For the Hing family of Naples, beekeeping began with Kylene Hing exploring fun and educational new ways for her two homeschooled children, Kiana and Gabriel. Kylene found a 4-H beekeeping and gardening club for kids and after the whole family attended their first beekeeping class at the University of Florida-IFAS Extension Office, they “took the buzz!
Starting out as a humble beekeeping hobby, Hing Family Apiary has grown into a family business with over 100 hives spread across multiple locations. The apiary sells honey, ensures the removal and relocation of hives and offers a pollination service to food crops that need bees to pollinate.
The biggest challenge for them is working in the heat during peak season and coping with declining honey bees. For a hobbyist with fewer hives, he might face fewer challenges.
For those interested in backyard beekeeping, Hing suggests doing plenty of research, joining local beekeeping clubs, connecting with seasoned beekeepers, and finding a mentor.
According to the University of Florida, Florida’s honey industry is ranked among the top five in the country with nearly 5,000 registered beekeepers managing approximately 650,000 colonies producing over 10 million pounds of honey in 2018 (USDA 2018) . Nationally, honey bees contribute nearly $20 billion to the crop industry by providing pollination services across the United States.
Pollinators, most often honey bees, are responsible for one in three bites of food we take, according to researchers at the University of Florida, but due to a variety of factors honey bees are in decline in the United States. United for more than three decades, showing an alarming decline in 2006. Research done at Auburn University College of Agriculture showed that American beekeepers have lost about 45% of their colonies and if we continue to lose these essential pollinators, we could lose some of our favorite foods.
How many different species of bees are there? According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, more than 4,000 species of bees live in the United States, and Florida is home to more than 300 of these species that help pollinate agricultural produce. And 29 species are only found here in Florida.
This article will focus on the honey bee (Apis mellifera), a European honey bee that was brought to the Americas by early European settlers. Honey bees contribute significantly to Florida’s food supply, such as strawberries, blueberries, watermelons, cucumbers, onions, and citrus fruits, to name a few. Without them, there would be little or no fruit on our table.
My garden is a paradise for bees and I am fascinated by the bees that forage from flower to flower. They adore the native purple passion flowers, compete for nectar from puffball balls, and go wild for orange jasmine flowers. During my morning runs I always listen to the buzzing of bees high in the palm trees and depending on the season it can be Saw Palmetto, Royal or Queen Palms. Honey bees are attracted to their tall, fragrant spikes called inflorescences.
According to the University of Florida/IFAS, it takes a female bee flying 55,000 miles and visiting more than two million flowers just to make one pound of honey.
Why do bees make honey? Honey is food for bees. An average hive is made up of around 60,000 bees and it takes a lot of food to feed the colony. Flowers are not always available all year round, so bees will need to collect as much nectar and store enough honey to feed an entire colony.
To enjoy the fruits of the bees’ labor, I always keep jars of raw honey purchased at local farmers’ markets because they offer such uniquely Florida varieties. According to Kylene Hing, seasonal flavors are determined by local nectar sources which vary from season to season.
How can you help your local bee population? Kylene Hing suggests consulting educational resources such as Florida Native Plant Society, Florida Wildflower Foundation, and University of Florida/IFAS Gardening Solutions to find which pollinators grow best in your locality. Even a container garden planted in the fall will attract pollinators.