Ryan Chartrand

Scott Jeffreys squats down and draws his nose closer to the ground. He directs his nostrils towards a gaping black hole that comes from the bottom of a white box. Honeybees about half an inch in length buzz their wings at the entrance to the white box. They are ventilating their hive.

“Here, put your nose down here and smell that. Do you smell it?” he asks. “Yeah it’s them. It’s the bees. That’s how they smell.”

Jeffreys stretches his legs back to full height. He looks all around the Cal Poly orchards with a glint of awe in his eye. He stands encircled by over 40 of these white boxes. There must be thousands of bees hovering and zipping all around, but Jeffreys is caught up by the potent yet fragrant smell that lingers in the air.

“This is what gets me up in the morning. Just to be able to smell that smell.”

While many people fear insects, especially the ones that sting, Jeffreys literally surrounds himself in a world of bees. In fact, he is responsible for over a million of the honey-producing insects that are located throughout the Cal Poly orchards. He is the beekeeper.

While in the Honey Room, Jeffreys uses a brand-new machine that the student fee committee bought for his class. He turns a handle and watches as the honey pours in smoothly and accurately. The device looks like a slurpee machine from 7-Eleven. The Honey Room has industrial-sized barrels lining the walls. Inside each 650-pound barrel is his bees’ final product, golden honey.

Jeffreys arrived at Cal Poly in 2001, where he began teaching his enterprises class. He has designed his lectures around nurturing honeybees and then selling the byproducts that the bees create.

“Oh gosh, it’s not just honey that these bees do,” said Jeffreys. “I had one student that made 1,000 candles and those things will go fast at the Campus Market.”

Since Jeffreys took over as beekeeper, he has increased the hives on campus to nearly 200. He has even turned beekeeping into a profitable asset to the agriculture department.

“We are making profits. People in the agriculture department like it. We are one of the few enterprise projects that make money.”

Back in the shop, Jeffreys has finished filling his honey containers and decides it’s time to give his bees a visit.

Jeffreys’ latest project is constructing a machine that will spit sugar water into the hives rather than filling small feeding holders with industrial-grade honey.

Currently, Jeffreys must walk out to the lemon orchards near the railroad tracks and Mustang Village to fill the feeders with the honey. Besides the helmet veil that covers his face, he looks just like a farmer. The “Zen” master of bees walks slowly but confidently closer to the buzzing hives.

The bees are now crashing into his flannel shirt and bare arms.

“Of course everyone wonders about the bee stings though. When people ask how many times I have been stung, I say, ‘What, you mean today?’ You get friendly to it. Oh it always hurts though.”

Jeffreys never imagined himself a beekeeper until he took the same class he teaches at Cal Poly back in 1978.

“I ended up moving to San Luis Obispo and started running my own bee company,” Jeffreys recalls. “My wife at the time told me to sell the bees because she wasn’t happy. She said she wouldn’t have me if I didn’t leave the bees. I told her I’m pretty happy so I guess you gotta go. So she left.”

Jeffreys later found himself leaving his bees and home in San Luis Obispo and moving to the more tropical location of Hawaii. There he worked for a commercial beekeeper in Hawaii raising queens.

But destiny called for Jeffreys and he began thinking about teaching back at Cal Poly. Jeffreys spoke to horticulture and crop science professor David Headrick, who held the beekeeper position at that time.

“I came back to San Luis Obispo and asked Headrick about what’s going on with the bee shop. And he said, ‘What bee shop?’”

The bee shop originally housed Cal Poly’s bee equipment. Jeffreys realized he needed to get that place back.

Now from his diligent work over the past five years, the bee shop is brimming with enough equipment to create over 2,000 beehives across Cal Poly’s campus.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “It’s away from everyone, and the lemons seem to benefit from pollination. You know, it’s pretty low key out here, but that is perfect for us.”

Jeffreys continues his probing now of the honeycombs. He reaches out with his hive tool and scrapes away wax caps on the golden filled catacombs. Honey has developed on the tip of the hive tool and he extends his tongue to lick it.

“The natural progression of days and rain and sunshine, that’s what the magic of the bees is. A lot of people don’t feel the passing of the seasons that much, especially here in California, but the bees just heartbeat to it. You feel very close to nature being a part of this.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *