The Art of Urban Beekeeping

The thing about San Francisco is that the people who live here are rarely actually from here. And the great thing about the diversity it creates is that it makes very interesting people (…myself included!). I worked with a designer who was an underground DJ, a project manager at work who lived in the Congo, and a lawyer who has a side business doing gourmet Japanese catering.

There’s nothing

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better than surrounding yourself with people who have so much passion for what they do, either at the job or outside of it.

See all the photos »
Potrero Community Garden Website »

Meet Tom the Beekeeper

Meet Tom. He’s works at
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a product design firm during the week, and is a beekeeper on weekends. I forgot to ask him how he got into it, but I think it’s a very interesting (and ancient!) hobby.

The Community Garden

Tom lives in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco, where there’s a community garden. Land is scarce in San Francisco so community gardens are actually quite common. According to Tom, this particular garden started in 1971, and is the last community garden in San Francisco that is not under lock and key. This is where he tends his beehives.

The garden overlooks a large part of the city, and is a nice, quiet oasis away from the urban scene.

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this is…20th street? I’m not sure. Anyway, gorgeous view.

You would never guess that such an large city would have such lush, beautiful gardens. (Full of free produce! Ah, my dream.)

This is my first time seeing an artichoke plant. They’re actually very ugly, weed-looking things.

A huge zucchini! You know, the zucchinis I had in my yard growing up were also this big, and other people I know who grow zucchini also have zucchinis this big. I’m wondering if they are normally this large, but they sell the mini version in the supermarket because no one can finish a large one? (I can, though).

I really like this picture of tomatoes.

Mike hates this photo, he thinks it’s too feminine. Well, I like it anyway. It looks like the sunflower is smiling back.

It was actually sunny in San Francisco for once.

Tending the Hive

Here’s Tom and Eliz suiting up. I’m allergic to certain bug bites (not sure which ones), so to be safe, I stayed well away from the bees.

Here’s the smoker that was used to get the bees out of the hive. Smoke comes out when the box is squeezed.

Here’s a video that Mike made of how it was done:

Tom gets all his supplies via mail order.

Tom and Eliz walking back with frames from the hive, heavy with honey.

Tom slicing off the excess honeycomb – called the “spur comb” from the frame. It was SO good!

This is the top cover of the hive.

Tom removing frames from the beehive:

Putting frames in a crate. Very sticky.


Here’s the top cover of the hive again, with a closeup view of the sides of the frames in the box. These eventually go into a centrifuge so that the honey spins out. Tom gets about 3 gallons of honey each time.

Brushing the bees off the frame.

Here we are, walking through the garden. Shannon is holding a frame to feel how heavy it is.

Placing a frame in the crate for transportation.

Look…you can see the actual honeycomb pattern.

The frame is not completely empty. There are two wires that run the length of the frame, so that the frames won’t collapse inward while in the centrifuge.

A wooden box was also used for transporting the frames.

Bringing the honey home

So fresh, and so delicious.

We took some honey home.

Ohhhh yeah. I like this photo too.

Mike was kind of hungry.

Tom: Thanks for inviting us!

See all the photos »
Potrero Community Garden Website »


Got something to say? Feel free, I want to hear from you! Leave a Comment

  1. HKT says:

    The honey looks really good! I like the tomato shot too :)

  2. My dad is a beekeeper! Pretty well known in the Bay Area for it too =)

  3. Paula Chang says:

    Yeah! I was thinking about how you told me that. So cool :)

  4. Reimers says:

    Did you know the smoke makes them think their hive is on fire and makes them gorge on their honey? They tend to food coma and BEE less aggressive hahahaha

  5. Mike says:

    Being in SF, we thought maybe some pot smoke for the bees…but then they might eat even more!

  6. You pick zucchini when they are small for two reasons. The first is that your production will be greater if the vegetables don’t consume so much of the plant’s energy. The second reason is that the larger veg has a higher moisture content and will make cooking it very soggy and less flavorful. Don’t let them get that big, girl!

  7. Paula says: (Author)

    @The Furry Godmother

    Ah, thanks so much! I had no idea.

  8. Tom says:

    Hey Paula, these are great bee pics. As you can imagine, I’ve got quite a stack of pics people have sent me over the years, but they’re mostly poor snapshots. These are really crisp with great composition and vibrant color. you’re welcome to take pics of Deez Beez any ol time.

  9. Paula says: (Author)


    Thanks! I would love to take photos of the bees again.

  10. Sarah Lynn says:

    These photographs are beautiful! You are very talented. Looks like you guys had fun visiting too. I wanted to say I really love the rabbits on the bottom of your blog as well. I’ve never see Twitter utilized that way before. Very inventive!

  11. jac says:

    Tom, I’m a new beekeeper on Potrero Hill and would love to get together for some bee talk. Please email if you’re willing – jaccherry @ yahoo.

  12. Large Pot says:

    This is so interested! Where can I find more like this?

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