Though not a beekeeper herself, Judith Adamson has written a love letter to apiculture in Backyard Beekeepers of the Bay Area. In the past, Adamson has researched and ghostwritten book-length life stories for her personal history business, Recollections, but had never before published a “public” book. “I was captivated by the idea of rogue beekeepers — those who kept bees in Kensington,” she recalled. “Kensington is unincorporated therefore subject to laws of Contra Costa County. Other towns in the county can vote to override the law of beekeeping being illegal; Kensington can’t.”
Her detailed but extremely approachable volume begins with the bee-ginning — solitary bees sharing air with T-Rex — and traces their evolution to the modern day, with the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has inspired many a hobbyist to take the veil and get his or her own honeybee swarm on.
Adamson’s book focuses on the Bay Area, whose many “flats and folds” create microclimates that, in turn, create a dizzying range of flora for bees to pollinate. The author has a “love affair with the beauty of the Bay Area, being a relative newcomer, having lived most of my life outside of New York City and then 25 years in it,” she said. “I was able to tie in my awe of the beauty, the weather, all the flowers, et cetera with bees, who perpetuate the beauty in their own way.” Cross-pollinate our landscape with its nature-loving, holistically minded population, and you’ve got an ardent array of noncommercial apiarists gung-ho to take beekeeping out of the hands of queen-killing corporations and back to urban nature, where it seems to belong just nicely, thank you very much.
Adamson interviewed 21 beekeepers from Oakland to Sebastopol, a geographically sprawling but still tightly knit bunch. “Each beekeeper led me to the next,” she said. The author interviewed a retired police sergeant, three men instrumental in starting and maintaining Google’s “Hiveplex,” the founders of a honeybee habitat garden sanctuary, and the chef at the Fairmount Hotel. Some of these folks keep bees to calm themselves; some were visited by a swarm, grew fascinated, and found themselves accidental beekeepers; others see the apiculture as a way of connecting to the earth or to their ancestors. Laurie Stern, who will host Adamson’s book-and-bee party on Saturday, May 21, in the garden of her shop Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery (727 Sea View Dr., El Cerrito), says she’s been called the “Jewish Mother of Beekeeping” for her careful — and emotional — attention to her queens, drones, and workers. Regardless of how they came to it, or why — for the honey, the pollination, the novelty — they stick with it because of a desire to bring these necessary pollinators back from the brink of extinction, and because the bees themselves are fascinating: masters of geometry and engineering, efficient workers with just enough mystery to bear the mark of something divine, or at least something puzzlingly, dazzlingly other.
The book concludes with tips on gardening for pollinators, a chapter on the uses of various beekeeping byproducts, and recipes from the apiarists profiled. At the event, fittingly, Stern will provide honey from her hives and aromatic, honey-infused beverages alongside scones, tea, and local cheeses. Other apiarists interviewed for the book, including David Eichorn and Patricia Gibbons, will be on-hand as well. 1-5 p.m., free. 510-528-8040 or BackyardBeekeepersBayArea.com