Alice Rosenthal: Expert beekeeper, swarm catcher

Rosenthal with three of her hives in Oakland. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Rosenthal with three of her hives. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

This is the sixth article in our series on expert craftspeople in Berkeley, written and photographed by Melati Citrawireja, a summer 2015 photography intern for Berkeleyside. Don’t miss her stories on textile designer Amy KeeferSt. Hieronymus Press, the workspace of David Lance Goines; Klaus-Ullrich Rötzscher and the Pettingell Book Binderycoppersmith Audel Davis; and ethnobotanist and natural fabric dyer Deepa Natarajan.

In many ways, Alice Rosenthal is like the honeybees to which she tends: hard-working, gentle and charismatic. She is a jack-of-all trades type of gal, using her construction skills to rescue wild bees from inconvenient locations, while also looking after more than 150 hives of her own that are interspersed throughout the East Bay. This is her life, and also a thriving business called Bee Happy Solutions.

A bee hive without its lid. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
A beehive without its lid. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

After joining the California Rare Fruit Growers in Los Angeles, Rosenthal became deeply interested in pollination and, hence, the busy critters that put in long hours to help make it happen. She later moved to the Bay Area and has since dedicated the last decade to helping bees thrive in an urban setting.

She has truly become a bee whisperer. Rosenthal is an expert in both beekeeping history and in the complexities behind how hives function. The best part: the bees are enamored with her, and she with them. She is meticulous with her work and even lets the bees crawl over her bare skin as she tends to their hives.


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Rosenthal inspects a hive frame. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Rosenthal scrapes bee propolis from a hive frame. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Rosenthal scrapes bee propolis, a resinous mixture that bees use as a sealant, from a hive frame. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

“Urban beekeepers just want our bees to survive,” she says. This isn’t always easy, but she emphasizes steering away from chemicals, trusting that bees “who have survived for hundreds of thousands of years” will figure things out naturally.

When purchasing honey, she recommends unheated, unfiltered honey from a local beekeeper, which is how her own product comes.

“Everyone should buy what they eat from someone they can look in the eye,” says Rosenthal.

She says one customer has been coming to her religiously for eight years, swearing by her honey as an antidote for his springtime allergies.

Rosenthal’s honey is particularly special because she doesn’t blend it together. Instead she proudly sells neighborhood-specific jars, embracing each geographic location with its own distinct taste. Her honey and bee pollen can be purchased from her home near Ashby BART (you can set a pick-up time through email), or at Three Stone Hearth on University Ave.


Rosenthal smokes the hives to interfere with the bee's ability to smell. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Rosenthal smokes the hives to interfere with the the bees’ ability to smell. The smoke also mellows the bees. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Mellow honeybees after they’ve been smoked. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

“I think [bees] are pretty resilient when it comes to surviving. Personally, I think it’s the way the media reports what is going on. When they talk about the colony collapse, what they’re really talking about is the industrialization of farming and beekeepers that work in industrialized organization — they are having problems. But bees out in nature are always swarming. There will probably always be bees, but maybe not enough to pollinate the almond crops as thoroughly as they have in the past. And we’re always adding more almond crops,” she says with a wry chuckle.

If you need a swarm or hive relocated, would like to offer a space for her to establish hives (she is currently dreaming of a large vacant lot to house 20-plus hives), or just have a hankering for a jar of magic honey that tastes just like East Bay springtime, Rosenthal is your person.

A close up of a queen moments after emerging from her cell. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
A close up of a queen moments after emerging from her cell. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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The dark part of the hive is what the bees subsist on, called ‘bee bread.’ It is made up of a mixture of nectar and pollen. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Connect with Rosenthal at beehappysolutions@gmail.com.

Melati Citrawireja, a development studies undergraduate at UC Berkeley, is currently pursuing a career in visual journalism. She was a summer 2015 photo intern at Berkeleyside. More of her work can be found online at Melati Photography.

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