Mother-Daughter Passion for Beekeeping

Published in Then & Now Column Image 3-13-18 at 5.46 PM

Ten years ago Haven Honey began as a hobby for Doris Diel and her daughter, Sandra Hansen. After retiring from a nursing career, Doris became concerned about the sustainability of honeybees. She’d read about the threats to their habitat and realized the loss of the honeybee would be a worldwide disaster. For example, a 2014 report on MSNBC stated that “…honeybees pollinate 70 of 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world, thus, responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain.”


Diel decided to help and ordered the appropriate beekeeping equipment. “When my mom ordered her first hive, she invited me to come over, suit up and do a hive inspection with her,” said Sandra. “I remember how intense it was that first time, being surrounded by the energy and hum of the bees swirling all around me.  It was completely fascinating and I was instantly hooked!  From then on we tended the bees together and eventually I put hives in my yard as well.”


They read books, internet news, blogs, and attended workshops to deepen their understanding of the challenges honeybees face – particularly imbibing sprayed pesticides on crops the honeybees pollinate and an Asian mite that attaches itself to the bees. “We’ve embraced a philosophy of beekeeping that we hope will help our bees naturally overcome some of these challenges,” said Sandra, who lives in Morro Bay. Diel lives on five acres in Atascadero. They manage hives on properties throughout the county including Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Cayucos, and Morro Bay. However, both admit they are still working to turn their passionate hobby into profitable business.


Branching into presentations about beekeeping to area groups, they recently spoke to the Morro Bay Rotary Club explaining the intricate, communal life of the honeybees. Hives have about 50,000 bees with Queen who directs all activities. Female worker bees make up most of the population and are responsible for almost everything. They gather nectar, guard the hive and honey, care for the young brood bees, etc. The male drone bees mate with the queen, which ends their life cycle.


Sandra explained, “In beekeeping there are many days that you don’t do anything other than enjoy watching them go about their business.  In the Spring, when the Queen is laying a lot and building up the hive population for the coming nectar flows, the most important job for a beekeeper is making sure the bees have enough room so they don’t swarm.  This means checking all the hives and adding super boxes if necessary.  A super box is just another box of frames stacked on top. It’s like adding a story to an apartment.  It also can be time to do the first honey harvest depending how much surplus honey is stored.  Spring and summer are the busy seasons. And then in the late fall you do the opposite, making sure the bees are packed enough to stay warm and therefore you remove boxes. In the winter, you mostly just leave them alone because they do not like to be opened up in cool weather.”


Yes, bee stings come with the job even when they wear all the safety equipment, but they have built up a tolerance. In fact, they will protect others when bothered by bee swarms. The best scenario is if the swarm is on a lower branch. They can lure the orb of buzzing bees with sugar water into a box held directly under the swarm by yanking the branch so the swarm will lurch into the box. Success, however, depends on getting the Queen so the rest of the bees follow,


Both agree the hardest part of beekeeping is losing a hive. Sometimes there is no apparent reason for losing a hive that was once thriving then suddenly dies. Sometimes they just move on. Other times it is mites or ants that overtake a hive. “It is amazing how attached you can become to these little insects,” said Sandra.


Research and testimony from locals confirm raw honey sourced from the area the honeybees gather the nectar combats allergies. As stated on their website, “Our honey is raw to preserve all of the enzymes, and minimally filtered to ensure it contains beneficial pollens. It’s also delicious…straight from the hive!” Currently they are so small they typically sell out of honey within a few days of harvesting. It’s best to watch their Facebook for notices and act quickly. If a stronger harvest Doris will take her half of the honey up to the General Store. They also offer several beeswax products.


It was difficult for Sandra to identify what she liked best about beekeeping. “I think the endless opportunities for learning — the awe and wonder at these miraculous little creatures and the essential work they do.  They inspire a profound sense of interconnectedness.”  She loves sharing her time and hobby with her mom…and then there is the delicious honey. “There is nothing like harvest day and enjoying a taste of honey right from the comb!”