Keeping Bees, Naturally
Kelly Knapp has always been an outdoorsy person, growing up on agricultural land in Brentwood. Her first memory of expressing an interest in beekeeping happened in high school when she was hanging out with friends, talking about what they wanted their careers to be. “I remember randomly blurting out, ‘I want to be a beekeeper!’” said Kelly. Fast forward to adulthood and a few kids later, and Kelly decided it was time to bring her prophecy to life. She found the number for a local beekeeper in Knightsen, gave her a call, and asked if she ever taught interested individuals about bees. “The woman said that she never had but that she was on her way to retrieve a swarm and invited me to tag along. I went in a tank top and shorts, with no fear, and pulled a swarm off of somebody’s spa. It was the most magical moment of my life.” Kelly was immediately hooked and began adding her name to phone lists for fire departments and pest control companies for bee retrieval. “I started that month and ended up with 18 hives, both assisting that woman and doing it on my own.”
For years that’s how Kelly grew her business and her number of bee hives. After around two years of doing removals, Kelly was approached by the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association to see if she wanted to have a booth at the Brentwood market that was about to launch. “I didn’t have a lot of honey or bees at that time, so I went every other Saturday for years, offering what little I did have: honey and chapstick,” said Kelly. “It was at that point that I launched Miss Bee Haven Honey. It’s been 20 years of being at the Brentwood Farmers Market. My kids have helped me throughout the years, and my daughter still does when she can.” Kelly now offers honey (sometimes infused), candles, herbal balm, chapstick, bees wax, bee pollen, gift boxes, and more. “My chapstick still proves to be the most popular item.”
In the beginning Kelly was a stay-at-home mom who also worked part time in the school district. Then she launched Miss Bee Haven Honey and began jugging three jobs. “I look back now and don’t know how I did that,” said Kelly. After five or six years, Kelly decided to quit her job and jump right in to making Miss Bee Haven Honey her full-time gig. “I’ve been slowly growing it.” Originally Kelly worked out of her home, but over a year ago she finally transitioned into a warehouse space where she can keep her bees on the property. She houses about 60 of her hives at the warehouse, and the remainder of her over 250 hives are in various orchards.
Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. Not only is there the risk (and likelihood) that you will be stung, but it’s a lot of hard (and sometimes hot) work. “You have to stick to a schedule,” said Kelly. “Beekeeping is very seasonal. We start putting bees in the orchards mid-February and then leave them alone to do their thing. However, in the meantime we are treating for mites and ensuring that the bees have enough food and water.” Then around April Kelly will begin making queen cells, dividing crowded hives, and retrieving honey. “Everything is a process in this business.” There are a couple of times a year that Kelly tends to ask for help: harvesting honey, which can weigh up to 100 pounds per box, and dividing hives because of live equipment. “Thankfully I have help, whether it’s my husband or other beekeepers.”
While Kelly has mostly pulled away from swarm removals at this point, every once in a while, she’ll be intrigued by the situation and go for it. “My favorite removal that blew me out of the water was when my friend who works for Comcast called me out to remove a beehive inside of one of their big cable spools in a yard in Concord,” said Kelly. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. We pulled off the edge of the spool, and the bees had made a spiral all the way around the pole down the center. They were spiraling, all connected. It was incredible.”
As Miss Bee Haven Honey has grown over the years, word about Kelly’s products has spread, not only amongst Brentwood residents, but also throughout the United States and beyond. “I’ve shipped my products to New York, the Carolinas, Florida, and even England,” said Kelly. Individuals outside of California can find all of Kelly’s products on her website; however, if you’re lucky enough to live locally, Miss Bee Haven Honey can be found at the Brentwood, Livermore, and Martinez Farmers Markets, as well as at Brentwood Ace Hardware, Three Nunns Farm, Tess’ Community Kitchen, and Smith Family Farms (seasonally). Whenever Kelly announces that her products are available, especially the lavender infused honey and honeycomb, run, don’t walk to get your hands on some! “The lavender honey especially sells out fast!”
Photos by: Ron Essex Photography