Beekeeping In California – A Beginner’s Guide

A female beekeeper holding a bee smoker with a Californian almond orchard in the background

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.

A landscape photograph of developing orange trees in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada Range
A citrus orchard in California’s Sierra Nevada Range.

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>

Hives in the San Joaquin Valley, California, The almond orchards are flowering and bees are brought in to pollinate
Hives in an almond orchard in the San Joaquin Valley.

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>

An aerial shot of the Hollywood Hills in California, showing their yards.
Backyards in the Hollywood Hills, CA.

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.
Photo of beehives in front of a sunflower field in Esparto, California, in the state's agricultural Central Valley.
Hives next to crops in Esparto, California.

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.

Protective suit

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.

A selection of beekeeper tools on a white background
A selection of beekeeping tools.

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.

2. Packages

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.

A bee swarm on a tree branch
Bee swarms are free bees for experienced beekeepers.

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.

As the days lengthen post-winter solstice, brood nests start developing inside hives. The bee population is still declining during this time, so it’s essential not to disturb the hives by unnecessary inspections.

External hive examinations provide insight into the colony’s health, strength, and brood-rearing. Spotting pollen-carrying foragers suggests flowers from plants like eucalyptus, mustard, and manzanitas are blooming.

If the weather is favorable, add a super with several frames of empty drawn comb. The colony can store nectar on these frames instead of amongst the brood.

  • Conduct exterior hive inspections.
  • Observe bee activity.
  • Check hive entrances.
  • Plan for the upcoming spring.

February is a challenging transition period between winter and spring for bees. Brood production accelerates due to increased daylight hours and pollen availability, while bee populations are near their lowest.

Colonies consume their stores at a much higher rate, increasing the risk of starvation and high moisture.

Beekeepers should minimize hive inspections. Keep brood and nectar storage spaces well-managed and add supers when needed to prevent early swarming.

Springtime marks the start of the new year. Beekeepers should analyze why colonies failed during the winter and prepare for the new beekeeping season.

Inspect hives on warm days, ensuring you don’t impede colony growth. Closely manage brood and stay vigilant for spring diseases like chalkbrood or European foulbrood.

It is vital to provide enough space for brood nest expansion without separating brood and nurse bees from their stores. Early supering is encouraged to stay ahead of bees during the spring.

April is noteworthy for hive management as queens lay eggs rapidly, increasing bee populations. Weather allowing, there is heavy pollen and nectar availability.

It’s the season for overcrowded hives, leading to premature swarming. To counter this, ensure sufficient space within the hives for brood expansion and storage.

Brood production that began two months prior should be sustained by allowing further expansion of brood nests. This approach strengthens the colony, which then sends more foragers to flowers. To produce surplus honey, try to balance colony strength, weather, and local flora.

Regularly inspect hives, ensure enough food, monitor colony health, and watch for diseases.

  • Ensure proper air circulation.
  • Adjust hive entrances as needed.
  • Set swarm traps.
  • Divide hives if necessary.
  • Rear queens.
  • Weed in front of hives.
  • Discard old combs.
  • Render wax from discarded frames
  • Clean and scorch tools.

May often produces strong colonies, swarms, young queens, and honey flow. As brood nests expand rapidly, provide extra space to maintain colony growth.

Regular inspections can forewarn swarming and hive division can manage this.

By month’s end, most mature colonies’ brood nests reach their maximum size, but adult bee populations continue to increase.

As honey supers fill up, encourage comb-building to reduce the construction of unwanted bridge combs.

Follow April’s advice and additionally:

  • Harvest surplus early spring honey.
  • Follow up on earlier hive divisions.
  • Stay vigilant about spring diseases.

The brood nests have reached their peak size, but the adult bee population continues to rise. Foraging is ongoing, but as we approach the summer months, conditions like dearth and heat begin to take over.

Bees collect water to regulate hive temperature and humidity. Ensure easy access to water sources and shade, especially during the hotter parts of the day.

During spring to summer, inspections will focus more on honey supers.

  • Monitor colony health.
  • Manage honey supers.
  • Harvest surplus spring honey.
  • Provide sufficient hive ventilation.
  • Ensure water availability for bees.
  • Attend to queen-related issues.

With summer underway, beekeeping practices need to adapt to the changing conditions. Brood nest numbers may begin to dwindle. As nectar flow diminishes, foragers may become idle or attempt to rob weaker hives.

Beekeepers should ensure adequate hive ventilation, access to water, afternoon shade, and fire safety. They should also watch closely for signs of robbing and maintain vigilance in colony health and queen performance.

Honey surplus can also be harvested during this period. Tasks for July include similar activities as in June but emphasize hive safety against robbing and fire.

August typically presents a quieter period in the apiary. Honey supers continue to be monitored, and occasional honey harvesting may be possible.
The colonies prepare for winter, and the contrast between different hive locations becomes more apparent.

Beekeepers should continue to provide water sources and ensure adequate hive ventilation.

Yellow jackets start to pose a threat, and hives become more defensive. The beekeeper can support their colonies by reducing the hive entrances without affecting the ventilation.

Tasks for August focus mainly on managing the challenges of heat, yellow jackets, robbing, and maintaining overall colony health. It’s also a good time to extract and bottle summer honey.

Bee colonies prepare for winter, so beekeepers should identify those doing so efficiently and those that need help. The hives should decrease in size during fall.

Hive management should not interfere with the bees’ consolidation process for winter. Inspections will reveal which colonies are healthy and which need attention.

Healthy hives need minimal intervention beyond routine comb removal and moderate honey harvesting. Consider combining weaker hives.

Infestations, especially varroa mites, can be problematic. If requeening isn’t an option, you may need to let go of these hives. Beekeepers should stay on top of other problems like hot, dry days, food shortages, robbing, and yellow jackets.

  • Assess the queen, brood nests, and stores.
  • Monitor for yellow jackets and robbing.
  • Avoid hive manipulations that trigger robbing.
  • Provide water and ventilation.
  • Requeen or combine under-performing hives.
  • Reduce unused hive volume.
  • Extract and bottle honey.
  • Clean and scorch tools and equipment.

Winter preparation will greatly improve the colony’s chances of surviving winter. Honey and pollen stores, as well as healthy, well-fed “winter bees,” are imperative.

The size of the brood nest in October indicates the strength of the winter cluster. Refrain from adding brood space in the fall.

Inspections should confirm the queen’s status, health, hive organization, and stores. Beekeepers can remove old combs, eliminate excess space, reduce entrances, install mouse guards, clean monitoring trays, and secure hive tops.

Some colonies that are queenless or weak might require additional attention. Try feeding the bees or combining them with other colonies.

Complete winter preparation by the end of October. Keep hives secured against unexpected weather conditions.

The end of the beekeeping season in November involves preparing hives for winter survival and laying the groundwork for the next season.

There’s a delicate balance to maintain, ensuring fall hive management practices don’t interfere with natural selection.

Winter offers bees both rest and a chance to fend off varroa mites. Some colonies may fail by spring due to poor health, high parasite loads, or inadequate nutrition. Learning from your mistakes will make you a better beekeeper.

In December, bee populations drop significantly. Bees spend most of their time in clusters with little or no brood to rear. This is a period of rest for the colony.

Restrict hive interaction to a minimum, avoiding disturbances. Remove failed hives to prevent potential contamination of other colonies.

Clean or assemble equipment for the next season. It’s an excellent opportunity to catch up on research and read more about beekeeping.

  • Conduct exterior hive inspections.
  • Ensure adequate hive ventilation.
  • Verify the absence of mice.
  • Review the year’s notes to help with future planning.

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.

Wax moths

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.

Varroa mites

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

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.

American foulbrood

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.

Other pests to watch out for are mice, ants, yellowjackets, and raccoons.

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.

Bee hives in the San Joaquin Valley, California with green fields in the background
Hives in San Joaquin Valley, CA.

Facts about beekeeping in California

  1. Almond connection: Every year, almost 90% the commercial bee population in the United States is transported to California to pollinate its vast almond orchards.
  2. Beekeeping regulation: Beekeeping is regulated at the county level in California. Each area has its own rules and requirements.
  3. 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.
  4. Bee health challenges: California’s bees face numerous challenges, including pesticide exposure, Varroa mites, and diseases like American Foulbrood.
  5. 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.
  6. Bee theft: Due to the high demand for bees during the pollination season, hive theft is a problem in California.
  7. 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.
  8. Bee-friendly planting: Planting bee-friendly flowers and reducing pesticide use in your garden provides local bees with a helping hand.
  9. 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:

Beekeeping clubs and associations

Organization NameWebsite
California State Beekeepers
Alameda County Beekeepers
Los Angeles County Beekeepers
Orange County Beekeepers
Beekeepers Association of Southern
San Francisco Beekeepers
San Diego Beekeeping
Santa Barbara Beekeepers
Sacramento Area Beekeepers
Mount Diablo Beekeepers
Sonoma County Beekeepers
Marin County
Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers
Humboldt County Beekeepers
Big Valley Beekeepers
San Mateo County Beekeepers
Central Valley Beekeepers
Delta Bee

Universities and government entities

Organization NameWebsite
University of California, Davis, Honey and Pollination Center
University of California, Davis, Department of Entomology
California Department of Pesticide Regulation

Summing up

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.


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