Everyone is worried about the bees. Since colony collapse started being recognized as in issue in the 2007, the word is out that bees may be in trouble. Yet, and maybe because of, there are more beekeepers than ever. Florida has over 4,000 colonies or hives and that has steadily increased over the last few years. 3 out of 4 of those beekeepers are considered backyard beekeepers with less than 10 colonies. The news is good but long-time beekeepers will tell you the rules have changed. Pest like Varroa destructor, a mite that feeds on honey bees and their larvae and often weakens the whole hive, has increased the difficulty of beekeeping. Still backyard beekeeping, with the allure of harvesting golden honey, keeps the dream alive.
A Queen Bee is surrounded by her court. Photo by David Austin
Where I reside, in the Heartland of Florida, honey bees are quite abundant. The reason is we sit in the heart of citrus country. Every year, northern beekeepers bring down thousands of hives to enjoy the fruits of the honey bee’s labor. The massive nectar flow from citrus flowers bring an abundance of the premium sought after orange blossom honey. Unlike crops like almonds, which require bees for pollination, most citrus varieties are self-pollinating. The beekeepers are the ones that reap the most benefits and they are eager to get a spot near the citrus groves. Coincidentally, when the bees are here, is when the spring swarming is at full tilt. Swarming is a natural occurrence whereas the queen takes off, with many of the bees. The bees that stay behind produce a new queen while the old queen searches for a new home. The result is plenty of feral or escaped colonies for would be beekeepers to gather and put in their own hive boxes.
Beekeeping is for the brave at heart!
A foraging honey bee checks out a Salvia flower. Photo by David Austin
For me it was the love of honey that drove me forward. Everyone has their motivation. One gentleman, whose wife wanted to try beekeeping, wasn’t so thrilled with the idea. It wasn’t long before he bought himself a suit and took over the endeavor. Like everything, there is work involved. If you’re like me, when the first crop of honey comes in, you’ll be finding yourself wanting more. Luckily there is a local Beekeeping Association, based in Sebring, that can lend support to new beekeepers. Seasoned beekeepers and backyard beekeepers gather together on the 3rd Thursday of every month at 7 pm in the Agriculture Civic Center for the Heartland Beekeepers Association’s meetings. There, they trade stories and ideas on taking care of their honey bees. Not everyone in the group is a beekeeper. Some come to learn and others intend on getting started but haven’t made the jump. Annually a bee course is offered by Heartland Beekeepers Association and the University of Florida’s Institute of Agricultural Science to train want-a-bee beekeepers in the finer details of the art. This year, the course is January 13th, a Saturday. For information on taking the class email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to Eventbrite by clicking this link: https://highlandsbeginningbeekeeping.eventbrite.com