Beauty of the Bees: A Conversation with Peter Moskovits

Written by Wendy Chou · October 25, 2023

Acterra recently had the chance to speak with Bay Area resident Peter Moskovits about his journey into the fascinating world of beekeeping — and how he strives to make it a more sustainable endeavor. The interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

[Wendy Chou] How did you get started with beekeeping? What inspired you?

[Peter Moskovits] My foray into beekeeping started about ten years ago, quite unexpectedly, during a casual encounter at my job in Silicon Valley. I noticed a colleague passing along a jar of homemade honey to another person. The concept was new to me; I had no idea that beekeeping could be a backyard hobby. Intrigued, I asked more about it, and what followed was a deep dive into the world of beekeeping.

I initially volunteered to help with honey extraction, which gave me my first close look at a beehive. The experience was quite eye-opening. I realized there was a lot more to learn about how bees create honey and how it ends up in a jar, ready for use.

I started reading books and watching YouTube videos on the subject. By the next spring, I had set up my first two colonies in my backyard. Looking back, it amazes me how a simple jar of honey sparked a journey into what is now a sustainable beekeeping business.

peter moskovits holds a freshly harvested honey frame

Can you share any memorable insights you’ve gained through your interactions with bees?

In the initial stages when I had just installed my first two colonies in their new home, I spent many hours during the first couple of weeks observing them at the entrance of the hives. It was really interesting to see the bees perform what’s known as an orientation flight, a critical activity where they learn the location of their new home before venturing out on their first foraging trip. They would hover near the hive entrance, moving in what seemed like a random, zig-zag pattern, but I knew this was an essential part of their adaptation process.

Another standout moment was witnessing the bees return from their foraging trips with pollen sacs of differing hues on their hind legs. The pollen ranged from white to almost black. It was an indication of the diverse sources of pollen available in the surroundings and was a special moment that underscored the vibrancy and intricacies of bee life.

A bee snacks on honey at the hive entrance.

What unique qualities does locally sourced honey bring to the table? How does it differ from commercially available honey?

Consuming locally-sourced food is becoming increasingly important for many people, and this is particularly true for honey. Bees produce honey using the flowers available in their immediate surroundings, so when you opt for local honey, you are literally getting a taste of your local environment. Bees gather nectar from plants within a 3-mile radius of their hive. In other words, if you live within 3 miles of a beekeeper, it’s likely that the honey you’re enjoying comes from the flowers in your own neighborhood, showcasing the bees’ remarkable ability to locate the best sources of nectar nearby.

Furthermore, honey sourced from suburban areas tends to have lower exposure to pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, as individuals are less likely to use these substances in their own yards, where their families spend time. This contrasts with honey collected from agricultural zones, where chemical usage is more prevalent.

Comparatively, commercial honey production often involves pooling honey from numerous apiaries and filtering it through fine mesh. This process removes enriching microparticles, including pollen, extending its shelf life but potentially reducing its nutrient content and complex flavors. By choosing local honey, you get a purer, richer product that reflects the biodiversity of your area.

How do you integrate sustainable practices into your beekeeping methods to minimize your environmental impact?

Our approach to sustainable beekeeping centers on a few key principles.

Firstly, we emphasize a zero-waste approach, respecting the tremendous effort bees invest in building comb and producing honey. We ensure that no product goes to waste, utilizing a manual crush and strain method instead of the conventional spinning extractor. This not only allows us to harvest every drop of honey but also enables the bees to build fresh combs annually, which is widely regarded as a more sustainable method. Moreover, this practice yields beeswax, which we then use to create products like hand salves and lip balms.



To make this all happen, we employ a solar wax melter to process the beeswax, which results in high-quality, light yellow beeswax without consuming additional energy resources.

Additionally, we focus on fostering self-sufficiency by nurturing locally adapted bees. We actively assist in the propagation of traits that enhance resistance to varroa mites, a significant threat to bee populations. This involves creating artificial swarms and colony splits in the spring, as well as breeding new queens from our strongest colonies. These queens then mate with the robust drones in the vicinity, contributing to a superior gene pool and promoting the health and vitality of the local bee population.

Thus, we strive to align our beekeeping practices to minimize waste and encourage local biodiversity.

What kinds of bees are involved in your operations and do they differ from other (native) bee populations? How do bees contribute to biodiversity and, as pollinators, how do these bees interact with local flora and fauna? 

Our operations keep the European honeybee, or Apis mellifera, which is the preferred species for most beekeepers due to its exceptional efficiency in nectar collection. Colonies of this species, which includes various subspecies like the Carniolan, Italian, and Russian, functions as a superorganism: the colony is working together as a unified entity. Their unique hoarding instinct allows them to gather much more honey than they consume, a trait that has made them a favorite of beekeepers and in agricultural pollination.

However, it’s essential to note that the proliferation of honeybees can sometimes overshadow native pollinators, such as solitary bees, monarch butterflies, and other local pollinators. These native pollinators are important in maintaining a vibrant ecosystem. To support them, we encourage communities to cultivate pollinator-friendly plants and create safe shelters like bee houses, which are sometimes known as bee hotels. These initiatives help foster a healthy, diverse pollinator population, promoting a balanced and thriving local flora and fauna.

Some community members avoid consuming honey for ethical considerations. How do you navigate the conversation around honey consumption for individuals who are committed to a vegan lifestyle while also recognizing the role bees play in ecosystem health?

I completely understand and respect the ethical concerns surrounding honey consumption, particularly within the vegan community. It’s crucial to note that bees are not domesticated creatures in the conventional sense. Left to their own devices, they would thrive just fine, inhabiting natural spaces like tree trunks. As beekeepers, our role is more of a guardian than a master; we aim to foster a mutually beneficial relationship with the bees, ensuring they don’t become dependent on human intervention.

In our small-scale apiary, we provide bees with a safe and welcoming habitat, which allows them more time to focus on nectar collection. Due to our region’s generally mild climate and the bees’ natural tendency to store surplus honey – more than they would consume over the winter – we are able to harvest this excess without depleting their essential reserves. Our approach is hands-off; we avoid using any chemicals, and we do not move our bees for pollination services. Essentially, we adhere to a philosophy of servant beekeeping, wherein our primary duty is to support and sustain the bees, rather than exploiting them.

Regarding individuals who adhere to a vegan diet for health reasons, honey occupies a somewhat unique space. The primary component of honey is plant-derived nectar, which the bees collect and then initiate fermentation with the introduction of microbes, ultimately producing honey. Depending on one’s interpretation of a plant-based diet, honey might still be an acceptable component.

honeybee collecting nectar from blooming orange tree.

How do you strike a balance between maintaining healthy bee populations and producing honey and products for consumption?

Our priority is always the health and welfare of our bee colonies, even if it means producing less honey. Since our venture is driven by passion, we firmly believe in putting the needs of the bees before our desire to harvest more products.

For instance, while pollen is known for its health benefits for humans, it is a vital source of nourishment for bee larvae. We’ve decided not to collect pollen from our colonies, as it would mean taking away essential nutrients from them. In the future, we might consider small-scale pollen collection, but only with the wellbeing of our bee colonies at the forefront of any decisions we make.

Do the social dynamics of the bees change over time in your hive? 

Yes, the behavior of honeybee colonies indeed changes as the year progresses. Around the winter solstice, they begin gearing up for the spring bloom, expanding in numbers to take advantage of the early nectar flow which starts as early as February in our region. During this period, there’s a hive-wide effort to build and prepare comb structures for the queen to lay her eggs. The queen will sometimes lay up to 2,000 eggs daily, a weight that surpasses her own.

In the latter part of spring, bee swarms are common as strong colonies initiate the process of division and relocation. Here, the queen leaves the nest with a significant portion of the worker bees, while the remaining bees nurture a new queen. If swarms are spotted, contacting a beekeeper to rehome them is advised.

As we move into summer, flower blooms decrease, especially in the Bay Area, causing a notable shift in the bees’ behavior. They begin preparations for the food scarce period, and their defense mechanisms heighten. We assist them in fortifying their hives against potential intruders, including other honeybee colonies that might attempt to rob them of their stores.

Winter presents a critical phase, with the surge in varroa mite populations becoming a significant threat to the colonies. We, along with many other beekeepers, implement various strategies to help the colonies withstand this period, anticipating that, with time, bees will adapt to coexist with these parasites without needing human intervention. Surviving the winter is a mark of strength, and we prioritize these resilient colonies in our breeding programs to encourage these hardy traits in future generations.

This started as a one-man project but it sounds as though you have grown in the past few years. How many people are now involved in your business? 

Initially, Honey by the Bay was a solo project, but it has blossomed into a family affair over the years. Today, my high school son, who possesses a deep understanding of bees, often assists me, providing valuable insights and participating in educational activities. His vibrant personality adds a unique touch to our bee stories. During the honey harvest season, the whole family pitches in, helping with various tasks such as extracting honey and beeswax, and packaging.

At present, I spearhead the operations as the chief (and sole) beekeeper, overseeing the bees and managing our website, which offers items including raw local honey, comb honey, and a variety of organic beeswax products.

peter’s local honey products.

Education is a powerful tool for change. How do you engage with your community to raise awareness about the importance of bees, sustainability, and responsible consumption?

In the initial days of my beekeeping journey, I was fortunate to have a mentor, Konrad, who guided me through various aspects of beekeeping. This invaluable experience, where I could learn hands-on with expert guidance, has inspired me to give back to the community in the same way.

Now, I actively engage with my community by mentoring beginner beekeepers, sharing my knowledge and experiences with them, and helping them navigate through their beekeeping journeys. This initiative not only fosters a sense of community and camaraderie but also serves as a platform to raise awareness about the critical roles bees play in our ecosystem, the importance of sustainability, and promoting responsible consumption.

Over the years, I’ve been able to mentor numerous new bee enthusiasts, many of whom have become close friends. Together we hope to cultivate a community that is well-informed and passionate about preserving and protecting our precious pollinators and the environment.

beekeepers at work.

What message would you like to share with individuals and communities who are eager to make a positive impact and support pollinators?

For those looking to support pollinators, it’s crucial to consider their fundamental needs: food and shelter. One way to contribute positively is by actively participating in local pollinator activities and initiatives. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends the following actionable steps to help pollinators thrive:

  • Engage in citizen science projects to contribute valuable data on pollinators in your area.

  • Involve children in these initiatives to foster awareness and appreciation from a young age.

  • Establish a pollinator garden that specifically caters to the needs of pollinators, providing them with necessary nutrients.

  • Keep an eye out for potential nesting sites in your locale, helping to safeguard these critical habitats.

  • Minimize pesticide usage to create a safer environment for pollinators.

  • Opt for organic produce, supporting farming practices that are gentler on pollinator populations.

By taking these steps, you can play a role in ensuring the survival and prosperity of vital pollinator species in your community.


a honeybee enjoys the nectar and pollen richness of a tree mallow (malva arborea)


Further Reading

Honeybee Democracy” by Thomas Seeley (to learn more about the fascinating social behavior of honeybees).

Peter Moskovits has nearly a decade of experience owning a micro-apiary on the San Francisco Peninsula called
Honey By the Bay. Their mission is to promote sustainable beekeeping, protect bees and their natural habitat, and share the joy of their bees with all. Honey By the Bay makes sustainably harvested raw local honey, comb honey, and bee cosmetics.

Wendy Chou
Wendy Chou
Coalition and Project Senior Manager

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