Grace Chang Studio Architecture, Art and Design

Among Honeybees in Florida – 20 February 2010

Conked out last night after writing in the journal.  I retreated to go to sleep early also because I was feeling a bit weird, as if I had planted myself into Bill* and Jen’s (Bill’s teenage daughter) life and daily routine.  Slept till about midnight.  Got up to go to the bathroom, had a piece of bread with peanut butter.  Probably woke Jen in the process – took me a bit to adjust to the one level house, no upstairs bedrooms separated from the living areas.  Sent a text message.  I did not think that I would be able to get back to sleep but I ended up dozing off for another five hours.  Rude awakening by alarm.  It felt like a minute had passed.

It is so quiet out here.  I thought about how if I lived down here, I would go to all the lakes, parks, reserves.  So much flora and fauna.  It is odd to see palms next to deciduous trees.  All different animals.  Saw the cows and bees yesterday.  Turkey vultures, small birds, blue herons.  The city side of me would be fighting the nature side of me.  The city side in me would get really bored.  L’ennui – hits anywhere.

Got back from Bill’s Honey house around 4:30pm today.  Morning started at about 7:20am.  Got up and took a shower.  Breakfast of cereal, bread with homemade jams and creamed honey, and coffee on the go style.  Meals are impromptu and self serve.  Continued to get ready, prep cameras and lenses.  Bill drove Jen and me over to the honey house for the Beekeepers Association hive splitting workshop.

We got to the honey house early, before everyone else had arrived.  I checked out the observation hive and the association beehives by the highway.  Seemed to be some action in a couple of hives.

People started to stream in towards 10am and trickle in later as well.  There may have been twenty  or so people.  Everyone gathered in the honey store and started to ask Bill questions, like how to keep fire ants out of the hives.  Bill was saying to use oil on the pallet on the ground, outside of the hive.  Ants hate oil and will not go onto it.  Bill mentioned how copper glutimate has been stopping reproduction of the Varroa mites, but not knowing the full effects of the solution, he does not advocate using it.  He is testing the solution on his bees.

Went to the tool shop and everyone started to assemble frames and hive boxes.  Power stapling frames, nailing boxes and painting the exterior of the hive boxes.  Quite invigorating to see a big group of people working diligently like the bees in the hive.  A few lazing about like drones.

When a set of hive boxes had been produced, we went out to the association hives.  Bill started to open up the hives.  Finding a healthy one, he took out some frames.  Bill took a frame with a queen on it and put it in a nuc to split the hive and create a new one.  The workshop started with rapt attention on Bill and his progress with the bees.  Then people started to break off and chat in small groups.

While Bill was near the end of the hive splitting process, we went back to the tool workshop to finish up frames, etc.  Some people had brought their own lunch.  Bill ordered a pizza for the rest of us.  Then I talked to Mrs. Brown about her hive.  She told us of an NPR Here and Now segment on an incredible Appalachian beekeeper, Tammy Horn, in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.  Mrs. Brown recounted how Tammy got coal miners (coal mining was once a mainstay of the area) to agree on helping to reforest the old coal mine sites by bringing beekeeping into the area to create a beekeeping corridor in Appalachia, to offer jobs to ex-coal miners.  She was also able to strike deals to provide beeswax to cosmetic companies.  What a holistic vision.  How amazing!


Bill talked about how he does not send his bees to orange farms as of late because of all the pesticides that they use.  I asked if the orange growers would stop if beekeepers raised the issue and stopped sending bees to the groves.  Apparently bees can temporarily survive the pesticides in this way – they collect the poisoned pollen and pack it into the frame cells.  They will not eat the poisoned pollen if there are other sources of food like pollen patties (winter feed).  The bees will only eat the poisoned pollen out of necessity.  There will be a dearth of food and that is when the bees eat the poisoned pollen and die.  The poisoned pollen acts like a time bomb.  One eats from the bad bag of groceries when there is nothing else to eat.

I asked Bill about trucking bees, if that was not a huge stress on the bees.  He said it was somewhat of a stress.  Getting the bees cross country (say, Florida to California) takes three days with continuous trucking (tag team of drivers).  Bill said it used to be worse when there were no air streams and huge potholes in the road.  I am still thinking about the stress of the extreme draft on the bees, especially when they need to maintain a hive temperature close to 94 degrees and the exhaustion that must ensue from having to maintain that temperature over a span of three days on a speeding truck.  Even if they are balling or huddling in the middle of the hive, they must experience intense draft.  Bill said that the round trip toll is ten percent, which used to seem huge but now bees staying in the same spot have ten percent or greater loss.

We got onto the subject of raw milk, etc.   Mrs. Brown said that thirty states allow sale of raw milk to end users.  Buyer beware.  In Florida it is illegal to sell raw milk to the consumer.  Bill said a Florida senator is trying to pass a bill for one hundred percent freedom to small growers to sell as desired.  He said there are issues of standards of identity.  I need to look into this.

A simple definition of “standards of identity”:

Jen drove us back to the house around 4:30pm.  Bill showed us the DVD showing short documentary work of film students who focused on Bill’s Honey and the Beekeepers Association.  It made me think that it would be cool to make a documentary on beekeepers, bees, CCD, and things the average person could do to help the bees – creating habitats and gardens suitable to bees, raising hives, demanding foods not treated by pesticides, etc.  We need to back away from the hi-tech and get back to the land, start farming again.

Bill said all we need to do as consumers is to support beekeepers and let them figure out how to save the bees.  Support them by not allowing cheap and imitation honey imports flood the U.S. market (from Argentina, China, etc.).  I think we have to approach it both at the grassroots level as well as from the commercial side.  Get rid of the pristine lawn idea, plant good plants and trees for bees to prosper.

Janice, the past Beekeepers Association president, mentioned how Bill uses fairly organic methods as a commercial beekeeper.  I think it is a mix.  Earlier in the workshop, Bill mentioned a pesticide to use for mites that does not affect the bees.  He said that there may be a long term effect.  I think, then would not an alternative be better?  But we have developed into a culture and economy that needs everything to be fast and instant.

Mrs. Brown mentioned how honey was good for allergies – she thought it built up tolerance.  Bill said that honey contains allergens of the previous season’s plants (makes sense, since the honey making process takes time, the bees process the nectar into honey and then the honey is harvested).  Bill thinks it is more that the honey boosts the immune system.  Propolis is like super honey.  Chew some every day to keep healthy.  (Hmm…propolis honey chews!)  Bill said the brood caps are a mix of propolis and honey and one of the best parts of the hive to eat/chew.

I did not end up going to talk to Kate today.  Felt like I got enough shots of honeybees at the Beekeeper Association workshop and felt a bit tired (sun exposure?)  Bill had mentioned how Kate had got someone good and stung since she does not use smoke to calm the bees.  I should have thought it through, perhaps planned to have gone to see Kate on Monday?  I will cal Kate on Monday morning, see if she is around.  I called to cancel with another beekeeper who had cautioned me – he really did not have much for me to see since he was focusing on his honey store.

*Names in this account changed to protect participants from being drawn into the political battles revolving around agriculture in the U.S.

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