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Happy National Honey Bee Day!

Updated: Jan 16

Honey bees. Where would we be without them? 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, one in three bites of food in the United

States relies on bee pollination.

Bee on onion in flower at VISTA Gardens by Jennifer Casares

David Schneider is VISTA Gardens’ beekeeper. David visits the gardens every two weeks during the warmer months to keep the bees healthy and happy.

David tending VISTA’s apiary

He sets up this sign each time he visits.

Occasionally David plays the role of Robin Hood in helping struggling colonies with resources from the others who have enough to share. That’s one reason why it is helpful to have more than one hive on site. Currently, he keeps three colonies at VISTA.

Bee hives are modular almost everywhere so that space can be added when populations increase and when nectar is flowing. Here in Florida, we have nectar rich times from March to June and again in late September to early November.

How much honey do the bees make?

There are so many variables… such as weather, available nectar, and colony health.

David harvested between 15 and 40 lbs. at any one time from spring and fall harvests at VISTA Gardens.

Photo by Mark Shellabarger

One of the challenges is making sure we leave enough honey in the hive to sustain the colony until the next nectar flow. After all, it’s their food. We only take the extra honey the hive does not need.

How does David harvest the honey?

The frames of honey are taken from the hive after convincing the bees to jump off the frame. When back home, he cuts the tops of each honey hexagon cell, and the frames are placed in a centrifuge extractor. The honey is hand cranked out, strained, and then bottled.

Bee’s protein and carbohydrate sources:

A flower’s pollen is a protein source. Nectar is either consumed immediately as carbohydrate or “processed” by the bees and eventually sealed in their frames as honey. How do they know where to find nectar?

How far do the bees travel when foraging for food?

They love the variety of flower at VISTA gardens. They also forage throughout the area. Depending on the availability of nectar, the bees can fly 2-3 miles from the hive in gathering food. That’s almost 2000 acres of available plants.

Bee on Privet Cassia in the Native Plant Landscape surrounding the pavilion at VISTA Gardens

Photo of bee on Borage in VISTA Herb Garden by Kathy Neukamm

Photo of bee on Borage in VISTA Herb Garden by Kathy Neukamm

How many bees live at VISTA Gardens?

Each colony has between 10,000 and 35,000 bees. Although there can be some drift, the bees almost always return to the same hive. In fact, there are guard bees that make sure those arriving are residents of the hive.

Photo of VISTA bees by Mark Shellabarger

The Queen bee!

Each colony has just one queen. She’s the mother of all the bees, as no other bees lay eggs except the queen. For more information read “The Social Organization of Honey Bees”

Recommended reading:

The Insect Crisis:The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World by Oliver Milman

The Dance of the Bees by Fran Nuño (ages 8-12)

The Beeman by Laura Krebs, Illustrated by Valeria Cis (ages 5-8)

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