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Florida ranks 4th Best for beekeeping – Local beekeeper weighs in on the benefits of beekeeping in the Sunshine State

Florida has been ranked the fourth best state in the country for beekeeping in 2022, according to a study conducted by Lawn Love, an online marketplace and blog dedicated to lawn care.

Josh Ray

According to the data, Florida ranked first in annual colony loss (least amount of colonies lost per year), second in number of apicultural establishments, fourth for most honey-producing colonies, and fourth in highest honey-production value.

The study used data from sources directly related to beekeeping, such as Bee Culture magazine and the National Honey Board, as well as data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the federal Department of Agriculture.

The results were released to highlight National Pollinator Week and raise awareness about the importance of bees to our ecosystem and ways people can support and protect them.

Bees – along with birds, bats, and butterflies – spread pollen among plants, allowing those plants to reproduce.

“Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have access to nearly a third of our nation’s food supply,” writes researcher Sav Maive, in an article summarizing the data.

In order to better understand why Florida was so highly rated in the study, The Havana Herald spoke with Josh Ray, a Quincy resident, who has been a beekeeper, also known as an apiarist, for 16 years. 

Ray runs Bear Creek Apiaries, which currently provides apicultural services in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Ray explains that Florida’s climate can be both good and bad for bee colonies. 

A close-up of a Caucasion Breeder queen.

“This climate can be very rough,” says Ray. “As hot as it is, it’s very hard for the bees to stay cool, and with high humidity comes viruses and diseases. So we have to really maintain those bees. We use probiotics and antibiotics. If we’re diligent enough early on, we can catch up with that. We get hurricanes in the summer and fall which can be very good because it dumps plenty of rain. Then the fall flowers bloom heavily, and we get a good fall honey crop that pulls the bees through the winter.”

Florida’s climate plays a significant part in drawing more beekeepers to set up seasonal operations here, which may contribute to its second-place ranking in the number of apicultural establishments.

“All the beekeepers from up north shift down here over the winter,” Ray explains. “The bees stay going, there’s always food, it’s warm enough here that they will continue to grow. When the temperatures drop outside, the queen’s natural process is to stop laying as many eggs. As long as it’s warm, that queen is going to keep laying and the hive will grow. So they bring them down here in the winter to grow them, and then go back north to make honey crops.”

As to why Florida was ranked fourth in the nation both in honey production and the value of the honey produced:

Gadsden County apiarist Josh Ray removes a section of a hive.

“We have Orange Blossom,” says Ray. “It is a high paying honey, because it’s getting more rare with the greening down south. We have the famous Tupelo. That’s here in Florida and a lot of beekeepers from everywhere move their bees here in April and the first of May for the Tupelo. And Tupelo is going for $6 a pound wholesale, and the rest of it is going for $2. We’ve got invasive species like the Chinese tallow that blooms around here when nothing else is. So we have a chance for another honey crop.”

Finally, while Florida’s ranking fourth place overall in the country is certainly laudable, one might ask how we as a state can improve this ranking going forward, given how important bees are to our nation’s food supply and the ecosystem.

“There need to be laws on killing bees,” says Ray. “Right now there’s not a law on killing bees. It’s not recommended, and pest control companies will not do it, but there’s no law in place that says you can’t kill a beehive.”

Ray, along with other apiarists, provides a relocation service for businesses and homeowners that discover bee colonies on their property, as an alternative to extermination.

“I think there needs to be some laws set for agricultural standards,” Ray continues. “I think that when it comes to spraying insecticides, there should be a law saying this has to be done at night, when all the bees are in the hive, so when they spray the fields they won’t kill the foraging bees that are out working the crops.”

It isn’t just legislators or activists who can make a difference. 

An important aspect of making a place more bee-friendly is to avoid destroying the flowers that provide the nectar bees use to make honey.

Ray is particularly emphatic about this point.

“One of the biggest struggles here in Gadsden county is that everybody mows down their property, not realizing they’re cutting down all of our honey flowers. When people mow in the summer and the fall, they’re cutting down all our goldenrod. Goldenrod is very important to us in the fall. It is the very last flower that blooms to pull those bees through winter. Mow around your goldenrod patches until after it blooms and the seeds fall, then mow it down. It’s very important.”

If you need to have a colony removed from your property, are interested in apicultural products or how to become a beekeeper, or have other bee-related questions, Josh Ray can be contacted at (850) 510-0401. 

His business, Bear Creek Apiaries, can also be found on Facebook.

Stephen Klein – Gadsden County News Service