Honeybees are dormant at this time of year, but a new Healdsburg company built around bees and bee products is abuzz with activity after a successful first 18 months.
The company, Sonoma County Bee Company, enjoyed record growth in 2020 despite the pandemic and is angling for even more wins in the coming months, including a virtual honey tasting and a partnership with the soon-to-open Montage resort on the north end of Healdsburg.
For founder Candice Koseba, the company is the culmination of a 6-year journey to build a nature-centered career.
“I feel extremely fortunate that I now make my living at the mercy of nature, the cycles of seasons and life,” Koseba said. “This reality and vulnerability provide me with much more than I ever thought possible.”
Sonoma County Bee Company launched in May 2019, well before the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing and face coverings became the norm. But the story of how Koseba got into beekeeping starts before that.
The 34-year-old began her career as a chef, first in Chicago and then in Carmel, where she worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant L’Auberge. There, during stroller walks with her then-newborn son (he’s 10 now and has a 3-year-old sister), she became curious about edible plants and decided to pivot her career. Eventually, Koseba and her husband moved to Sonoma County, and she began to study at The California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville.
In 2014, after her husband Aaron took a gig as the chef de cuisine at Single Thread in Healdsburg, Koseba signed on to become the restaurant’s lead forager. It was here that Koseba had her first experience with honeybees.
“There was a desire to have hives on the (Single Thread) farm, and I saw the opportunity to learn,” Koseba remembered. “As a forager I had become fascinated with observing and anticipating cycles and seasons of life.” Working with a colony of honeybees was a natural extension.
Koseba read everything about bees that she could get her hands on. She took classes at Santa Rosa Junior College with Serge Lebesque, a local bee expert. She even joined the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association.
As Koseba’s knowledge and comfort level grew, so too did the number of colonies under her charge. Eventually, she founded Sonoma County Bee Company to manage them all. Today, the company works as a collective; Koseba and fellow beekeepers Cheryl Caletti, Lynne Black and Marques Burrus tend hives all over Sonoma County. They offer basic apiary management, swarm removal and beekeeping consultations.
The hives are primarily Langstroth (the box-shaped hives most people are familiar with) and hybrid log hives, which allow bees to build comb inside hollowed-out logs.
All told, the company oversees more than 40 hives containing about 900,000 bees.
Koseba and some of her beekeeping partners also perform “rescue operations” and manage hives in danger or disrepair. Following the Walbridge and Glass fires in August, September and October, demand for these services skyrocketed as bee-lovers lost their homes and couldn’t tend to their bees.
Range of products
Sonoma County Bee Company sells a variety of products, many which incorporate herbal elements and are inspired by the hive.
They include raw honey, beeswax candles, an herb salve made with beeswax, botanical hand sanitizer and two different types of hydrosols. All the items are made with honey and wax from local bees, and all contain natural ingredients only. The products are sold on the company’s website or at local stores such as Market 377 in Healdsburg and Miracle Plum in Santa Rosa.
Gwen Gunheim, one of the owners at Miracle Plum, said one of the things that drew Miracle Plum to Sonoma County Bee Company was the business’s ethos.
“Her (Koseba’s) first priority is to the bees and to helping folks be better stewards of the land by way of creating bee-friendly habitats,” Gunheim said. “Bees are the perfect entry point to start thinking and talking about food systems, how agriculture can be harmful and how we can start to think about harm reduction. Bees are a great indicator of healthy land.”
Next month, the company will host its first-ever virtual honey tasting. The event, scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 8, will be a guided blind honey tasting with honey from the 2020 harvest and a side-by-side comparison of four mono-varietal honeys. The experience also will give participants a behind-the-scenes look at how Koseba and Caletti decide when it’s safe to take honey from the hives and how they “crush” honeycomb, as well as a crash course in honey aromas and the flavors of different honey varieties.
Prices for the event start at $45, and participants receive a 9-ounce jar of SCBC 2020 Raw Honey, a tasting flight of four varietals, a honey tasting flavor wheel and a honey color guide. (The last day to purchase tickets for the event is Monday, Nov. 30. Tickets can be purchased online.)
Sonoma County Bee Company’s profile is likely to keep rising, courtesy of a new partnership with Montage Healdsburg, a luxury resort opening in mid-December.
Koseba has agreed to manage the resort’s five-hive apiary and use honey and wax from it to craft custom products for the onsite spa. Koseba also will be on property to give tours and workshops to guests who express an interest in beekeeping. Montage guests won’t be able to work with bees, but one of the log hives will have a Plexiglas wall so visitors can see what the bees are doing inside.
General Manager Allen Highfield says he’s excited about the partnership.
“Candice’s enthusiasm as a beekeeper is second to none. We look forward to working alongside the Sonoma County Bee Company (through) our apiary and bee program, where our guests will learn about the super-organism that is the hive and everything it accomplishes when left to its own natural devices.”
Koseba says she’s working on several new products that incorporate honey or beeswax from her hives, as well.