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James McDonald, right, owner of Encinitas Bee Company, helps Encinitas resident Wes Leffingwell inspect his frame of bees kept outside his home. Photo by Sean Buffini
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Backyard beekeeping generates buzz in North County

How do you cultivate a healthier, more colorful home garden? For Encinitas resident Wes Leffingwell, the answer is simple — beekeeping.

“In the last six years I started keeping bees primarily for the plants and flowers that are in the yard, plus anyone else’s who can benefit,” Leffingwell said.

The retired dentist went from extracting teeth to extracting honey from his two backyard beehives. He checks them every one-to-two weeks, investigating the habitat to make sure the bees are healthy. It’s a lot of work, but Leffingwell is invested.

“Sometimes it’s a pain, but if you make a commitment to do this, then you’ve made a commitment to do it,” Leffingwell said.

Backyard beekeeping has become more common in San Diego County thanks to local regulations allowing it in residential neighborhoods. Photos courtesy of Sean Buffini

Currently, there are around 250 registered beekeepers in San Diego County. People get into it both for the benefits on local plants and the honey. There are county and city rules regulating beekeeping, so it’s important to check local laws before getting started.

In Encinitas, backyard beekeeping got easier in 2015 when the City Council allowed hives to be kept in densely populated neighborhoods. A former beekeeper himself, Councilman Tony Kranz got those changes in motion.

“As somebody that was on the council, I thought it was important that if I wanted to keep bees, we should make that legal,” Kranz explained. “It is now legal to have two hives in Encinitas in this zone.”

Photo courtesy of Sean Buffini

Although rewarding for many, tending to bees is no easy task. Starting a colony can cost up to $1,000 for materials like wooden frames, protective suits and tools. It takes ample time and research to do it properly, plus, as the Africanization of bees makes some more aggressive, beekeepers must learn how to handle and mitigate those encounters.

Conor Kelly of Encinitas Bee Company, a bee removal service, said this causes many people to give up early.

“They just want to put the box there, and they want to come to collect honey when it’s time,” Kelly said. “It’s just not how it works.”

Yet many people like Leffingwell stick with it, enjoying time spent with their bees. According to James McDonald, owner of Encinitas Bee Company, the best way to start beekeeping is by reading introductory books, attending San Diego Beekeeping Society meetings and shadowing an experienced beekeeper.

From left to right, Tony Kranz, James McDonald, Wes Leffingwell and Conor Kelly are active members of North County’s beekeeping community. Photo courtesy of Sean Buffini

“No one wants to bee keep on their own,” McDonald said. “Find another beekeeper. Post online and say, ‘I want to be a tagalong.’”

There are also services that will start and maintain your colony for a fee if you don’t have the time. However, if you’re just getting into it for the honey, McDonald advises against it.

“When people just want to get into beekeeping for the honey, just stop,” McDonald said. “You’re not going to be happy about this. You should do it for the joy of the bees.”

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