Love the bees but hate the sting? Here’s how to keep the relationship amicable

November 20, 2021
By Tonya Bramlage

Who would ever dare to imagine putting oneself in a situation that would purposely trigger the flight or fight response typically associated with an unexpected encounter with bees be therapeutic? If you have ever experienced the unwelcome and unwanted presence of bees in or anywhere around your perimeter, you know the terrifying feeling first hand. In May 2020 Half Mad Honey was founded with the expressed intent of using their honeybees for mental health therapy. Believed to be the first of its kind anywhere, the apiary therapy conducted at Half Mad Honey uses their hives to help people practice both mindfulness and distress tolerance.emotional regulation is really being mindful about what is happening with your body and being as present with it as possible. Challenging enough without the presence of bees for most of us, but a honey sweet possibility nonetheless.

Managed honey bee colonies are an important part of Florida agriculture. They produce unique varieties of Florida honey, pollinate many plants that produce fruits, vegetables and nuts, and support the livelihood of Florida beekeepers. The Sunshine State is home to over 300 species of bees that assist in the pollination of agricultural commodities and support overall ecosystem health. The pollinator that best represents the issues of all pollinators in our state, is the honey bee (Apis meliffera). The European (or western) honey bee was brought to the Americas by early European settlers and has been a part of the natural environment here ever since.

Unlike native species, the honey bee can be managed in order to benefit the pollination needs of certain crops. Honey bees contribute significantly to our food supply. Commodity crops like blueberries, watermelons, cucumbers and onions would produce little to no fruit if it were not for the honey bee in Florida. Honey bees, otherwise known as the “Angels of Agriculture,” are undeniably the strongest link in the chain between food producers and consumers. Statewide statistics report that there are over 100 varieties of popular fruits and vegetables that use pollination to ensure fruitful crops.

The honey industry in Florida is consistently ranked among the top five in the nation with an annual worth of $27 million. In addition, the Florida honey bee industry benefits our state’s fruit and vegetable industry by providing an estimated $65 million in increased production numbers created by managed pollination services that are available in no other way. Seventeen million pounds of honey are produced in Florida each year and enjoyed around the world. A healthy and secure Florida honey bee industry is indeed valuable to all.

It is not uncommon in Florida for honey bees to be present in the environment, not managed by a beekeeper. Wild or, more appropriately, feral honey bees have the potential to be a nuisance when found on private or commercial property, either in a swarm state or fully developed as an established colony. Honey bees can quickly become a nuisance when they take up residence in cavities near places where people frequent, such as soffits and walls of homes/buildings, lawn debris, water meter boxes, oak trees, etc. Nuisance colonies become problematic when they pose a stinging threat to nearby humans and animals. When a property owner encounters a swarm or an established colony, they have two options: have it removed alive or have it eradicated.

Over the past decade, increasing attention has been paid to a variety of stressors that negatively impact bees. These stressors include: Pressure from monoculture agriculture, risk of pesticide exposure, pests and parasites, forage, nutrition (both in feed and natural availability) and management.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and representatives from a multitude of stakeholder groups have been working to assemble resources to assist all parties in promoting the importance of bees, their health and their services to the state of Florida. 

In some cases, depending on the size, location and temperament of an established bee colony, a registered Florida beekeeper can remove an established colony and all of its components (bees, comb, brood, honey) and relocate it safely to an apiary. Eradication of a colony by a certified pest control operator is often the choice when the colony is nesting in a location that does not facilitate safe removal, is deemed no longer able to thrive, or poses a stinging threat to humans.

FDACS maintains a list of Registered Beekeepers and Certified Pest Control Operators who perform bee removal and/or eradication services. It is important to note that it is the individual property owner’s choice concerning how a colony is removed. When a company or person is hired to remove or eradicate a colony on your property, FDACS suggests the following:

Ask for their beekeeper registration number or pest control license number (this is required in order to perform eradication or removal in the state of Florida).Legal operators license numbers will begin with a pre-fix of “JB.”

Ask if the beekeeper or pest control operator carries liability insurance.

Ask about their plan to remove existing comb and honey that could attract nearby bees.

Ask about the method of removal or eradication they will be using and where the bees are being relocated.

Ask about their plan to repair, replace or otherwise completely seal off the site after colony removal.

After colony removal or eradication, be sure to check for further bee activity at the site and follow up with the company/person hired, if needed.  

Local beekeeper Bob van der Herchen advises on his website, beerescue.com, “Look for activity. If you see a bee in your house, then it’s likely it overshot the set runway path and ended up inside. All they need is a little opening, and they will start building a hive.” Should you find yourself in need of further assistance, consultation, removal, relocation, or other beekeeping service  Bob can be reached at (941) 474-549.