Backyard Beekeeping Growing in San Diego

Over the past few years, business has been booming for Hilary Kearney, owner of the local business, Girl Next Door Honey

As San Diego native Hilary Kearney zips up her white mesh bee suit, she says this moment is never where she saw herself.

"If you'd told me 10 years ago this is what I would've been doing, I don't know what I would've thought," she says. "I studied art."

She's not complaining.

"I just think they're cool," she adds.

She's talking about bees, or her roughly 60,000 colleagues in the Golden Hill backyard where we caught up with her.

It's just one of the homes where Kearney has setup a backyard beehive, or apiary, for a customer.  She regularly checks on and maintains the apiaries, and over the past few years, business is booming for her business, Girl Next Door Honey.

Backyard beekeeping is growing in popularity in San Diego County. NBC 7's Greg Bledsoe speaks with local beekeeper Hilary Kearney, who owns the business Girl Next Door Honey.

She's also been stung more times than she can count.

In the county of San Diego, there are now 160 registered beekeepers, and more than 400 apiary locations. That's more than triple the number of locations from back in 2012, before the city and county changed rules making it easier to become a backyard beekeeper. Per regulations, apiaries have to be at least 15 feet from a property line.

Kearney says the average colony she maintains can produce about 100 pounds of honey a year, but she believes there's another reason people are so interested in what she's doing lately.

"I think it's because it's in the headlines with the bees dying.  People just want to learn more what it's about," she says.

[G] Backyard Beekeeping in San Diego

She's talking about the mysterious die-off of the world's honey bees. There are a lot of theories about why it's happening. Kearney believes it's linked to pesticides.

Whatever the reason, the consequences are potentially devastating to commercial beekeepers, and all the rest of us as well.

"They're losing 40 percent of their bees every year," says Kearney. "One in every three bites of food that you eat is pollinated by a bee. And so, these beekeepers have to work really hard to keep their bees alive. They're losing money. This could drive up the cost of food."

In San Diego county, commercial bee keeping is a $4 million per year industry. And nationally, the USDA reports the value of honey at more than $315 million a year, and bees' impact on crop production at $14.6 billion a year.

Travis Elder with the County Department of Agriculture says the department investigates bee die-offs when they're reported and that they regularly inspect hives to check for pests and dieseases.

Kearney says her biggest concern is not the commercialized honey bees, or even the bees in those small, backyard apiaries. It's the native bee species.

"They really keep the whole ecosystem up and running," she says. "So, the best thing people can do to help bees is not to get a beehive, but to plant flowers.  And that's a much easier thing to do."

For anyone interested in learning more about hosting apiaries, the county offers free online introductory classes on its website.

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