Got bees? According to the Department of Agriculture, there were over a hundred hobby beekeepers in Pinellas County in 2015, and the number is growing. In 2012, Florida’s Right to Farm Act was relaxed, allowing homeowners the right to keep bees in residential areas and as a result, beekeeping as a hobby is on the rise in the Sunshine State.
Today, beehives are tucked in backyards, on rooftops of businesses and nestled on farms and vacant lots all over our county. In Pinellas, beekeepers can have up to five hives on a quarter acre lot, where they can share their yard with some of nature’s most fascinating creatures. Each hive can house an approximate 20,000 bees, all focused on serving the queen, while producing the sweet flow of honey.
The first time you crack open a hive and stare down into a box of 20,000 humming bees, it can take your breath away. You are keenly aware that they were busy as, well, bees, working on their assigned task until you interrupted their progress. A little puff of smoke will help to keep them calm, and you’ll likely find yourself inhaling the scent of burning pine needles, murmuring, “Stay calm” to yourself as much as to the bees. Within a few moments, however, you’re mesmerized.
Everything revolves around the queen and the evidence of her industriousness is evident throughout the hive. Queens lay up to 2,000 eggs a day, and the worker bees set about caring for them during their stages of development. Bees are constantly in motion inside the hive – cleaning the hive, building comb, storing away the pollen and producing honey.
How do bees help our area? As you’re driving east on I-4, you may have noticed the rows of beehives next to meticulous fields of crops. Bees are pollinators and they spread pollen from one plant to another. This process of pollination gives us flowers, fruits and vegetables. Farmers can rent bees to help bolster pollination. Bees from our area have been shipped to California to help pollinate the almond crop and bees are instrumental in the success of apple and strawberry crops. Florida isn’t just a vacation destination for snowbirds, we’re also a prime location for overwintering bees, sent here by their keepers to enjoy the warm winter.
According to the Florida Farm Bureau, Florida is the third largest honey producer in the United States. Thanks to the Cottage Food guidelines, you can enjoy the fruits of your beekeeping neighbor’s labor by purchasing locally sourced honey at farmer’s markets and produce stands all over our area.
Locally, the Pinellas Beekeepers Association acts as a resource for backyard beekeepers, providing education and support. Monthly meetings, hands-on apiary training and other events are instrumental in providing guidance to everyone from “newbie” to expert level beekeepers. President Johnny Walker touts the hands-on experience as essential to the beekeeping journey. “Don’t wait to get stung, let our bees sting you so you can decide if beekeeping is for you!”
Interested in learning the art of keeping bees? Join the PBA for one of their monthly meetings and find out more about becoming a beekeeper. Visit their website for meeting schedules, information about bee removals and local honey sales.
How can you help our local bees?
Plant bee-friendly landscaping.
Eliminate the use of pesticides in your yard. Bees take chemicals back to their hive which can cause colony collapse and shocking numbers of bee casualties.
Relocate swarms and hives. If you have bees where they don’t belong, contact a registered beekeeper who is experienced with removals. Bee removals preserve the colony and help the bees find a more suitable home.
Provide water for the bees. A shallow dish with small rocks in the bottom is a great watering hole for bees as they travel through your yard.
Support your neighborhood beekeepers. Buy honey from a local beekeeper. Not only is it delicious, but it will help them continue to care for these amazing insects.
Long live the queen!
For more information: The Perfect Bee