Bee college is all the buzz
St. Augustine, Fla.
Barehanded, David Barnes lifted off the top of a wooden beehive and eased out one of half-a-dozen frames loaded with honeybees as several dozen people edged in closer around him during the first day of the University of Florida's Bee College.Skip to next paragraph
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He didn't warn them not to try this at home. After all, the purpose of Bee College is to get more beekeepers. He did caution them to remember how they'd feel if someone came along and took the roof off their house.
The beekeepers in training smiled at the notion, but got the point.
About half of them were wearing white beekeeper overalls, hats, and veils. Mr. Barnes, a state bee inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, wore a hat and veil, but was casual about the rest of the gear.
He'd already used a smoker on the bees to cause disorient and temporarily confuse the colony so they're easier to work with.
"Bees are gentle ... most often they won't get upset," Barnes said, cautioning the beekeepers to be deliberate and calm in their motions when dealing with bees. But, he warned, there are exceptions.
The crowd listened intently, even the ones who have been in the beekeeping business awhile.
As Barnes explained at the start, there are always new things to learn.
Agriculture experts are hoping lots of people learn about honey bees and start keeping bees.
There's a corresponding need for honeybees. In the 1940s there were approximately 5 million colonies, now the estimate is 2.4 million. One study estimates since 1990 about one quarter (almost one million) of all managed honeybee colonies have been lost.
Possible reasons for the loss include mites, pesticides, and something known as Colony Collapse Disorder, where bees basically disappear from their colony.
Why the need for hone bees?
It's not about the honey they produce, said Dr. Ellis. It's about food.
Approximately one-third of the world's food production is dependent on the pollination efforts of honeybees.
"Honey production is, pardon the pun, a drop in the bucket compared to what bees actually do for us," Ellis said. "It's the pollination industry that really is what commercial beekeeping is about."
The pollination industry is people who keep hundreds maybe thousands of colonies that they load in trucks and haul to where growers and farmers need them.
Ellis describes them as "colonies for hire." An almond grower may rent the colonies while almonds are in bloom in that area, then blueberry growers in Michigan want them, then they go to North Dakota for clover and then Florida for melons.