This Sanctuary is the Place to Bee on April 1

The Davis Bee Collective will host the grand opening of their newly landscaped sanctuary on Sunday, April 1. All are welcome!

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Update: A grand opening initially set March 21 and then changed to March 31 has now been re-scheduled for Sunday, April 1.

“It’s supposed to rain hard on Saturday, March 31, and be nice on Sunday, April 1,” said organizer Derek Downey, who heads the Davis Bee Collective and its newly landscaped site, the Davis Bee Sanctuary. He’s hoping it will “bee nice.”

On April 1, the Davis Bee Collective,  a community of small-scalebeekeepers founded by a former UC Davis entomology graduate student, will host the grand opening of their newly landscaped apiary, the Davis Bee Sanctuary.

The event, open to the public, is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 1 at the site on Orchard Park Drive, Davis. The main ceremony starts at 1 p.m. However, visitors will be filtering in and out from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., said Derek Downey, a seven-year beekeeper who coordinates the Davis Bee Collective and the Davis Bee Sanctuary.

The Davis Bee Sanctuary is adjacent to the western edge of The Domes, a cooperative student housing community known for its dome-shaped structures.
The open house will be an opportunity for area residents and prospective member  to "come meet the beekeepers," Downey said. The event will include tours, honey tasting, a permaculture lesson covering hugelkultur (the drought-tolerant technique being used at the sanctuary), a free flower giveaway, seed exchange (bring seeds), and a presentation on native bees, which also will be sharing the sanctuary. 

A special guest will be Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

Ant specialist Eli Sarnat, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2009, working with major professor Phil Ward, founded the Davis Bee Collective in 2005. Now residing in Happy Camp, Siskiyou County, Sarnat is a postdoctoral researcher based at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and an Encyclopedia of Life Rubenstein Fellow. Sarnat and a beekeeping partner maintain about 20 hives in Happy Camp. 

Sarnat said he "established to get other folks in the community interested in keeping bees, and to share the costs and labor involved with things like honey harvesting, equipment sharing, and equipment building. By working in collaboration, it became a lot easier for all of us to rent a honey extractors and share in the labor--and fun!--of spinning honey. Instead of putting a lot of energy in setting up equipment and tools to build just one hive for myself, we joined together to build 20 hives for all of us. And instead of each of us needing our own wax melter, we made a few of them, and whoever needs to melt combs can borrow one for the day or week."

His friend, Derek Downey, who received his bachelor's degree in engineering from UC Davis in 2009, joined the Bee Collective in 2005. In 2010, Downey founded a small beekeeping business, the  Davis Bee Charmers; he catches swarms, relocates hives, and teaches beekeeping lessons to individuals and groups. Then in 2011, Downey founded The Bee Sanctuary as the place to keep the bees.

Downey invites interested persons to join the Bee Collective and Bee Sanctuary; information on how to join is on DavisWiki. Downey moderates the Google group and adds new members. "If someone wants to just help out and learn about bees, they are always welcome to take part," he said. "We will have hives that are collectively managed so everyone can learn together. If someone wants to keep their own hive there, it is first-come, first served. We have space for 10 to 12 hives, max."

Members of the Bee Collective share resources, such as beekeeping equipment, books, and tools. Downey accepts donations for the Bee Collective and Bee Sanctuary (email him at davisbeecharmers@gmail.com). He recently received dozens of donated perennials.

Bee Sanctuary work parties are held every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the site. Among those participating are Melanie Lataste and her husband, Pierre Arrial of Nantes, France. Arrial is a postdoctoral scholar in the UC Davis Department of Geology.

One of the hives at the sanctuary is actually a birdhouse, or what Mussen calls "a birdhouse for wood ducks." Davis homeowners "installed it to invite birds to live in it," Downey said, but a swarm of honey bees soon claimed it. So, Downey moved the birdhouse--bees and all--into the sanctuary.

On Tuesday, March 20, the bees in the birdhouse swarmed, as expected. They're now established in a previously unoccupied hive in the sanctuary.
Downey anticipates filling the other empty hives in the sanctuary via swarms he collects in Davis, Dixon, Sacramento, Woodland, and Winters.


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