Locals and visitors to the Napa Valley had something new to experience recently at “Beekeeping Day,” hosted by A & Bee Provisions. It was held at the Pestoni Family Estate Winery in St. Helena.
Owner David Moreland and Brand Manager Scott Symon, both St. Helena residents, were on hand along with a group of their honey bee experts to answer questions and share their expertise.
“The reason we wanted to put on the event was to bring awareness to beekeeping and also to our company,” Symon said.
“We’ve heard a lot about beekeepers in the Valley that are suffering from losses and we want to share our knowledge with them and be a resource. We also wanted to let people know we will soon be selling our products through farmer’s markets in Napa and St. Helena.”
A & B Provisions has an office in Napa but grows its own almonds and walnuts on 1,000 acres of orchards in Waterford, California just east of Modesto. The growers also own and manage their own apiary of honey bees, which are essential to the pollination of the nuts they grow.
“Here in the Napa Valley, we are focused on grapes and bees have nothing to do with grape growing,” Moreland said.
“But one in three bites in the world require pollination, so bees are really key to food production. Over 90 percent of food pollination is done by the honey bee, so as almond growers we wanted to manage our own bees instead of using other people’s,” he added.
“We are a full circle orchard and apiary,” Symon said. “We grow the trees and we own our bees. So we can control what our bees are exposed to on our orchards, because we’re not renting our hives as most beekeepers do.”
Honey bee populations are decreasing around the globe due to climate change, pesticides and a bee-killing parasite called the Varroa mite.
“Bees are hard to manage,” Symon said. “Over the last 15 years, our biggest battle has been with the Varroa mite.”
Moreland pointed out that the Varroa mite is an invasive mite that came into the states from China.
“What the mite does essentially is attach to the bee making the bee a host. It weakens the immune system of the bee by sucking the life out of it. When the immune system is weakened, the bee is susceptible to native viruses, and most of them are lethal,” he explained.
“The colony eventually dwindles until it’s not self-sufficient and it dies, which is also known as colony collapse.”
Because of the threat to honey bees, A & Bee Provisions spent years researching the blue orchard bee as an alternative pollinator.
“After attending an Almond Board presentation 12 years ago on the blue orchard bee as a pollinator, I decided to start a research company to look into the viability,” Moreland said.
“Five years into it, we started to struggle and realized we were not going to be able to domesticate that pollinator.”
The veteran grower decided at that point the best thing to do was manage an apiary of their own. “It’s turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve every done in my life,” Moreland said.
A & Bee sells its almonds all over the world by container load to food processors. California produces almost 80 percent of the world’s almonds, Moreland said. “So the almond crop is very important to this state.” California sells more than $5 billion in almonds every year predominately to other states and other countries.”
“Almonds are an incredible protein because they have a really long shelf life,” Moreland said.
“But if you buy a bag of almonds from a large retailer, that bag has likely been sitting there for quite awhile at temperatures that are not cold storage. We keep our nuts at cold storage as much as we can, and everybody that tastes them agrees that produces a significantly better taste,” Moreland added.
Almond-based products like milk and butter sell quickly.
“One of the products we’re most excited about is we’re going to be producing fresh almond milk and selling that through farmers markets in Napa and St. Helena initially,” Symon said.
A & Bee has only recently begun selling directly to the public through its website.
“We are selling almonds direct to the public now to see if we can increase our margins over just selling wholesale,” Symon said.
“Studying the market, we know a lot of people these days are looking to source their food directly from the producer and have a more direct connection to their food.”
The products currently available are clover honey, bags of whole, natural almonds and pure beeswax.
At its Beekeeping Day event, the company also had orange blossom honey and Waterford honey, made from its own bees, on hand for tasting. In addition, there were several flavors of almonds.
“We’d like to sell more flavors of almonds; right now we are working on getting the flavors right,” Symon said. “We’d actually like to have people start roasting our almonds at home because it’s easy to do and the flavors are so much better.”
To find out more about A & Bee Provisions, call 707-739-4097 or visit abeeprovisions.com.