Eat, Food & Health, Local Harvest
Salt Lake County bee inspector Peter Somers mentors new enthusiasts
In another life, Peter Somers was a pilot.
Now, he is the Salt Lake County Bee Inspector and owner of Beez Hives N Honey at 2607 So. State Street. His shop (previously called The Honey Stop, then located on 800 East and later on 500 East) sells beekeeping supplies and books, local raw honey and interesting varietal honeys from around the world. You can also find classes on beginning beekeeping and hive inspection.
The special thing about Somers is that he serves as a mentor and partner for his customers if they need a swarm captured, some one-on-one training with their own hives, or help in extracting the honey from the frames. Maybe you have a great pollinator garden and would like the pleasures of a hive without the work. He might be able to help you, as well.
“My customers always know they have a partner throughout the year,” he said. “Most of them are beginners or second year beekeepers. … There’s not a lot of mentor opportunities out there. They’re looking for someone to kind of guide them, so I make myself available for that.”
One thing you can count on when you enter Somers’ shop is Somers himself. While he relies on close friends and his brother in California for additional help occasionally, the business is mostly run by him. Somers certainly keeps busy with so much to do by himself.
“It’s plenty of work for me,” he said. “That’s for sure.” His job as the Salt Lake County Bee Inspector keeps him fairly busy, too. The purpose of the program, offered in cooperation with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), is to control the spread of disease, because “it’s a real problem with honey bees,” Somers says. As the bee inspector, he gets called out to inspect hives for any sign of disease and advises on appropriate treatment. He estimates Salt Lake County is home to around 500 registered hobbyist beekeepers. He will visit 150 apiaries in 2019, each including one or more hives.
Salt Lake County began its beehive inspection program in 1892, with 4,000 hives—one hive for about every 11 citizens, according to the Utah State Historical Society. Beyond the industriousness of early settlers, it’s no wonder Utah was named the Beehive State!
I asked Somers if he looked upon bee flight differently, based on his own flying experience. “Bee flight is more similar to a helicopter,” he said. “It relies on sheer power and speed of moving parts… not graceful like a pelican that glides for long stretches, using the aerodynamics of ground effect to stay just inches above the water’s surface with only an occasional flap of the wings; pelicans are superior aviators.
“The honey bee is agile and can maneuver in ways that a pelican wouldn’t dream of, but she exerts great effort and employs sloppy technique. She crash lands as a matter of course and often comes barreling toward the hive entrance only to smash into a sister standing nearby, before stepping over her head and walking into the hive.
“Or bees collide midair, hit the ground and tumble backward off the landing board and into the grass before popping right back up again for a fresh approach. Drones are the worst—a total insult to the beauty of flight!”
Somers says there are quite a few misconceptions about honey bees, including that bees are in danger of extinction. Somers isn’t concerned about the number of honey bees (a queen in her prime lays 2,000 eggs per day), but thinks their health will continue to be an issue. Education and good management practices will go a long way to saving the day for pollinators and their beekeeper friends.
You don’t have to keep honey bees to help honey bees thrive. For the bees already cruising your neighborhood, plant a flower garden that favors simple blossoms and natives over ruffly flowers and hybrids. And skip the chemicals, which can add to their body burden. The bees (and other pollinators) will be pleased.
Beez Hives N Honey, 2607 So. State Street. Wednesday through Saturday, 10am – 6pm. (385) 888-2521. Bee Advised