Aliso Creek Inn added a new suite to the resort property, sited in an exclusive area at the midpoint on its nine-hole golf course. In size and amenities though, the addition behind the maintenance shed comes up short of the typical guest room and measures just four square feet.
It’s spacious if you’re a bee, even crowded in 10,000 deep, like the insects now in residence.
Kurt Bjorkman, general manager of Aliso Creek Inn, expects the bees to multiply to about 60,000 by summer, possibly producing as much as 70 pounds of local honey. Their output will depend on rainfall and the blooming cycle of various food sources, such as sage, buckwheat, lavender, fennel, and wildflowers. Not bad for an initial investment of $140.
Guests of Aliso Creek Inn’s sister property, Montage Laguna Beach, and patrons of Tabu Grill and soon-to-be opened Starfish restaurant may be the first to reap the dividends, according to Bjorkman.
“I saw bees flying around the property and recalled friends at other restaurants were harvesting or buying fresh honey from local honey purveyors,” said Bjorkman, who decided to go a step further and become a producer. “A friend of mine is director of sales at Carmel Valley Ranch, which has a honey program, and he really loves that story and the connection with the environment.”
Many more restaurant chefs are seeking nearby sources for ingredients, reflecting shifting menus compiled from fresh, seasonal products and a growing industry appreciation for sustainable practices.
“We absolutely like to get locally sourced food whenever we can,” said Nancy Wilhem, owner of Laguna Beach’s Tabu Grill, top-rated by Zagat patrons, and a new startup, Starfish. “We are a small community and it’s also nice to promote each other.”
Aliso Creek Inn is not the first Laguna Beach bee keeper. Bob Cosgrove, a 60-year bee keeper, produces several varieties marketed as Aliso Canyon Honey, sold at the nearby Albertson’s market and other outlets, though his bees harvest nectar elsewhere.
“It’s a good location if the sage and buckwheat is blooming,” said Cosgrove. “The fennel is coming on, which is lovely honey. But there’s not enough in that canyon that you can get a good concentration of it.”
The nucleus colony, or nuc for short, a queen bee and her fledgling hive of workers, was purchased after much searching. It was late in the bee-buying season, which normally ends by March, when Andrea Wilde, director of catering and conference services and the resort’s self-taught bee keeper, sought a supplier in April.
Laguna is one of the only cities in the county that allows bee keeping; most strictly regulate it or ban it altogether, said Amy Cripps, secretary of Orange County Bee Keepers Association, which has 100 members.
Aliso Creek Inn guests and golfers need not worry about being stung any more than they did before. The bees are an Italian species that is more docile than the apis mellifera species, commonly known as Africanized bees.
Cosgrove, a Laguna resident, keeps 40 hives on a horse farm off Ortega Highway, another 15 on the Saddleback College campus where he teaches English full time, and five in an avocado orchard in San Juan Capistrano. He produces about 15,000 pounds of honey in a good year, sold to Albertson’s, Vienna Café in Laguna Beach, the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, and Mother’s Markets across Orange County.
When he retires, Cosgrove plans to expand his bee operation to 200 hives.
“Membership has been growing with news coverage in last few years about bees and the concern for their importance,” said Cripps. “More people are looking to buy local honeys which goes with the artisanal food movement and the emphasis on food being home grown,” said Cripps, who keeps six hives of her own and plans to sell honey to local shops.