Hector Alvarez of Hector’s Honey Farm just may be the James Brown of local agriculture. Granted, he doesn’t sport a satin cape or fall to his knees in faux heartbreak. But when you look at his schedule–nine farmers markets a week at the height of the season–it’s hard to argue that he’s not the hardest working man in farming.
Although Alvarez is best known for his award-winning honeys, honeycomb and bees wax candles, he has been growing produce, as well, for the last ten years, when he purchased a three-acre farm and home on Fulton Rd. in Santa Rosa. His current harvest includes several varieties of cucumbers, including lemon cucumbers, Armenian cucumbers and several unfamiliar varieties he planted for the first time this year. He has summer squash, sweet red onions, garlic, dried chiles from last fall’s harvest and blackberries. His eggs, from a large diverse flock of hens, are deservedly popular. Soon there will be cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, five varieties of potatoes, poblanos and other fresh chiles and winter pumpkins and squashes, including excellent spaghetti squash, which he usually has through spring.
Alvarez is about to expand again. Not quite two years ago, he acquired a second property, 14 acres on River Rd., where he plans to open a farm stand. He is a member of FarmTrails and accepts customers at the current location, though hours are limited.
Despite his expansion into crop production, beekeeping and the production of honey remain at the heart of Alvarez’s endeavors. You could even say it is in his blood. His grandfather and father kept bees in Mexico and although both were primarily hobbyists, his father produced honey commercially for a time. Alvarez moved to Sonoma County in 1984 and began keeping bees almost immediately.
These days, Alvarez has anywhere between 700 and 900 hives, depending on the time of year. The number of hives fluctuates in part because it is natural for populations to decline in the winter months. But Alvarez, like almost every other beekeeper today, must struggle with colony collapse, a syndrome in which a hive of bees suddenly dies off, often without an apparent cause.
“We don’t know for sure,” he says, “but sometimes the problem is mites and sometimes, we think, it has to do with pesticides.” It isn’t possible, of course, to prevent bees from visiting contaminated flowers.
The bees–which are officially considered livestock–spend all but about three weeks of the year in Sonoma County. Each spring, Alvarez loads the supers, as constructed hives are called, onto flatbed trucks and drives them to the Central Valley near Sacramento, where the bees work the almond bloom. Without pollination by bees, there would be no almonds.
Back home, the supers are moved here and there, following the bloom, so to speak, to create the varietal honeys for which Alvarez is best known. These days, he produces six types, lavender, star thistle, wild flower, blackberry, eucalyptus and purple vetch. Along with the varietals honeys, Alvarez also offers velvety creamed honey, honeycomb, bee pollen, and beeswax candles in a variety of shapes.
If you’ve never had this unprocessed honey, you owe it to yourself to indulge. The varietal variations are quite remarkable and there is a purity to this honey, a brightness, that is quite surprising if all you know is processed supermarket honey. My favorite is the creamed honey, which is extraordinary slathered over buttery toast. (To really make the flavors blossom, sprinkle a few grains of kosher salt on top.)
Hector’s Honey Farm, founded in 1984, attends the Healdsburg farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday, the Sonoma Valley farmers market on Friday, the Valley of the Moon farmers market on Tuesday evenings, the Petaluma farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday, the Sebastopol farmers market on Sunday, the Windsor farmers market on Thursday and Sunday, the Wednesday Night Market in Santa Rosa and the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market (at the Wells Fargo Center) on Wednesday and Saturday. To purchase direct from the farm, which is located at 2794 Fulton Rd., Santa Rosa, call 579-9416