by Jen Stanfield
Many of you know that Sonoma Land Trust properties often include infrastructure — like roads, buildings and fences — in addition to beautiful and important natural resources. Occasionally, Land Trust staff must turn their attention to maintaining the built environment on our preserves. One such opportunity arose last year at our beloved Glen Oaks Ranch when the septic leach lines serving the ranch house failed. After the telltale burbling inside the house and a definitive diagnosis by a plumbing professional, we embarked on the task of fixing it.
I could expound here on the process of septic repair. I could describe the waiting room fittings of the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management department, the surprising amount and variation of paper sizes involved in septic design and permitting, or the minimum length requirements for leach lines serving a 2 bedroom, 1 bath bungalow, but I sincerely doubt that information is what brought you to our blog. So I’ll restrain myself.
But why do I bring it up here, only to follow with “nah, not interesting”? Well, my friend, the answer is … BEES!
Near the ranch house is a grizzled walnut tree that gazes sedately at its equally aged and tattered neighbor, an almond tree. Once, during one of my regular visits to the property, I was delighted to discover that the old walnut is home to a thriving hive of honeybees. Over the last two years, I’ve taken a lot of pleasure observing them.
My fascination was not, however, shared by the septic contractor. After signing a contract and beginning work, the contractor notices the hive and refused to continue the project until the bees were out of the area. This left us with open trenches, a very large pile of gravel and abandoned excavating equipment, not to mention the yet-to-be repaired leach lines that serve the building’s full-time occupant. It seemed we had to decide between preserving the precious bees or taking care of human’s needs. But the thought of damaging the hive or removing the bees was impossible to accept. Within our work truck, existential debates about the relationship between humans and nature ensued; we nicknamed the standoff, “Bee Gate.”
Luckily, our stewardship team was able to think and act fast. After a series of rapid phone calls, we engaged the services of an experienced beekeeper. The solution proved relatively simple: Wait until the evening when most of the bees had returned to the hive after a day of foraging and then cover the hive entrance with a metal screen. The screen allowed air to circulate to the bees and could be left in place for several days — coincidentally, just long enough to finish the leach line installation.
With the bees safely secured, the contractor agreed to return to Glen Oaks Ranch and finish the job. After a few days of nail biting (and a dream about trapped bees by yours truly) the leach lines were in place and the bees could be released. The project concluded, the hive returned to its productive hum and we were left to chuckle over the idiosyncratic pairing of septic repair and bees. Life at Glen Oaks resumed its normal course with an increased appreciation for functioning plumbing and the quiet buzzzzzzzz of bees preparing for winter.
My sincere thanks to Nick Johnson and Frank Dono for providing pro bono layout and design services for the repair, Fraser Ross for sticking it out at PRMD to secure the permit and Michael Turner of Marin Coastal Bee Company for his quick response and expertise.
Jen Stanfield is a stewardship assistant project manager at Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.