Confessions of a Backyard Beekeeper

Dec 8, 2016

Confessions of a Backyard Beekeeper

Dec 8, 2016

Confessions of a Backyard Beekeeper.

That's the title of a piece by former-Davis-mayor-turned-beekeeper Ann M. Evans in the newly published Ipinion Syndicate book, Cats, Dogs and Other Things that Poop in the Yard.

"Here's what I know about honeybees," she began. "They are more complicated to care for than chickens. Inside the hive, the characters are more complex than inside the coop. Four years into a dream come true, and I've still got to learn about the most important pollinators of plants: the bee."

A colleague and friend, Georgeanne Brennan, inspired her to keep bees. "Her large, year-round kitchen garden, as well as her fruit trees and the orchards surrounding the area where she lives, provide a diverse diet ofr the bees," Evans wrote.

Evans traces her initial interest in bees to the UC Davis bee biology program. While a student majoring in consumer food science, she learned of Professor Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., the widely acclaimed "father of honey bee genetics" working the bees at a facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Today the facility, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, memorializes him: the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.

Still connected to her alma mater, Evans serves on the advisory board of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. Besides her bee veil, she wears many other hats: author, writer, illustrator, gardener, backyard chicken raiser,  and consumer food advocate.

This is how it all began.

At a garage sale.

Evans says she bought her beekeeping essentials at a garage sale--well, all the essentials except for the hives and bees. That would come later.  Her neighbor, Steve, a longtime beekeeper (and "chicken keeper") proposed they keep bees together.

"We started with one hive," she recalled. "Our queen, who at one point we thought we lost, was hard to spot--the drones easy. They are larger than workers and raised in the larger cells...The hive is about 90 percent female, with one queen..."

The first bee book she read was The Backyard Beekeeper, authored by Kim Flottum, editor of the Bee Culture magazine. More books followed and the book of one is now a library of many.

Evans marvels at the intricate societal structure of the 20,000 to 60,000 bees in any given hive, and the incredible distance the worker bees travel to gather pollen and nectar: up to five miles. The queen especially draws her interest.

"I take heart knowing that the queen, but for her maiden flight, lives her whole life inside the darkness of the hive," she wrote in Confessions of a Backyard Beekeeper. "I still feel I know so little of their ancient ways, their highly ordered, female-controlled society. Sometimes at night, I walk outside under the stars and put my head to the hive to hear the sound of wings at work, and a dream come true."

Evans waxes poetic about installing a new queen in a hive. "We gave her a little pelt of smoke to usher her out. She left, sniffed the propolis (bee glue made from tree sap) on top of the frame, as she walks, regally, turned to take one last look of light, and descended into the darkness of the hive."

Keeping bees is definitely addictive as Evans confirms. "Do I keep bees," she asks, "or do they keep me?"

Evans' piece is one of 36 in the book. It's edited by Ipinion Syndicate founders Debra DeAngelo, editor of the Winters Express, and David Lacy, assistant professor of English at Folsom Lake College and a former Davis Enterprise reporter.

Most of the authors wrote about cats and dogs, drawing readers in with their heartfelt stories mixed with humor and pain. Others wrote about horses, pigs, hens, squirrels, hamsters and finches. (Yours truly wrote about Xena the Warrior Princess, a tuxedo cat with a "foot in the bug world": a leg with a mark resembling a butterfly.)

DeAngelo and Lacy describe the book on Amazon as "heart-warming anthology about pets — cats and dogs, hamsters and horses — and the humor, healing and heartbreak they bring into our lives. They make us laugh, cry, and sometimes swear, but we couldn't live without them... even though, sadly, sometimes we discover we must. Each story is written by an iPinion Syndicate columnist or blogger, each one with a unique voice and message about life with her or his beloved pet or animals in their lives."

DeAngelo, interviewed recently by reporter Tanya Perez of the Davis Enterprise, said that "IPinion doesn't make an income by advertising." The site,, is an advertising-free website. "We're trying to figure out how to support our project in a more fun and positive way,” DeAngelo said, calling the book “a perfect holiday gift, a perfect stocking-stuffer.”

Plans are now underway for book reading/signing from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 3 at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis. The book can be purchased on Amazon and at the book store and signing.

(Note: Interested in learning beekeeping or advancing your apiculture skills? Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has announced the 2017 list of beekeeping courses at the Laidlaw facility.)