The most difficult part about launching a beekeeping business isn’t avoiding getting stung, according to local beekeeper and business owner, Ross Berger; it’s coming up with a company name.
“Our friend called us up and said, ‘I’ve got a name for you guys,’ — it was like three in the morning — ‘The Humble Bumble!’” Berger said.
Berger, a graphic communication senior, is co-creator of The Humble Bumble, which specializes in bee removal, pollination and honey sales. He said he and Isaac Safdie Miller, Humble Bumble co-owner and computer engineering graduate, wracked their brains trying to come up with a suitable name for the company until their friend’s late-night epiphany.
In December of 2009, they launched The Humble Bumble.
Berger and Miller were helping out at the Cal Poly bee yard — an area on the Cal Poly campus which houses the hives used for beekeeping classes — when they recognized that bee removal could become a viable business.
“We kept getting calls from the school asking if we would remove hives from houses,” Berger said. “We realized it was a lot of work, and we realized we could charge for it. When we started to get income coming from the removal, we were able to start buying our own equipment for our actual hives.”
Bee removal can cost $20, for clearing a swarm from a residential house, to $2,500 when structural work is involved. Berger and Miller occasionally have to remove roofs or other structures to access the comb.
Failure to remove the comb is a problem Berger sees frequently. He said people will hire pest control services to kill the bees with chemicals, but this is not an ideal fix.
“They’ll spray them,” Berger said. “The bees will die. The hive will rot. The honey will drip down the walls, because the bees maintain the honey in there. Then we open it up, and their entire ceiling is infested with rats and bugs. It’s filled up the walls. And they have to remodel their whole room, because they just had someone come spray them every year instead of having someone just come take the comb out.”
Berger said while he appreciates bees, many people regard them as pests and want to simply get rid of them. He said his fondness of bees is stronger on some days than on others, noting that he has been stung more than 1,000 times.
“You just stop counting,” Berger said. “It’s just part of the job. When we’re doing removals, we’re 25 feet up on a ladder. If you freak out, you fall down. We’ve been in attics where (the bees) freak out, and they swarm us. They get in your veil, and you’re like, ‘Well, I’ve just got to get stung in the face right now.’”
Berger said he transports aggressive hives to forests or fields on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo after removal. He keeps the healthy, non-aggressive hives to use later for honey production and pollination. He said bees with African genes tend to be more aggressive.
Pollination — or using bees to fertilize crops — is not as lucrative for Berger and Miller as removal, because they have a relatively small number of hives — approximately 100. For large-scale beekeepers, however, pollination is big business.
Berger said there are beekeepers in the Midwest with more than 50,000 hives who travel to California each year to rent their hives to farmers who need help pollinating their crops.
John Phillips, a crop science professor, said bees are essential to yielding crops each year.
“They are required for virtually all tree fruits,” Phillips said. “There are a few wild bees that play a small role, but to really set a commercial crop, it’s absolutely essential to have the honey bee pollinators. (Farmers) almost always will rent bees.”
According to George Langworthy, co-director of the documentary “Vanishing of the Bees,” bees are necessary for pollinating more than 90 different types of fruits and vegetables. He said the crops needing bees for pollination make up a third of the average citizen’s diet.
Additionally, Langworthy said just one hive can produce an average of 50 pounds of honey per year.
While Berger said he hopes to eventually expand his pollination and honey businesses, for now he said he is focused on removing bees and further developing his company.