Bee removal and honey production in the Keys


It’s 8 a.m. on a Friday as Jeff Bennett stands in the yard of a house on Middle Torch Key, his eyes riveted on a hole in the siding. Swarms of bees come in and out as he makes a plan and prepares his tools for the day. In no time, Bennett, with the help of Steve Hurley and Judith Anderson, set up scaffolding and stacked boxes, saws and vacuums under the affected area. As Hurley peels off a piece of coating, Bennett moves to get an infrared reading of the area. The screen lights up with an electric orange glow that unfortunately doesn’t fall where the team had hoped. “Looks like it’s going to be a lot bigger job than expected,” Bennett says calmly, as he prepares to enter the house to take a closer look.

Jeff Bennett provides a perch for one of the first worker bees to emerge from the interior wall of the hive.

Just over a year ago, Bennett started Bennett’s Bees, a business focused on producing honey, killing bees and catching swarms in the Florida Keys as a hobby. With several calls per week, this hobby has grown into something akin to a full-time job for the retired pilot. With few local mentors to follow, he recounts his first moves as a learning experience. “You learn fast. There is no club here – I had to learn it myself. But I’ve found that if your system is working and the bees survive, thrive, and produce honey, what you’re doing is probably right. There are several ways to get the correct answer. The bees don’t care. Bees are here to survive and they will help you a lot, even if you make mistakes.

The resulting business plan follows the idea of ​​diversifying efforts in the fight against noxious bees, allowing Bennett to tap the agricultural bee market while achieving an important act of conservation. While Bennett maintains his own apiary and beehives for honey production, he has also found a win-win advantage in providing bee removal services. Homeowners and businesses who have biting guests who go beyond their welcome are calling on them to deal with the problem humanely. The team are paid for their removal work (if today was any indication – incredibly laborious) and also keep honeycombs found in the walls for future honey production. The bees are captured using a long-nosed vacuum cleaner and relocated to Bennett’s apiaries, where they’ll get back to work as soon as their travel-related exhaustion subsides. In some cases, moving experts may even walk away with a few jars of liquid gold. “Just recently we were on a job that produced 20 pounds of honey,” Bennett said.

People across the country are increasingly aware of the plight of bees. As one of the world’s most important agricultural assets, bees are also one of the most fragile. In the United States, more than a third of the food consumed each year relies, directly or indirectly, on pollination by bees. The Food and Drug Administration estimates an annual added value of $ 15 billion for national crops. In addition to helping in the healthy growth of many cash crops, bees create products such as beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, propolis, venom and, of course, honey that are harvested at for medicinal purposes and as food sources, which represents additional agricultural value. of nearly $ 400 million.

Bee and honey production in the Keys - A plate full of clothes -
Judith Anderson, Steve Hurley and Jeff Bennett take a first look at the discovered beehive.

While agriculture has pushed the boundaries of commercial agriculture to a questionable tipping point, the desire for high production and quick profit has led to an increase in the introduction of chemical agents. Coupled with habitat loss, air pollution and drought, the use of pesticides poses a significant threat to an already struggling population. US national agricultural statistics show a 60% loss of honey bee hives in the past 60 years. Worker bee colonies, defined as bee populations actively pollinating acres of crops, have declined by 90% over the past 50 years. Steve Hurley sees the lack of communication as a major factor, with large-scale farms often failing to work with bee owners. He points out, however, that there are some useful tools to fix the problem. “There is actually a page on the Department of Agriculture website that lists the location of registered apiaries in the state of Florida. Farmers can get this data and if they know if they are going to spray a crop in an area, they can let surrounding bee owners know.

The Keys are fortunate to have a healthy bee population. The region has a decent number of beekeepers, hobbyists and traders alike, and enjoys a warm climate that offers a year-round growing season. Local bees harvest the nectar from a rotating menu of local flora – mango and avocado trees, palm trees, sea grapes and black mangroves. This cyclical lifestyle guarantees multiple harvests of honey each year for beekeepers like Bennett’s Bees.

Another honey producer, Keys Beez created a business modeled after the unique honey products available in the Keys, attributing quality to two factors. On the one hand, they note that the Keys have “more species of native flowering plants than any other place in the country … and the most varied source of nectar in North America.” Bees are able to continuously feast on tropical flowers, rather than feeding on sugar water. The Keys also benefit from isolation. Most commercially produced honeys contain traces of antibiotics and fungicides. According to Keys Beez, “These chemicals are completely absent from our honey simply because our bees are isolated from the mainland by hundreds of miles of warm ocean. Even the prevailing southeast winds cross thousands of miles of unpolluted ocean.

Bee Removal and Honey Production in the Keys - View Through a Window - Tree
Local bees say ‘get me out of here’ after the hive wall is removed.

Bennett agrees that the Keys are fortunate to have a primarily healthy environment for bees. While Keys bee owners don’t face the myriad of normal issues, there are still some difficult factors. He notes that the biggest enemy of bees in the Keys is mosquito control. Helicopters are not a problem, he notes, since they drop larvicides. The trucks, meanwhile, spray chemicals known to kill beehives. “The trucks are only supposed to spray in the middle of the night because the bees will come home at night. Mosquito Control at my address and they’re supposed to turn off the jet when they pass. Hurley adds that bee owners can register their addresses online for the mosquito control exemption.

If attitude is any indication, the population they are suppressing today looks extremely healthy. After an unsuccessful attempt outside, the crew were forced to move their operation to a small room on the second floor. With the door closed and sealed with towels, Hurley goes to work opening the wall. Almost immediately, nearly 10,000 (by Bennett’s expert estimate) fairly irritated bees filled the space, ringing the crew’s suits and covering the walls, ceiling, and window. The group slowly and methodically begins to capture the bees and work to remove the honeycombs that have filled the interior structure of the walls. As the work continues, the inflamed bees fidget, fly, and do their best to land a sting. Despite the buzzing frenzy, Bennett, a self-proclaimed “insect lover”, seems to be in his element.

Interested in learning the art of beekeeping? Bennett’s Bees would love to hear from you!

Bennett’s Bees & Paradise Honey
Bee removal / Honey sales / Swarm capture
Jeff Bennett
[email protected]

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