CARLSBAD — A small square of concrete on the south side of the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa is abuzz with construction activity these days, but most passers-by would never notice the 10,000 industrious workers there.
Besides its two golf courses, 17 tennis courts, eight swimming pools and 607 rooms, the 400-acre resort is now home to one active bee colony tended by Greg Frey Jr., chef de cuisine at the resort’s BlueFire Grill. Since establishing the hive on the property in June, Frey has begun producing honey that’s slowly making its way into the resort’s cocktails, condiments, appetizers and spa treatments.
Although many local restaurants tout their “farm to table” cuisine, the 33-year-old Rancho Bernardo resident said he didn’t start the beekeeping operation for freshness or quality-control reasons. He did it as part of the resort’s sustainability efforts. Bee populations are in decline worldwide and Frey wants to create an awareness program with guests, employees and the Carlsbad community to help bring the vanishing species back from the brink.
“I think most people know about what’s happening to bees, but we haven’t done a good job explaining how bees are important to our daily life,” Frey said. “Almost everything we grow and eat is touched in some way by bees.”
Omni La Costa is one of just three hotels in San Diego County certified by Green Seal for its sustainable practices. The 48-year-old resort earned the agency’s Silver seal this year for its use of reclaimed water and energy-saving sensors, as well as recycling, composting and other programs, according to marketing director Denise Chapman.
Frey came up with the beekeeping idea in January. After five months of research, training and many, many painful stings, he set up two hives on a freshly poured concrete pad just south of the resort’s driving range. An infertile queen caused one of the colonies to collapse over the summer, but the other is thriving, and Frey eagerly gave a few visitors a tour of the buzzing hive last week.
Most people fear honey bees — particularly because Africanized hybrids can be aggressive in defending their hives — but Frey loves getting nose-to-proboscis with the flying bugs and rarely bothers with the hooded white zip-up suits and gloves required for visitors. He has learned the hard way that bees can sense fear and they’re easily agitated, but they usually give an unwelcome visitor fair warning before they sting. Now that he understands bee behavior, Frey said he hasn’t been stung in months.
“Bees are just like the ocean,” said Frey, an avid surfer. “They can be very humbling. If you make a mistake, they will set you right.”
On this sunny morning, the bee colony is in a docile mood. Frey stuffs a smoker (which looks like a tin watering can with a bellows) with smoldering eucalyptus leaves, then gently pumps smoke on the honeycomb-filled frames hanging inside the wood hive. When bees smell smoke they sense an approaching fire, so they focus their energy on drinking nectar to prepare for a long flight, allowing the beekeeper to inspect the hive and collect honeycomb with little fear of attack.
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