How to get started beekeeping in South Florida
Did you know that it is totally legal to keep bees in your yard in South Florida? As crazy as that sounds, it is 100% true. I had no idea until my lovely wife brought up the idea of beekeeping one day after talking to a man called, Evan the beekeeper. She told me that at an event that she was at, she met a man who talked her ear off about keeping bees. She told me that Evan would even come over and give us all the deats on keeping bees. While I had only kind of kind of played with the idea (as an urban homesteader) I thought to myself, “Why the hell not?” Not only would having a hive off bees give us hella hippie street cred, the germination bonuses would be worth their weight in gold. Think about it, an entire colony of bees, in my yard, looking to pollinate all the plants they could find. I jumped at the chance.
We called Evan the beekeeper, and he rushed on over and talked to us about bees for about an hour or so. I’m not going to lie, by the end I was a little glad to see him go so that I could get back to my maxing and relaxing. But Evan was a very cool dude, and it was totally worth it.
Where to get bees and beekeeping kit in South Florida
Evan dropped hella knowledge on us, but the most important lesson he gave us was that there is a one-stop-shop located in Miami that can service all of your beekeeping needs. South Florida Bee Supply is a little shop that has everything you need to get started beekeeping and the cost really isn’t too bad. I’ve never been there myself (as I am always being required to attend work during the day) but the wife and child have been there several times, and they have told me that it is cool as heckers. The employees are really friendly and knowledgeable, and you can pick up a beginner kit that includes everything you need but the bees. We went all out and get the Ultimate Hobby kit, which includes the beehive, two additional bee boxes, frames to fill all the boxes, a bee brush, the smoker, a hive tool (the lifeblood of the beekeeper), some gunk for bee stings, and a great book about beekeeping. The cost for the whole kit is $235, but if that is too rich for your blood, just start out with the 2-story Hobby kit at $200. The key is getting at least one addition beebox (or super) so that when your busy busy bees fill up the first box, you can give them some additional room so that they don’t look for bigger digs. The other thing they have for sale (which in the clincher) are bee nucs, which is a box of bees with a few frames that have already been started (meaning the bees are already setting up honey and baby bees and a healthy queen. The cost is only $5o, and is 100% percent worth it.
At the advise of Evan the beekeeper, we first purchased and brought home the started kit so that we’d have everything ready when we brought home our new black and yellow winged friends. All you have to do is paint the entire thing (it helps preserve it in our mean South Florida rain, and remember that bees love bright colors) and set it up in a sunny spot in your yard. Evan told us to grab some concrete blocks and shove some 2X4s through the holes to set our hive box on. It is important to make sure that the hive box is flat as bees like things very orderly. (Side note, smart people who study bees have determined that bees always set up their frames with the same amount of space in between and that space is called “bee space.” Don’t worry, the boxes built by South Florida Bee Supply deliver that perfect “bee space” with their frame placement.)
With everything set, the wife and the kid did the long drive down to Miami and picked up our nuc. You might be worried about driving with bees in your car (and the wife was too), but nothing happened during the drive. A few bees did end up getting out, but let me say for the first (and not the last) time, BEES ARE NOT OUT TO GET YOU. The bees that got out, just kind of hung out close to their sisters, and didn’t mess with my human ladies at all. The wife arrived at home, donned her bee gear that she had purchased (which only includes a bee bonnet and gloves) and popped open the nuc. She then removed the same amount of frames that were included in the nuc (which was four, I believe) and moved the frames into the bee box. There was some smoking involved (which I’ll cover in a bit), but everything went off without a hitch. The only key to doing this is nice weather. This is also important to remember when inspecting your hive. Don’t do anything with bees when it is rainy or even cloudy, because just like us, bad weather makes bees cranky. I’ve read that if the weather is rainy when you get home with your nuc, just set it aside, out of the rain, and wait for the weather to improve. Needless to say, if you are thinking about getting bees, don’t do it during June, when it rains pretty much everyday. And that’s it, that’s all you need to do at first. Bees have been doing this for centuries without you, and they will continue to do it after you are gone. Until climate change messes something up for good.
Keeping up with your Beekeeping
There are definitely unlimited details when it comes to bees when beekeeping in South Florida, but I won’t go into that here. You can read a book or a blog post for that, but keep in mind that beekeeping really isn’t that hard. Check on your bees every once in a while, but other than that, they are bees and they’ve got it. You could die unexpectedly, and they would be fine. Beekeeping in South Florida is easier than in other locales, because we don’t have winter here. The bees will never be hurting for pollen or honey, so they pretty much have it from here. Don’t set up all of the additional boxes until your bees have filled up each frame with honey or brood, because they don’t need the extra room and so they won’t spend much time in the additional boxes, leaving an opportunity for pests to move in and cause trouble. If you have chickens, keep your bees with your chickens as the birds will help with the pests. When we inspect our hive, we put on our bonnets and gloves, and wear light colored clothing. It’s best to inspect your bees in the middle of the afternoon as most of the hive will be off attending to their jobs. Using the smoker and the hive tool, we pull out each frame and look at both sides, making sure their are no pests and monitoring the progress of the bees filling up every inch with brood or honey. Generally, honey is a dark color or is capped with white, while brood (baby bees) are capped with yellow. If a frame contains both brood and honey, it’s best to leave the frame in the box and not harvest the honey, but we are guilty are doing it anyways, as we wanted that sweet sweet honey. You’ll feel how heavy a frame loaded with honey is. If you are planned on harvesting a frame for honey, it is best to plan ahead, as the bees don’t really like you taking their honey. We have harvested honey without planning ahead, which resulted in some stings, and we have harvested honey while planning ahead which resulted in no stings.
Keep in mind that after you remove a frame to harvest honey, your bees will be pissed, and bees will be sent out and will be patrolling your yard, looking for retribution. Your bees will be buzzing around anything that moves, and this is a good time to get stung. After you remove a hive for honey, just make sure to hang out inside for an hour or so, until the bees calm down and give up. We make sure to have a large bowl to keep underneath the frame, and bring it inside and then use knives to scrape the honey into a collection bowl. There will be a lot of beeswax that you scrape off. You can put that wax into a wire sift to allow the honey to drip out, and then you can store the wax in your freezer until you decide what to do with it. Make sure to replace any frames that you remove. Another important tip is to replace frames in the exact order and position that you find them in when inspecting your hive. I’ve marked one end of each frame so that it is easy to put them back in the same way that they were before I removed them.
Using the bee smoker
Beekeeping in South Florada? There are tons and tons of video on YouTube that will teach you how to use your smoker, but I’ll give you the basic deats here. Light something flammable, like dried palm leaves or newspaper or paper towel and place it into the bottom of the smoker. Make sure that your flammable source is enough to burn for a little while, and then fill the smoker with dried twigs, or wood chips. We use wood chips from the chicken coop, and this works great. After filling your smoker with your fuel source, pump that son of a bitch for three to four minutes, until you’ve got a nice continuous source of smoke. It really isn’t that hard to get it going, and more than likely, you’ll find that your smoker will continue to smoke well beyond when you are done with it. Like dogs with a storm, smoke taps into something primal and nature-esque with bees and causes them to retreat into their hive. Don’t over smoke them, or they’ll start to quit caring about the G-D smoke. You’ll see right away that it really is quite effective. When we deal with our hive, my wife or I take lead, and the other mans the smoker.
Worried about being stung? Don’t be (or don’t bee)
It is totally natural that people are worried about being stung by bees when beekeeping in South Florida, but really you don’t need to be. Bees don’t want to sting you as they will die after they do. If you try inspecting the hive in bad weather or without being gentle, sure you might get stung. If you aren’t prepared when removing a frame full of honey, sure you will might get stung. But even if you do, it’s really not that bad. Unless you are deadly allergic to bee stings, nothing bad will happen to you. I can’t stress that enough. After we got the bees, I learned that I am somewhat allergic to bee stings. I will swell up a little bit when stung, but then it goes away. It doesn’t hurt too much, and my daughter has even gotten stung and taken it like a champ. The worst part for her was being scandlized by the fact that her friends, the bees, had stung her. But in the end, it was fine.
We have a heck ton of bees just a few yards from our door, and no one in our house gets stung unless they aren’t careful. The truth is that 90% of bee stings in our house occur when a dyeing bee is stepped on. It’s happened a few times, so yes, you have to wear at least flip-flops, but that’s it. My feet have swollen to the size where they barely fit in my shoes, but you should take that as a peace of mind. I’m allergic to bee stings, and yet I still keep bees. Why? Because bee stings are rare and really only happen when I am being careless. In the morning, I head outside to our covered porch to life weights, and there are always 50 or so bees hanging out with me, and they never mess with me. Why? As I said before, bees dies if they sting you. They use their sting as an ultimate last resort. I have quite a few colorful tattoos, which attract bees, but just remain calm and remember, bees aren’t out to get you. If you are calm, so are they, and they just fly away.
The take away
Don’t bee afraid. Beekeeper in South Florida is a win-win situation. You get ultimate germination rates for your plants, and delicious honey. The cost to get started in minimal, and the end results are so worth it. The amount of effort required is minimal. Evan told us that we needed to inspect our hive every two weeks, but guess what. We inspect our hive every two months and the bees are always ok. As I mentioned before, bees know what they are doing, and they don’t need you. I encourage you to cash in on those hippie points and get yourself a hive now. Not only will you be hooking up your garden, but mankind in general. These pollinators are a crucial element of our ecosystem. If every household kept one bee colony, our world would be changed for the better. (Side note: if you don’t want to keep a hive, make sure to include several flowering native plants in your garden plan, porterweed is great for this, and you will attract solo milller bees, which will will help with your germination rates.)
Just make sure to bee careful, and you and your family can enjoy the benefits that having your own beehive offers for years to come.
Mike W is a passionate gardener from Fort Lauderdale and a developer at a digital media agency. He loves growing stuff and he loves his wife and daughter. He also loves relaxing with a nice glass of wine.