It's hard out there for a honeybee.
And for farmers like Sebastopol's Torrey Olson, who relies on the declining worker colonies to pollinate his pear and apple crops.
Olson's been leasing and borrowing honeybees for eight years since he and his wife, Lucy, bought the 14-acre Gabriel Farm on Sullivan Road.
No more. On Monday, he received a special gift from a client, the San Francisco-based The FruitGuys: four hives with 40,000 honeybees.
"I think we'll put them right here," Olson said, pointing to a patch of grass near solar panels that power his home and organic farm.
"They need to sit in the sun for the warmth and also so they know when to wake up and get to work," he said.
Olson has learned, sometimes the hard way, there's a distinct culture to the honeybee world.
They work hard and mostly ignore humans. Worker bees literally work themselves to death carrying nectar for honey and pollen to feed bee larvae while the drone bees mate and the queen bees lay eggs.
They also hate the cold and crammed quarters, which Olson realized after a loaner colony formed a "a giant cloud of hissing, angry bees," irritated that their hive was crowded.
And they're sensitive. Millions of colonies have died, in part, because of declining habitats and diversity, chemicals on crops, and forced travel by beekeepers who truck loaner hives from farm to farm.
Only 2.5 million colonies remain in the U.S., down from 6 million three decades ago, according to the Santa Rosa nonprofit Partners for Sustainable Pollination.
That's why local farmers like Olson and a growing population of hobbyist beekeepers are vital, said Katia Vincent, who with her husband, Doug, owns beekind, a honeybee supply and gift shop in Sebastopol.
Their honey-scented shop was born accidentally, after the couple bought their own hive to stimulate pollination in their garden. She began selling honey along the road by their house, and now, four years later, they trained 300 local beekeepers this spring alone.
Their store loans Gabriel Farm three hives of honeybees and also provided the bees for the $1,200 gift of hives Monday.
The gift came from Chris Mittelstaedt, founder of The FruitGuys, which delivers boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to corporations including Yahoo, Ghirardelli and Yamaha.
The gift is the pilot project of a program Mittelstaedt has launched to assist farmers. His multimillion-dollar company started with one other employee and an old Honda filled with fruit. The goal: Improve workplace health.
Torrey Olson is still the "little guy," though he's had some proud moments. His Asian pear eau-de-vie, distilled at Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma, recently won a spirits award in San Francisco. The 750ml bottle comes with an Asian pear inside.
And his Asian pear juices and jam are sold in San Francisco health stores. It's an unexpected path for Olson, a former high school math teacher from a North Dakota farming family.
His wife is a graduate of the sustainable agriculture program at UC Santa Cruz. And their 2-year-old son, Henry, believes at times he is "the bee charmer," directing his buzzing minions with a stick.
On Monday afternoon, Henry was naked and playing happily with a hose in the family's back yard, a stone's throw from the farm's three loaner hives from beekind.
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