By GABRIELLA BOCK | Reporter
This summer has been sweet to Palisadian beekeeper Eli Lichter-Marck.
Last winter’s uncharacteristically wet season brought more plant life to bloom this spring, and with the extra rainfall came more food for the busy workers of Lichter-Marck’s business, Eli’s Bees.
“Last winter was good to all of us,” Lichter-Marck told the Palisadian-Post. “When the bees are happy, humans are happy.”
Bees—nature’s tiniest farmhands—are responsible for pollinating the planet’s rich variety of produce. Without them, humans would feed solely on a nutritionally deficient diet of mostly rice, soybeans and wheat.
In the state of California, our booming almond industry, alfalfa-fed cattle and sprawling fruit orchards require billions of bees to produce much of the food consumed by hungry people all over the nation.
From farmers to ranchers, bees are a natural wonder.
But for Lichter-Marck—who studied architecture at New York’s Columbia University—the interest in the flying insects came not by necessity, but by pure happenstance.
After traveling to Chile for an extended surf trip in 2010, Lichter-Marck exchanged labor for room and board with a South American beekeeper.
It was there that he stumbled upon a fascination that would eventually lead to his livelihood.
“I didn’t plan to become a beekeeper,” Lichter-Marck told the Post. “At first it was just a hobby that I had picked up during my travels. But after my dad asked me to remove a swarm from his home, I kept the bees and began growing my hives right here in Pacific Palisades.”
Lichter-Marck, who lives in the backcountry near Will Rogers State Park, explained that the Palisades’ climate is a “godsend” for beekeeping.
Just on his property alone, Lichter-Marck is able to keep hives in multiple different micro-climates.
Nearby, attractive toyon berry—also known as California holly or the Christmas berry—plants grow naturally beside a perennial creek while towering trees create a natural canopy that provide shade for just one of Lichter-Marck’s many apiaries.
“This area has a rich botanical history,” Lichter-Marck told the Post. “If you just look around you’ll see native plants—like the California pepper tree—growing right next to multi-story stalks of bamboo.”
Although a few feet from his property line, the creek area was gifted to Lichter-Marck by the late and loved Palisadian environmentalist Ethel Haydon.
Lichter-Marck later explained that the land was once used for the Haydon family nursery and had been instrumental in providing the landscaping for Disneyland’s 1955 opening.
If you venture a few hundred feet uphill to the Lichter-Marck residence, the sun sits closer to land with arid features that feel reminiscent of an old Athenian olive grove.
Apiculture’s long and celebrated history spans all the way to Ancient Greece (and Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.) and has played a substantial role in the diets of our ancestors.
Described as the “food of the gods” in Homer’s “Hymns to Hermes,” philosophers Aristotle and Democritus both maintained that people should nourish the body with honey to keep themselves long-lived and immune to disease.
Back in the Palisades, Lichter-Marck produced 1,200 pounds of the sweet stuff last year—a quantity he believes his bees will surpass this summer.
“The average harvesting season lasts February through June,” he noted. “But last winter’s wet season has our production year running well into August.”
But like in any specialized industry, Lichter-Marck’s yellow thumb didn’t come overnight.
“There was a period of a few years where I killed every bee I had,” Lichter-Marck told the Post. “Bees are very temperamental creatures and one false move can cause an entire hive to perish.”
Lichter-Marck explained that such factors—along with pesticides and the pervasive Varroa mite—play a large role in colony collapse, a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of a colony’s worker bees disappear and leave the queen behind.
Such tribulations brought Lichter-Marck to seek out Nevada County bee biologist Randy Oliver.
Oliver, who runs 1,000 to 1,500 hives in California and is a long-time contributor to the American Bee Journal, agreed to take Lichter-Marck under his wing under one condition: He wasn’t allowed to wear protective gloves.
It was a stipulation that Lichter-Marck continues to adhere to even four years after their lessons have concluded.
“I still get stung every day, but after awhile you just get used to the feeling,” Lichter-Marck said with a laugh. “Randy taught me that good management leads to healthy bees—so I’m sticking with it.”
In operation since 2013, Lichter-Marck’s business has seen exponential growth after starting out small with 16 hives.
To date, Lichter-Marck keeps 140 hives throughout the Palisades, Malibu and Topanga Canyon, with each hive playing home to an average of 55,000 honeybees.
A simple calculation revealed that the 31-year-old tends to an estimated 7.7 million bees—meaning Lichter-Marck provides a home to 1.9 bees per every Angeleno.
And those numbers continue to grow every time the young beekeeper performs a removal service for another Palisadian apiphobic.
“Our company exclusively uses one-way traps to perform live bee evacuations for people all around the Westside,” he said. “We remove the feral bees from the undesired location and then incorporate them into our own hives here.”
With so many able-bodied bees comes an ever-flowing supply of nature’s candy.
After years of trial and error, Lichter-Marck has finally found his “sweet spot” and is operating his personal honey factory at peak performance—a nearby restaurant has already purchased 1,000 pounds.
He’s even preparing to set up shop at the Pacific Palisades Farmers Market, where he can offer Palisadians a varietal taste of the unique honeys made right here in our own backyard.
“Honey makes people happy,” Lichter-Marck said with a smile. “I like making people happy. ”
For more information on Lichter-Marck and his bees, visit elisbees.com.