Beekeeping Booms in Silicon Valley

The number of beekeepers has increased substantially over the past several years. Some help the environment, some start a new hobby and all work to change the bee decline.


During the summer bees are more prevalent than ever, wanting to munch on our BBQ food.

It's usually known that bees won't sting unless bothered, but many people decline an interaction with bees if they can avoid it.

Despite many people having a fear of bees, more than 150 people in the Silicon Valley are dedicated to beekeeping, said Mark Paterson, vice president of the Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild.

The guild, a nonprofit organization to help beekeepers manage their hives, hold monthly meetings where "Dr. Bee" and a panel answer questions. Last month the "what to do with beeswax" topic included tutorials on how to make candles and soaps. 

A fan of nature and a native of Australia's Gold Coast, Paterson joined a beekeeping club in 2004 when he felt a proclivity to care for the environment.

"I enjoyed the outdoors and environment and fresh vegetables," said Paterson. "I enjoy picking a big fresh tomato right off the vine."

Secretary Jim Campbell started beekeeping not because of a love for the environment, but because of a hive in his backyard.

"We had one on a tree, and my wife said why don’t we put that in a box," said Campbell.

That was the start of his hobby. Ever since retiring five years ago, Campbell has kept several hives in his backyard. The bees have given him a good hobby and a reason to beautify his garden.

Paterson and Campbell represent different ends of the beekeeping spectrum. Paterson has 30 hives, whereas Campbell has just two.

While Paterson agreed that there is a natural aversion to bees, he suggested learning about bees and how they live before thinking of them as your enemies.

“I suggest becoming educated about what bees are and how they behave,” said Paterson. “I would take them to a hive and show them the bees in the hive. Part of it is being aware of how bees behave and how we can interact with them in a positive manner for both the bees and the people.”

Imagine seeing a cute dog on the street that you'd like to pet. Wouldn't you first ask the owner if you could pet the dog, since you wouldn't know how the dog might react?

It’s the same for bees, explained Paterson. People should observe before interacting and ask permission from the owner before introducing themselves to the bees.

Paterson’s favorite part about beekeeping is the knowledge that he’s helped to manage a healthy hive—seeing the success of what he’s created.

With a desire to spread his passion for beekeeping to others, Paterson teaches kids, school groups and Brownies about bees in general, why they’re important in the environment and what they make from their hives. Some of the kids are inspired to become beekeepers themselves.

“I think people are becoming more aware of the environment and the food they’re eating,” said Paterson. “They want to know what they can do to support the environment.”

Campbell said he mentors three to five people per year by showing them his own hives and how the hives are kept. As an introduction to beekeeping it’s nice to have an example to follow and a person to go to with questions.

People take up beekeeping for different reasons. For some it’s the love of the outdoors or the desire to do something with the hive in their backyard. Others just feel bad for the bees, said Campbell.

"Part of it is the news articles about the bees dying," said Paterson.

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