Beekeeping starter guides are easy to find online, but they mainly provide general information that isn’t state-specific. You need local advice for seasonal hive management and registration requirements.
That’s why we created this super-handy guide to beekeeping in California. From understanding the local regulations to getting your first hive buzzing, we’ve got you covered.
Is California a beekeeper-friendly state?
California is a land of golden opportunities for aspiring beekeepers. Its agricultural sector heavily relies on bees for pollination, making it a crucial state for beekeeping.
The almond industry alone requires the pollination services of almost 90%1 of America’s managed honey bee population during its bloom period each year.
- Commercial pollination services, honey production, and local markets for hive products are all lucrative opportunities for beekeepers.
- The state also has a strong network of local beekeeping associations that provide support, education, and resources for beekeepers of all experience levels.
- California has several local and state initiatives aimed at preserving bee populations. These include research projects, educational programs, and conservation efforts.
- The BeeWhere initiative links beekeepers with pesticide applicators to improve communication and reduce bee poisoning.
The University of California provides detailed resources and research on the honey bee. Institutions like the University of California, Davis, have programs dedicated to studying bees and their challenges.
California is one of the top states for the number of apiculture classes. It also boasts healthy bees with average annual colony losses lower than most.
Beekeeping registration in CA
Understanding your legal requirements for keeping bees in California is essential. Conduct research before investing any money. That way, you’ll know what you can and can’t do.
Beekeeping is regulated at the state and local levels. The state agency is the California Apiary Inspection Service (TAIS). You must also consult local laws to determine whether bees are allowed on a property.
California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)
The California Food and Agricultural Code oversees the apiary industry. It helps beekeepers while protecting the welfare of the public and crops that require pollination.
Beekeepers in California must register their bees annually with their local County Agricultural Commissioners. Authorities should be notified within three days of hive relocations. This communication keeps pesticide applicators in the loop and helps reduce pesticide incidents.
The law states:
- “Every California and out-of-state beekeeper who moves bees into the state or comes into possession of an apiary must register with the appropriate County Agricultural Commissioner.
- Hives must be identified by a prominently displayed sign and are stenciled with the owner’s name, address, and phone number.
- Any apiary operator, or his or her designated representative, must notify the County Agricultural Commissioner if a colony of bees is relocated within the county.
- The County Agricultural Commissioner must be notified within 72 hours if a beekeeper relocates a colony of bees from one county to another county.”
Any pesticide applicator intending to use bee-toxic chemicals on a blossoming plant must inquire of the commissioner or a commissioner-designated notification service before application. Any apiaries within one mile of the application site may have requested notification of any pesticide applications.
For more detailed information and to register hives visit>
Important: While we try to keep this information current, it can change anytime, and we are not legal experts. This guide offers general information and not legal advice. Download this document to research bee laws in California.
Beekeeping regulatory costs in California
The annual registration fee is $10 per beekeeper to keep bees in California. This is paid to the local County Agricultural Commissioner at the time of registration.
The fee is not based on the number of hives, so if you have 100 hives, it will still cost $10.
If you’re ready to start beekeeping, registration is quick and straightforward. You can receive notifications whenever toxic chemicals will be applied near your apiary or opt out of notifications.
You can make payment to your local Agricultural Commissioner’s office or online. Find your local office here>
Can I keep bees in my backyard in a residential area in California?
Beekeeping laws and restrictions vary by zip code in California, so research the rules in your town before starting.
Here is an example of regulations in the City of Los Angeles:
(a) The person who is the owner of or in possession of an apiary is registered as a beekeeper with the County of Los Angeles Agricultural Commission.
(b) The number of hives is limited to one for every 2,500 square feet of lot area.
(c) Hives are not located in the required front yard of a lot, including through lots.
(d) Hives are located a minimum of five feet from the front, side, and rear lot lines and a minimum of 20 feet from public rights-of-way or private streets.
(e) Hive entrances face away from, or parallel to, the nearest lot line adjacent to another lot
(f) A six-foot wall, fence, or hedge is located between hives and adjacent lots, or hives are placed at a minimum of eight feet above ground level of the adjacent lot. The purpose of this provision is to provide a solid barrier to help direct bees over six feet above ground level when departing the lot to minimize interactions between bees and individuals in the vicinity.
(g) A water source for bees shall be provided at all times on the property where the bees are kept to discourage bee visitation at swimming pools, hose bibs, and other water sources on adjacent public or surrounding property.
Download a backyard beekeeping laws pdf here>
Sources of forage for bees in California
- Almonds: California grows nearly 80% of the world’s almond supply, and each January those trees requires bee pollination. Almond blossoms are the first major source of nectar and pollen for bees after winter, drawing beekeepers from across the country who rent their hives to almond growers.
- Grapes: Grapevines are self-pollinating and don’t require pollinators to fruit. However, cover crops like clover and mustard are grown next to the vines to improve soil quality, reduce erosion, and suppress weeds. These supplementary crops provide essential food sources for bees.
- Cherries: Californian farmers harvest over 9 million 18-lb packs of cherries in May and June. With 40,000 acres of cherry orchards, that’s a lot of pollen and nectar with high sugar concentrations. San Joaquin County has expansive tracts of cherry plantations.
- Apples: With roughly 40,000 acres of apple orchards in Cali, the state has plenty of forage for honey bees. They’re grown in the Sierra foothills, coastal mountains, and north and south of the San Francisco Bay area. The Central Valley and San Joaquin Valley are also leading producers of many apple varieties.
- Citrus Fruits: Oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus crops don’t directly benefit from the presence of bees. That’s because most varieties are self-pollinating. However, the forage resources provided by citrus bloom are significant for beekeepers in spring.
- Walnuts: Over 700,000 tons of walnuts are grown in the bear flag state. It is the biggest producer in the U.S., and roughly 400,000 acres of flowering trees provide a bounty of forage in April and May. The Central Valley area’s deep fertile soils and mild climate make it a popular location for walnut growers and apiaries.
- Avocados: Most avocado varieties benefit from cross-pollination, and bees are one of the primary pollinators. The coastal climate of southern and central California has resulted in vast areas of avocado farming.
- Berries: Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries all benefit from bee pollination. Pollinators increase the yield and fruit quality of berry fruit. While bees throughout the Golden State will have access to berries, most commercial farms are in San Joaquin Valley.
- Melons: California grows around 75% of the nation’s cantaloupes. The crops are mostly found in the Southern Desert Area and from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Beekeepers in these areas can offer their bees a buffet of pollen and nectar from late spring to early summer.
- Other plants: Besides commercial crops, there are other bee-friendly foraging sources like lavender, manzanita, wild mustard, eucalyptus, poppy, star thistle, and buckwheat.
Equipment and hive setup
Beekeeping beginners will need equipment to get started. Below is a helpful starting list of essential tools and gear:
A selection of tools for specific beekeeping tasks will make inspections much easier. The hive tool is a simple, low-cost device essential for many jobs, like prying apart frames and scraping off propolis. Bee brushes, frame grips, smokers, and queen excluders are also everyday items in the beekeeper’s tool kit.
Hives come in varying designs, sizes, and price ranges, so find the best option for your bee yard. The popular options are Langstroth, Top Bar, Warre, and Flow Hives. Here’s our rundown of popular hive options worth your consideration.
A beekeeping suit combined with a veil and gloves will protect you from most aggressive bees. Experienced beekeepers may prefer to go without, but we recommend full protection for beginners.
Read our article on the costs to get started beekeeping for more details.
Getting bees in California
After getting the apiary setup, you’ll need to source bees. It is well worth contacting beekeeping clubs in your area for local bee supplier recommendations and tips.
The California State Beekeepers Association is a great starting point, offering contacts and advice. Local clubs may offer courses about getting bees and recommend trusted sellers. Refer to our list of clubs down the page for more details. Jump down to clubs>
Tip: We recommend getting overwintered bees from a local seller if they’re available. They have already survived a winter and will deal best with local climate and threats.
3 popular ways to acquire bees:
1. Nucleus Colonies (Nucs)
A nucleus is a small functioning colony with workers, brood, food stores, and a fertile queen. They’re a handy choice for beginners and have a good chance of success, but they cost more.
A package will get you a few pounds of bees and a fertile queen. This option is cheaper than a nuc, and there’s less risk of spreading diseases. But introducing bees to unfamiliar comb means they could abscond.
3. Capturing a swarm
Swarms are a cheap way to acquire bees but require expertise to catch. We don’t advise this option for beginners. Those with experience can learn how to catch swarms here.
Where to place your hives
Placing hives in the right spot will greatly help your bees. Locate them in a spot with morning sunlight to encourage early foraging activity.
Avoid damp gullies but try to offer the hives partial shade as it helps the colony on stifling summer days.
Protection from unfavorable weather conditions like strong winds is essential. Also, ensure the site is accessible year-round for hive inspections and honey harvesting.
California beekeeping calendar
Beekeeping in California is a year-round commitment, with tasks varying each month. Click a month below for more details on what needs to be done.
Note: California is a big state with contrasting climates depending on whether you’re on the coast, in the valleys, or up in the mountains. You should check beekeeping calendars targeted at your local area for more accurate advice.
Challenges for Californian beekeepers
Like many areas, California bees face significant challenges, including habitat loss, pesticide exposure, climate change, and disease.
These issues are complex, and solutions often involve policy changes, improved farming practices, and increased public awareness about the importance of bees.
Planting more pollinator-friendly plants, investing in natural bee habitats, and reducing reliance on chemicals will also help.
Threats to honey bees in California
Monitoring bee health is an important responsibility for any beekeeper. Like any livestock, bees are impacted by various pests and diseases.
In California, some threats include the following:
Bears can pose a serious threat to beehives. They destroy hives to get brood and honey. Beekeepers in bear-prone areas often use electric fencing to protect their hives. Learn more about stopping bears getting to a hive here.
Small hive beetle
Small Hive Beetles (Aethina tumida) are an invasive pest harmful to beehives. Their larvae feed on bee larvae, pollen, and honey, causing severe damage. They defecate in the comb, producing fermented honey that must be tossed out. Learn how to prevent SHB here.
The larvae of these insects feed on wax, causing significant structural damage to comb. Wax moths devastate weak bee colonies, but strong colonies with good housekeeping usually keep them under control. We reveal how to identify wax moths here.
These parasitic mites threaten weak hives and spread viruses. Regular hive inspections for mite levels are essential. Non-chemical and chemical methods can manage mite populations. Check out our guide to varroa mite treatment here.
Tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi) are parasites that reproduce inside the trachea of honey bees. Bees become weak and struggle to fly, leading to early death. These mites spread rapidly within bee colonies and may result in significant losses.
Nosemosis is a fungal infection affecting the bee’s digestive system. It is managed through maintaining healthy hives, but approved medications are available in some countries.
This bacterial disease is highly contagious and lethal to bee brood. Infected colonies must be destroyed to prevent spreading. Immediately report any instances of AFB to the authorities.
Commonly asked questions
Do I need to register bee hives in California?
Beekeepers in California must register their apiary, regardless of the number of hives. There is a $10 fee, paid annually.
What is the best time of year to start beekeeping in California?
It is best to start beekeeping in early spring in California. This timing gives the new colony time to establish itself and store food for the coming winter.
How many hives should I start with?
We recommend starting with at least two hives if funds allow. If one colony fails, the beekeeper can compare hive performance and still have bees to work with.
Can I make a living from beekeeping?
Commercial beekeeping can be lucrative, but it requires a lot of hives and a solid understanding of bee health and honey production.
Some Californian beekeepers derive income from pollination services. Beginners are best to start beekeeping as a hobby and gradually expand as their knowledge develops.
Facts about beekeeping in California
- Almond connection: Every year, almost 90% the commercial bee population in the United States is transported to California to pollinate its vast almond orchards.
- Beekeeping regulation: Beekeeping is regulated at the county level in California. Each area has its own rules and requirements.
- Honey production: California is among the top honey-producing states in the U.S., with a diverse range of honey types due to the state’s varied flora.
- Bee health challenges: California’s bees face numerous challenges, including pesticide exposure, Varroa mites, and diseases like American Foulbrood.
- Native bees: California is home to around 1,600 species of native bees. These bees are important pollinators, and their conservation is a critical environmental concern.
- Bee theft: Due to the high demand for bees during the pollination season, hive theft is a problem in California.
- Drought and wildfires: California’s increasing issues with drought and wildfires negatively impact bee forage and health. Beekeepers need to plan their bee yards with this in mind.
- Bee-friendly planting: Planting bee-friendly flowers and reducing pesticide use in your garden provides local bees with a helping hand.
- Swarm catching: Many local beekeeping associations offer swarm-catching services. It is a great way for beekeepers to acquire free bees and for the public to have swarms removed safely.
Useful resources for Californian beekeepers
Becoming a successful beekeeper in California is easier with expert advice from experienced beekeepers. Here are some local associations and clubs to enhance your beekeeping game:
- California State Beekeepers Association
- American Beekeeping Federation
- American Honey Producers Association
Beekeeping clubs and associations
|California State Beekeepers Association||www.californiastatebeekeepers.com|
|Alameda County Beekeepers Association||www.alamedabees.org|
|Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association||www.losangelescountybeekeepers.com|
|Orange County Beekeepers Association||www.ocbeekeepers.org|
|Beekeepers Association of Southern California||www.beekeepersassociationofsoutherncalifornia.org|
|San Francisco Beekeepers Association||www.sfbee.org|
|San Diego Beekeeping Society||www.sandiegobeekeepingsociety.com|
|Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association||www.sbba.org|
|Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association||www.sacbeekeepers.org|
|Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association||www.diablobees.org|
|Sonoma County Beekeepers Association||www.sonomabees.org|
|Marin County Beekeepers||www.marinbeekeepers.org|
|Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild||www.beeguild.org|
|Humboldt County Beekeepers Association||www.humboldtbeekeepers.org|
|Big Valley Beekeepers Guild||www.bigvalleybeekeepersguild.org|
|San Mateo County Beekeepers Guild||www.sanmateobeeguild.org|
|Central Valley Beekeepers Association||www.centralvalleybeekeepers.org|
|Delta Bee Club||www.deltabeeclub.com|
Universities and government entities
|University of California, Davis, Honey and Pollination Center||https://honey.ucdavis.edu/|
|University of California, Davis, Department of Entomology||https://entomology.ucdavis.edu/|
|California Department of Pesticide Regulation||https://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/enforce/pollinators/|
Beekeeping in California is a significant agricultural activity, pivotal in the state’s economy and agricultural production. However, the beekeeping industry faces challenges such as colony collapse disorder, pesticide exposure, drought, and wildfire risks.
Although there are challenges, the state’s beekeepers enjoy robust honey production. Innovative practices like hive tracking technology, integrated pest management, and landscape diversity enhancement help improve bee health and productivity. Regulatory efforts to safeguard bees also help build a sustainable future for beekeeping in California.
We recommend getting expert advice if you’re considering taking up beekeeping as a hobby or commercially. It’s possible to go it alone, but knowledge from beekeeping clubs is well worth the low-cost membership fee.