No bees, no almonds in California. … Bees pollinate between 40 to 45 percent of our food. Even in meat production, they pollinate the alfalfa that feeds the cows and a lot of livestock. If we have a crisis for the bees, we are up for a very big readjustment. We really need to do something about it. And you have pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson who can put in resources to solve the problem, but for them, it’s not commercially feasible.

Is getting a beehive one solution?

I’d like to say yes. … You have ways of multiplying bee hives. So, in a way, the more bee hives, the better they will do. … But it will also create more awareness of the problem.

Is bee keeping expensive?

It can cost a lot of money. … But if you build [the house] yourself, or get a swarm from a friend, it can basically be free.

Best part of being a beekeeper?

For me, to sit on an afternoon, especially during the summer, and watch the bees going in and out of the hive. You sit outside, with a little glass of wine. It’s very relaxing for me. It’s almost like a meditation.