Ever wondered what it’s like to spend a day with bees buzzing around your head? Whether that image feels like a dream or living a nightmare, the day in the life of a beekeeper is interesting business–and the results are pretty delicious

We spoke to Alma Johnson, owner and beekeeper at Sarasota Honey Co. to learn what harvesting honey look like. (Read more about Alma and Sarasota Honey Co. here.)

sarasota-honey-bees

 

THE PROCESS
Honey in the Sarasota area can be harvested two to three times a year. One season produces orange blossom honey with spring wildflowers, another yields saw palmetto with summer wildflowers, and the next, Brazilian pepper with fall wildflowers.

◗ Drive to the beehives to see if there is a white wax seal on the frames. If so, the honey is ready for harvest.

◗ Swipe bees out of the way and tote the 40-60 pound boxes home.

◗ Remove excess bees and individually wrap the boxes to deliver them to Community Haven.

◗ At Community Haven, staff breaks the seal on the frames to release the honey, and the frames are placed into a big drum called an extractor.

◗ As the drum is hand-cranked into motion, the centrifuge pushes honey through a filter and out a spigot. The coarse filter collects rogue bee parts and wax, but allows the pollen and other beneficial elements of the honey to flow through.

◗ The collected raw honey is bottled and ready to sell.

sarasota-honey-harvest

 

sarasota-honey-extract

 

THE THREAT OF EXTINCTION
Bees have faced adverse conditions in recent years, lowering their numbers and causing concern over the possibility of their extinction. Johnson explains what seems to be a trifecta of problems that creates this “perfect storm.”

Pesticides sprayed on weeds, plants, and foliage harm the bees. Let your “wildflowers” grow! If you choose to use pesticides, at least spray in the evening when the bees aren’t trying to find food.

Monocrops After WWII, commercial farmers changed their fields. Rather than growing mixed crops, such as green beans that grow up a corn stalk, farmers planted acres and acres with the same seed. This means all the crops are pollinating at the same time. Once that food source is gone, the bees can’t survive in these locations.

sarasota-honey-mite

 

Varroa Mites Due to the increasing need for pollination, bees from Asia were imported to pollinate the crops. Unfortunately, those bees carried varroa mites, and those pests have spread to the U.S. hives.

HAVE BEES, WILL TRAVEL

Plants need bees, so resourceful beekeepers have found a new, niche market. Johnson shares one example of a beekeeper from Florida who follows the blooms. “Eighty percent of the world’s almonds come from groves in California,” says Johnson. “So, this beekeeper travels to California with 25,000 hives and stays there as long as the plants are blooming, which can be many weeks.” When the almond fields are pollinated, he moves the bees to the cranberry fields and then to the blueberry fields, following what is in season.

Unfortunately, farmers commission multiple beekeepers to pollinate the same field, increasing the risk of healthy bees contracting pests, such as varroa mites, and bringing them back home.

Traveling hives present other problems: bees can’t forage for their food during the commute and are often fed corn syrup to keep them alive; plus, the bees can’t defecate in transit, which can cause stress. Further, the strongest hives guarantee the highest fee. Young queens produce the strongest colonies, so often the queens are killed and replaced every six months.

 

sarasota-honey-feature

 

LIFE: THE GREAT EQUALIZER
When a queen lays a female egg, that new bee can either become the next queen or a worker bee. Male bees don’t do any heavy lifting: they basically spend their lives grooming themselves and being taken care of by the female bees. But it all evens out in the end, says Johnson. “When males mate with a virgin queen, their appendage stays with her and he dies.” If he isn’t lucky enough to die during mating, he faces more trouble. “When winter comes, the female bees realize food will be short, and they kick the males out of the hive or kill them.”