Spanish explorers were first to introduce honey bees to the state of Florida in the early 1600s, and the first hives were brought to Pensacola, Florida, by English settlers in 1763. According to The History Of Beekeeping in the United States, honey bees were well established from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River by 1800.
When Did Florida Begin Producing Honey?
There’s evidence that the earliest beekeeper in Florida was S.S. Alderman, who had established his apiary in the late 1800s. His bees were located in Northwest Florida, in a town called Wewahitchka (also nicknamed, “Wewa”), that put Tupelo honey on the map. Commercial production of Tupelo honey is thought to have begun during the nineteenth century. Ben Lanier, whose family was chronicled in the 1997 award-winning movie, “Ulee’s Gold,” was also an early beekeeper in the region, as were two others – Jim Rish and Donald Watkins.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Florida Produces?
While Wildflower honey is common in Florida, the state is probably best known for its production of Orange Blossom honey and Tupelo varieties of honey.
Most people are aware that Florida is a major citrus-growing state, so it’s no surprise that Orange Blossom honey would be popular there. But fewer know about Tupelo trees and that it’s difficult to grow in most geographical regions. Just southwest of Tallahassee, Tupelo trees thrive, and honey bees gather nectar from their blossoms once a year.
Other popular varieties in the state include Palmetto, Gallberry, and Mangrove.
How Much Honey Does Florida Produce?
The state of Florida is the fifth largest producer of commercial honey in the United States, and in 2019, produced 9,225,000 pounds of honey sourced from 205,000 hives.
But Florida’s honey bees are responsible for the pollination of the fruits and vegetables of a good deal of the state’s crops, and they are also “rented” by other states for pollination services.
Is Florida Honey Produced All Year Round, or is it Seasonal?
Florida’s climate and bloom timing differ greatly within the various geographical areas of the state, and honey production occurs only during a few months of the year. But beekeeping is a year-round activity. Although the timing of management practises may change according to region, there are general tasks typically required during the early, middle, and late parts of the year.
At the start of the year, it may be necessary to feed bees if food stores are not adequate. In early spring, colonies should be inspected for signs of disease and pests, and to cheque on the queen’s activity. If she’s not laying eggs, she may need to be replaced.
If the bees are in a region where the flowers bloom late, the bees may need to be fed a sugar solution and a pollen supplement. Because Florida bees are often rented to help with almond pollination in California, it’s important to make sure that the bees are ready to produce as early as February.
Spring is also the time to cheque for signs that the colony might be preparing to swarm, and beekeepers can make a split to prevent that from happening.
The primary difference between South Florida and the other two regions is the timing of the nectar flow and when honey harvesting should begin. It naturally occurs earlier in the south than in the areas further north.
Honey is typically harvested anytime between the end of March and may continue through July, depending on the region. Orange Blossom honey harvesting occurs early in the southern portion of the state.
Bees should be treated for varroa mites around the same time as the honey harvest, and treatment should continue into the early fall. It’s also important to monitor the bees’ food stores after the harvest and feed them if necessary.
During the last three months of the year, beekeepers focus on treating for possible diseases, watching for pests, and making sure the bees have enough food to last through a period of time when it may not be as cold as in northern states, but foraging is limited.
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Florida?
Almost 85% of beekeepers in Florida are known as hobbyists and have less than 40 colonies. But there are a number of companies that do sell their honey to wholesalers and are large bee suppliers throughout the state.
Some of the larger honey companies and apiaries are listed below:
|Bee Natural Honey Company||Carpenter’s Apiary|
|Cross Creek Honey||Harold P Curtis Honey Co.|
|Smiley Honey LLC||Honey Vita LLC|
|I Heart Bees||L L Lanier & Son Inc.|
|Lady Bee Raw Honey||Mc Coy's Sunny South Apiaries|
|My Sweetest Honey||S&S Apiaries|
|Sarasota Honey Company||Webb’s Honey Inc.|
|Wild Florida Honey||Winter Garden Honey Farm|
|Heritage Bee Farm|
Which Species of Honey Bees Create Florida Honey?
For the most part, Florida beekeepers rely on Italian bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) for their honey production. Italian bees are gentle and easy to work with. While some states to the north may opt to use a combination of Italian bees along with Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica) and Russian hybrids, it’s often because those other species are known to produce well in cooler or wetter regions.
However, if a colony has a varroa problem, it may be a good idaea to introduce Russian bees, as they’re more effective at removing the mites from hives.
Which Honey Bees and Plants Are Native to Florida?
The honey bees that produce honey in the United States are not native to any of the U.S. states. They were brought to the country in the 1600s by European settlers.
But these imported bees are very fond of native Florida plants. According to the University of Florida Extension programme, the native plants most attractive to honey bees are:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Citrus plants (including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and tangerines)
- Coral Honeysuckle
- Purple Coneflower
- Saw Palmetto
- Tupelo trees (Gulf Coast region)
What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Florida Honey?
Because the climate in Florida is mild compared to states to the north, the honey bees are able to fly and reproduce during all months of the year. But much of Florida is subtropical. From May through October the weather can go from hot to cool, which can affect the growth of plants and disrupt the bees’ foraging schedules.
Beekeeping is at an advantage in Florida because abundant sunshine means longer days and more time for foraging. The sun also shines for a greater length of time during the winter compared to more temperate states. The fact that Florida is close to the Atlantic Ocean is also an advantage because the ocean can moderate temperature extremes.
However, the warm, humid climate can be problematic in that it provides a favourable environment for varroa mites and pests such as hive beetles. Florida must also be alert to the presence of Africanised honey bees, which were originally bred in Brazil but escaped in 1957 and eventually found their way to the U.S.
Warmer temperatures also mean that the bees use more resources because they do not enter a dormancy period during the fall and winter. And hurricane season can pose a great threat to colonies. Bees must be moved to higher ground prior to hurricanes or tropical storms.