The Buzz-ness of LOLA Sonoma

It’s 4:30 a.m. Chris Melançon abandons his wife in the bedroom and wakes up the newest addition to the farm, Dharma, a cattle terrier puppy who is still too young to go to dog training.

He brews his Trung Nguyen coffee, which he has shipped in from Vietnam. The aroma of cocoa radiates throughout the kitchen as Dharma nibbles at his toes.

“Time to let the puppy out for the morning,” he said.

He pulls over a red scoop neck tee with the LOLA Sonoma logo imprinted in yellow, and laces up his work boots with his jeans sitting just above his ankles.

The morning sun is already peeking over the green redwood filled mountains in the distance as Chris wheels a rickety cart out of the garage overflowing with beekeeping equipment.

The cart squeaks and rattles through the industrial-sized metal gate, pass the pen of does and passes the mud-soaked Kunekune boars and their dozen piglets.

There is a slight breeze that makes the tall, brown grass sway while scratching Chris’ legs from the dried out California heat wave a week prior.

Five wooden hives stand near the edge of the farm. Inside, thousands of bees quietly zip around with the faint sound of buzzing is overwhelming with each passing bee.

When walking behind the wooden structures, the sweet and overwhelming smell of honey lingers in the nostrils of each passerby.

Chris suits up in a white protective jacket, a lab coat for beekeeping. He rips two pieces of blue duct tape from a fresh roll and wraps the adhesive side around his wrists to secure the coat to prohibit any bees from flying up his sleeves. He flips the veil of the coat over his face and zips himself closed. He’s now ready to take on the bees. The only thing he doesn’t put on is gloves.

“I’ve been stung too many times to count,” he said. “I’m immune to the sting now,” and he reaches for the handle of the wagon and enters the front line of speeding stingers.

Christopher and Lori Melançon run the place after the two had very successful careers. Lori worked in the pharmaceutical industry and Chris co-founded a Florida based environmental water treatment business, Spyglass Technologies that he is still CEO to.

Chris’ interest in beekeeping peaked in 2014 when he joined both the Sonoma County and San Francisco Beekeepers Associations. The organizations teach and promote responsible urban beekeeping. A year later, he joined the Marin County Beekeepers Association.

Chris, a native of New Orleans, grew up within the French-Cajun culture of Louisiana and is no stranger to the community markets. As Sonoma Valley locals, he and Lori venture to the town square every Tuesday night during the summer months to sell the farm’s fresh organic produce and freshly spun honey.

Chris slowly removes the roof from the hive being careful not to disturb the bees. He unholsters his metal bee smoker and presses down on the trigger. The smoke is released.

“The smoke calms the bees,” he said. “The smoke initiates a feeding response and when the bees begin to eat all the honey, they become almost drunk,” he said.

Chris collects the perfect hexagonal wax cells that the bees have produced onto the wooden trays.

“Each geometric cell is capped off with wax and inside is the honey,” he said.

Chris lays the trays back into the wagon, wheels it across the pasture, passes the does and the boars, through the industrial sized gate and back into the house. Inside the house is a large mechanical honey extractor. Chris removes the plexiglass lid, slides the trays into the cylinder and closes it back up. He grabs onto a handle and cranks the turbine faster and faster.

“Honey extractors work by centrifugal force,” he said. “The honey is extracted from the honeycomb without destroying the comb itself.”

The cylinder slowly comes to a stop and Chris removes the frames. All that is left in the metal extractor is golden-brown honey. He reaches for a mason jar and lowers it beneath the spigot of the extractor. A fine stream of sweet honey fills the jar.

He fills a half dozen more jars and packs up a box to be sold that night in town. He puts the box in the back of his red Toyota Prius, shuts the door and walks back toward the pasture.

“Lots more work to be done,” he said. “Let’s get to it.” Chris puts his arm around his wife and they plan out the rest of the work for the day.

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