Backyard hives offer sweet benefits

Check out the article below from the Orlando Sentinel I bet you find it to be quite interesting, and extremely fascinating.

What’s that buzz in the backyard?

By Eloísa Ruano González, Orlando Sentinel

Elisa Alfonso and her husband, Jerry, bought their first backyard beehives in December 2008 after friends introduced them to the hobby. The couple’s four hives at their east Orlando home bring sweet rewards, and Elisa Alfonso said her neighbors’ gardens benefit, too.

“It’s a special blessing to have honey in your backyard…. It’s an advantage for everyone. The bees will pollinate their fruit trees,” she said of the neighbors’ gardens.

As commercial hives in the state have declined because of bee deaths and other problems, backyard beekeepers like the Alfonsos have multiplied.

Last year, 400 backyard beekeepers throughout Florida registered with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. These urban beekeepers, including 108 in Central Florida, are required to register their hives so their colonies can be monitored for diseases and pests, said Jerry Hayes, the department’s apiary inspection chief.

In the past decade, many commercial beekeepers were forced out of business after their hives suffered colony collapse disorder. The disorder’s cause continues to elude scientists. Hayes said it could be a combination of factors, including disease from parasites, exposure to high levels of pesticide and nutrition problems from shuffling bees from state to state to pollinate different crops.

In 2006, the state had fewer than a thousand total beekeepers. That number has climbed to 1,500 commercial and hobby beekeepers managing about 2,500 hives.

Florida’s urban bee farmers have helped boost the European honeybee population, which has dwindled through the years because of parasitic invaders, excessive exposure to pesticides and colony collapse, Hayes said.

“I had no idea that the general population would be energized and become beekeepers to save the honeybees,” he said.

Beekeepers like ‘therapeutic,’ ‘green’ aspects

Shawn Boltz caught the beekeeping bug after some friends boasted about their experiences handling bees. Boltz, 33, started out with seven hives, but only one remains after small hive beetles killed the rest.

While he knows bees are important to the ecosystem, Boltz said he found caring for them therapeutic.

“I found all my cares slip away. It’s so relaxing. They’re really gentle,” said Boltz, who lives in Cassadaga. The insects have taught him to be “mindful of the Earth,” he said. He also started his first garden this year, growing corn, lima beans and strawberries.

As people strive for greener living, beekeeping classes and clubs are becoming more popular, said Beth Fox, a beekeeping enthusiast and former president of the Orange Blossom Beekeeper Association. The association started in 2007 with a few members but now draws 50 to 60 people at monthly meetings.

The Beekeepers of Volusia County started earlier this year after residents flooded two classes at the University of Florida extension office in DeLand. About 80 people attended the classes but even more wanted in, said Sharon Gamble, a UF extension agent. The Osceola County extension office saw a similar turnout during a course it offered in March.

Alfonso last month took part in the Bee College in St. Augustine, where 250 people attended a two-day event hosted by the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory.

Bee lovers point out their benefits: They pollinate fruits, vegetables and nuts, including Florida blueberries, citrus, strawberries and watermelons. Hayes said bees pollinate a third of humans’ food source. And the propolis, a resin bees collect from sap and tree buds to use in hive-building, is used for medicinal purposes.

Caring for bees is like owning a Toyota Prius, Hayes said: “They are a symbol for our environment.”

Walter Cox put in a colony behind his Pierson home last year to help pollinate his trees and extensive vegetable garden. As a boy on his father’s South Carolina farm, he remembers five or six hives helping to pollinate corn, wheat and other crops.

“You get more vegetables, and they do all the work,” Cox, 84, said. Cox, who’s disabled and in a power wheelchair, has his son check on the bees and remove the honey, which he gives away to neighbors.

Gamble said it’s important to keep large numbers of European honeybees in Central Florida to consume all the nectar and pollen, keeping out the Africanized bees, which tend to be more aggressive and have larger swarms that settle in electrical boxes and other corners.

“It’ll be harder for the Africanized bees to come, and they’ll move on,” Gamble said.

European bees are more docile and won’t sting a person unless they’re harassed, said Tom Bartlett, president of the Volusia beekeepers club. Bartlett, who is in the UF master beekeepers program, said the colony will send out a few “guard” bees to buzz around an intruder’s head if they’re disturbed. Most people run off without getting stung.

Each hive, with its own queen, worker and drone bees, has an average of about 80,000 total bees, Bartlett said. Bartlett checked with neighbors before he put bees behind his Port Orange home three years ago, although city rules there don’t ban beekeeping. Neighbors were apprehensive at first but warmed up to them, and he hasn’t had any complaints of bee stings.

Fox said some urban beekeepers are concerned about telling neighbors about their hives, fearing the bees will be disturbed. She keeps two beehives in her half-acre yard. Like Fox, many beekeepers live in unincorporated areas because some cities ban beekeeping.

Orlando does not have any regulations against beekeeping, said city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser. Other governments are loosening regulations. New York City officials lifted a longtime ban on beekeeping in March after discovering that many residents were secretly keeping hives on their rooftops.

Fox urges cities to allow urban beekeepers, with a limit on the number.

“The general public seems to think bees are going to disappear from the face of the Earth. Bees are not going to disappear, if you allow beekeepers,” she said.

South Florida bee removal & control experts

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3 Responses to “Backyard hives offer sweet benefits”

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