Long a utopia for the artists and wanderers of the continental U.S., San Francisco is also an ideal landing pad for another kind of traveler: the honey bee. Due to its moderate Mediterranean climate, lax permit regulations, bounty of flora and fauna, and hippie spirit, the neighborhoods in San Francisco are swarming with urban beehives. Potrero is no exception.
“It’s a real variety of people who do this work,” said Joel Benson, a backyard beekeeper in the Mission who keeps two hives on his back porch. “There are lots of people like me who just like keeping a couple hives for honey, but also more ambitious folks who are rearing queens and keeping dozens of hives in multiple locations. There are folks in it for the fun, and folks in it to ”save the bees”. There are people who spend lots of money on gear and others who do it all with homemade stuff made from scraps. It’s an interesting group of people.” Beekeeping activity ranges from the commercial rooftops of Bi-Rite market and the Fairmont hotel, to the multiple hive spots of popular local hive-tenders, such as Robert MacKimmie (of City Bees), to the quiet backyards of countless anonymous S.F. resident beekeepers. The importance of a healthy honey bee population is uncontestable: 30% of the world’s crops, and 90% of the world’s wild flowers, survive due to cross-pollination. Without bees, there would be no food. Lucky for us, no matter where you go in this city, it is buzzing.
Honey, the byproduct most often cultivated through beekeeping, derives its unique flavor from the specific flowers and nectars gathered by each bee. Depending on the weather, season, and nearby botanical array, honey from the same hive differs wildly from batch to batch. It also differs wildly from neighborhood to neighborhood within San Francisco.
Within a city, bees have “hundreds, if not thousands, of different flowers to chose from,” explains Kim Flottum, the editor at Bee Culture magazine. Due to this, urban beekeepers typically label their jars “wildflower honey”. Within San Francisco, the diverse seasonal blooms captured within the “wildflower” blend often consist of eucalyptus, star thistle, wildflower, and blackberry.
According to local lore: McLaren Park honey is dark, with notes of wild fennel and manzanita. The Inner Sunset honey is creamy and light, thanks to the heavy notes of eucalyptus (which contains a high glucose content) in the nearby park. Mission honey is deeply floral, due to the the warm sun on flowers in and around Dolores Park. Honey from hives along the coast tends to be darker, due to the presence of coastal ice plant nectar.
Bees by the Numbers
• 2 million: the number of flowers that bees need to visit to make 1 pound of honey
• 1/12 teaspoon: amount of honey one bee will produce in her lifetime
• 3 miles: maximum radius in which honeybees forage from the hive
• 5: number of eyes per honeybee
Raw, local honey has a variety of health benefits (not to mention, a negligible carbon footprint), and has been shown to help with allergies, asthma, and bronchitis. Due to its natural anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, many believe that honey can also be used to alleviate depression, fatigue, skin disorders, and hasten the healing of wounds.
• S.F. City Limits Honey and Neighborhood Honeys, made by Marshall’s Farm Honey.
• San Francisco Bay Area Wildflower Honey, made by Beekind.
• San Francisco Potrero Hill Honey, made by Bay Area Bee Co.