Here’s the Buzz
Pinellas Beekeepers Association holds monthly open meetings the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 pm at St. Pete College Seminole Campus, 9200 113th St., Seminole. Newbie time is from 7 to 7:30 pm, with general meeting and speaker at 7:30 pm. Meetings are livestreamed, too. For more information on PBA, go to pinellasbeekeepers.buzz
A Pinellas Beekeepers apiary funded by and located at Great Bay Distributors in St. Petersburg offers members the opportunity to rent hives on an annual basis. Local businesses and individuals can also Adopt a Beehive, with funding going to support beekeeping education and building of hives (and you receive a pound of honey!).
When considering owning a hive, residents should be aware that Florida has laws and regulations related to beekeeping. You must register your bees, and have them inspected on an annual basis. Yards and other locations need to meet certain requirements for space and proximity to neighboring homes.
Not a candidate for keeping a hive? You can still support the bee population by growing bee-friendly nectar plants. To learn more, go to https://pinellasbeekeepers.buzz/resources/
Honey, I'm Home
Many homeowners are turning to the hobby of backyard beekeeping to reap the sweet rewards.
By Marcia Biggs
Becky Dineen has made bees the center of her universe. After eight years in the banking and finance industry, she swapped high heels for boots and immersed herself in the life of bees. A visit to a roadside honey stand was all it took to get her curiosity about bees buzzing. The beekeeper told her all about raising bees, then invited her to come back to watch how it was done, maybe even help. She started attending meetings of the Pinellas Beekeepers Association and set up her own backyard hives.
Today, Dineen services nine apiaries (hive complexes), including her own St. Petersburg backyard where she tends six hives on a quarter-acre of land. Dineen and her husband, Art Howe, run A Bee’s Place, a full-service bee business. They crank out lots of honey – selling jars of it at shops and markets from John’s Pass Village to Safety Harbor. Howe helps in the apiaries, bottles and delivers honey, makes and fixes hive equipment, while Becky hits the road most days inspecting hives as a bee inspector for the Florida Department of Agriculture. She also works as a personal bee-tender caring for backyard hives when the homeowner prefers not to.
It was unwanted bees that made a hive in his house wall that started Johnny Walker on his road to a “bee addiction,” he says. The Seminole resident and president of the Pinellas Beekeepers Association is a handy sort of guy, so was determined to remove the hive himself. When a neighbor came racing over to help, the learning began. That kind Samaritan was himself a beekeeper, inviting Walker to learn more at Tampa Beekeepers Association meetings. Within a few years, Walker founded the Pinellas club, and was elbow deep in making his own honey for personal consumption.
Both Dineen and Walker have been stung, excuse the pun, by the bee. They are part of a large Tampa Bay community that is concerned about the pollinator population and want to take a role in saving it. Suffice to say most of them also love raw honey, so the side benefit of having a supply of your very own is also enticement.
The Hive Hobby
Backyard hives around Pinellas County and St. Petersburg are booming. Dineen reports that there are currently some 300 registered beekeepers in Pinellas County with 2,420 reported hives, and the number continues to grow. The clear winner is St. Petersburg, with 116 registered beekeepers tending 1,101 hives. After that, Clearwater has 50 beekeepers, Seminole has 25, Palm Harbor has 24 and Largo has 23.
You don’t need a yard full of blooming flowers and trees to own a hive, by the way.
“Bees travel anywhere from one to five miles from the hive for a nectar source,” explains Dineen. “St. Pete’s a great place to have bees because there are lots of flowers, gardens and trees, even downtown.”
Who makes a good beekeeper?
“I see all walks of life doing it,” she says. “Some people want to get into the actual hive maintenance. They need to invest some money for equipment and gear and a lot of learning time. Others just want to be part of supporting the bee population by having a hive, but they hire someone to tend their hives.”
Walker says anyone thinking about beekeeping needs to know it’s a commitment and can be physically taxing, especially in Florida.
“Not everyone is a good candidate,” he says. “We recommend before you get a hive to come to our meetings and learn what goes into it. Every couple months you have to go in and maintain it. A full honey super (box within the hive) can weigh up to 50 pounds, and in hot weather this can be challenging.”
Businesses like Great Bay Distributors and KnowBe4 are getting in on the act by sponsoring hives for training and rent. KnowBe4 provides funding for 11 hives at Pinellas Beekeepers Apiary at St. Pete College Seminole Campus. Once a month on a Saturday morning, Pinellas Beekeepers Association holds an open training and education session at the apiary. Experienced members do a show and tell for newbies, showing them how to gear up with protective clothing and handle the hives and answering any questions.
Tracy Springman received a bee box as a gift from her husband which led her to the meeting one recent Saturday morning. She’s a teacher and leader of the Environmental Club at Indian Rocks Christian School. “I want to share the education I learn here about bees with my students,” she said.
Todd Truby got into beekeeping just a few years ago because his teenage daughter wanted a hive. “So I thought, why not?” he said. “We went to a class and did some research and got some bees all within three weeks. Then COVID hit so it was a great distraction when you couldn’t do anything else.”
They started with three hives and soon doubled that to six hives. By the end of the second year they were up to over a dozen; then they split those to about 25 hives. Now in his third year, Truby is all in with beekeeping as a serious hobby. Despite holding a day job, he has obtained an LLC in order to sell honey and relocate hives.
In the Greater Grovemont neighborhood of north St. Petersburg, Dwight Thomas and Bruce Rice are keeping a hive in their spacious backyard, awaiting a first honey harvest this fall. Thomas grew up with bees his father tended in Indiana, but opted to hire Becky Dineen as their bee-tender.
The single hive holds roughly 60,000 bees, says Dineen, and they are angry today. Could be the nearly 100 degree temperatures, or could be they are in a dearth which means an inadequate supply of nectar. She dons her netted headgear and grabs a smoker to calm them down, but a half dozen just won’t give in. Thomas and Rice stand watching the action from across the yard. “This is why we would rather have a professional do it,” Thomas remarks.