Olivarez Bee Company in Orland…
There’s good news in the North State for anyone who has been concerned about declining bee populations. The Glenn County town of Orland, home to Olivarez Honey Bees, is one of the world’s leading producers of queen bees, and is making significant contributions to the regeneration of hives across the United States and into Canada.
“Eighty percent of the world’s queen bees are bred in these 20 miles,” says Lyle Ferguson, a director at the family-owned company now in its third generation. It’s a combination of topography, forage availability, climate and a well-guarded family secret. For while a queen bee can lay up to 3,000 eggs a day, they will all turn into worker bees unless a rare and special process occurs involving royal jelly, which will create a new queen.
“To do that on the scale of a commercial beekeeper, there has to be some human manipulation,” says Ferguson, adding a little intrigue to the subject. That process is what allows Olivarez to help everyone from hobbyists to sideliners to commercial producers to keep going in the face of the mite infestations and environmental factors devastating hives. “Without queen bees, the populations would continue to dwindle,” he adds. The company also raises bees in Kona, Hawaii, where the climate allows them to raise queen bees year-round, particularly in the winter months when it is too wet and cold in Northern California.
This is critical for almond pollination which typically starts in late February. “California doesn’t have enough hives to meet that pollination,” says Ferguson, noting that the need for bees for this one crop is so great that beehives are brought in from as far away as Florida for the three-week pollination period.
Ray and Tammy Olivarez are a husband-and-wife team who have expanded on the apiary work started by Ray’s father, Ray Sr. The younger Ray had a significant bee allergy as a child while his father was developing his knowledge, but outgrew it and developed a passion for the bees himself. In fact, the tagline for the company is, “It’s all about the bees.”
That passion is built into the company’s commitment to helping hobbyists get started as beekeepers. “The sheer number of hobbyists that we support is just incredible,” says Ferguson, noting the various starter packages the company provides, including bees and hardware such as hives and frames. In pre-pandemic years, the company hosted an annual Hobby Day which attracted up to 5,000 people. They could attend lectures and meet with experts in the field as well as purchase equipment that may be hard to find otherwise.
Beekeeping has become popular with people wanting more food independence and support pollinating their gardens, as well as those looking for a natural sugar source. There are also those who just want to play their part in keeping bees alive. “We think the hobbyist has a collective voice that is very powerful,” says Ferguson, noting that many hobbyists are vocal about policies that impact bee populations.
It’s also all about the honey, particularly for the couple’s children, Ryan, Josh and Haley, who have started Chico Honey Company and fill jars of fresh, pure honey to sell. The family has become adept at incorporating honey into many different endeavors, including their restaurant and bar in Orland called The Hive, which incorporates honey into most items on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, including a homemade honey ice cream. The Hive also has a full bar and offers signature cocktails.
The company has also developed a partnership with Golden Beaver Distillery in Chico to create a honey-based specialty spirit. “It tastes like a very complex tequila,” says Ferguson. “It’s the best descriptor I can give it. It blends extremely well with anything citrus and goes well with ginger products.” There are two offerings: one that is a clean distilled spirit and another that is “oak rested” in barrels for eight months following the distillation process.
At Olivarez Honey Bees, bees and honey are more than a business, they’re a lifestyle. For Ferguson, who had worked in the coffee industry prior to his current position, “Honey is so much more complex than coffee.” For the Olivarez family, bees are a passion handed down from generation to generation, with each one finding a new aspect of the industry to grow. And that’s good news not only for the bees, but anyone who cares about them. •
Olivarez Honey Bees • www.ohbees.com