Brevard Bee Enthusiasts Ensure Insects Do Their Vital Work
When talking with beekeeper Clifton Best, it quickly becomes apparent that his hard-working insects are highly efficient at their jobs — which ultimately ensures we get fed and stay alive.
We need the bees to pollinate: the USDA says 75% of the world’s flowering plants and 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. That translates to $15 billion worth of crops annually that hard-working bees are pollinating in the U.S. So, next time you enjoy a fruit, nut or vegetable — even chocolate — thank the bees.
“Bees work together for the greater good of the colony,” said Best, founder and president of Brevard Backyard Beekeepers, a local nonprofit of honeybee enthusiasts and honey lovers. “If (political) leaders would act more like a honeybee colony, the world would be a much better place.”
Local beekeepers are doing their part to ensure the bees can keep the all-important cycle of life going.
How Bees Work
In the universe of honeybees, each member has a job to do and does it to the best of their abilities.
“It’s age-related division of labor,” Best explained.
The hives consist of a queen and her worker bees and drones. The queen reigns by releasing pheromones that regulate the colony. Her role is to lay enough eggs to ensure the survival of the hive. The fecund monarch lays between 2,000 and 3,000 eggs a day. Fertilized eggs become worker bees, while unfertilized eggs are destined for dronedom.
Ten to 15% of the colony is composed of drones, the male bees who exist only to eat and mate with the queen. After mating with a queen, drones soon expire.
The workers are females, the busy little bees that keep the hive humming. For the first three weeks of their short lives, worker bees stay in the hive, diligently cleaning house, nurturing and feeding larvae, processing nectar and feeding the queen. For three more weeks before they escape the surly bonds of Earth, they forage outside the nest. It’s a straightforward, honest existence.
A Bee Career
Clifton Best became attracted to bees after reading a book on backyard homesteading. Little did he know bees would progress from hobby to career.
“Keeping bees was covered in the book,” said Best, who started with one colony that promptly expired on him because of mites.
Undaunted by the early failure, he enrolled in the three-day “Bee College” offered by the University of Florida, where one of the classes involved live bee removal. A lightbulb went off. Here was a chance to help bees and homeowners alike, amass hives and make a little cash. He thought it would be a little sideline from his job as a construction project manager. He had grossly underestimated the need.
“My job started blowing up with calls,” he said.
Soon, Best left his job in construction for CL Best Honeybees, which provides live bee removal services, pollination services and nucleus colony sales.
“I don’t make as much as I did before, but I am happy,” he said.
Like several of the 80 members of Brevard Backyard Beekeepers, Best sells pure raw honey, but while some of his fellow beekeepers opt to sell regularly at farmers markets, Best only has time for some annual events like the Viera Harvest Festival and the Native Rhythms Festival at Wickham Park.
Apparently, beehives, like potato chips, are even better in multiple numbers. Best keeps 60 hives at his Canaveral Groves spread, plus a smattering more at friends’ houses around the county. The honey he collects runs a flavor profile dependent on the plants the insects use for forage. Florida holly, saw palmetto, gallberries, cabbage palm and Brazilian pepper — all honeybee faves — will provide a distinct difference in taste, color and viscosity.
Best encourages prospective customers to taste the different flavors, but for his money, you can’t beat the honey from Brazilian peppers and cabbage palm.
How about the mystical orange blossom honey? Yes, it tastes great, if you can find it.
“We just don’t have any citrus around anymore,” Best said.
A Bee Hobby
Best got into beekeeping as part of homesteading, but Matt Thompson, secretary of Brevard Backyard Beekeepers, saw another potential in the hobby.
“I got started to get me off the hook for gifts,” said Thompson, a physical therapist.
It might have been easier just to buy presents, since the Melbourne resident researched beekeeping for a year before purchasing his first hive. It was worth it, though.
“I’ve been hooked since,” he said.
He keeps six hives at a friend’s Merritt Island property rich with bee-magnet mango trees, cabbage palm and Brazilian peppers.
“I have enough to give away, but not enough to sell,” said Thompson, who offers jars to everyone from mail carriers to trash collectors. “Everyone gets a jar of honey.”
Thompson is already planning for Brevard Backyard Beekeepers’ National Honeybee Day celebrations, which this year are slated from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 19, at the UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County center, 3695 Lake Dr., Cocoa.
The day to honor these industrious laborers of the insect world features lectures, honey extracting demonstrations, exhibits, cooking with honey lessons and children’s games and activities, including a spelling bee.
The event brings together honeybee experts, master gardeners, conservationists and holistic health practitioners. Samples of local honey will be provided, and all types of honey and bee-themed products will be for sale.
Honey, a superfood with a potent life-sustaining combination of water, minerals, enzymes and vitamins, is only one of the many gifts honeybees provide.
Suzanne Richmond of Funky Chicken Farm in Melbourne creates skin balms that utilize beeswax.
“The beeswax in the balms offer natural skin protection from cold weather, excessive hand washing or dish washing,” she said. “Coconut oil, olive oil, and sunflower oils are natural oils that offer skin conditioning, moisturizing, and dilute the beeswax into a silky balm which can be massaged into the skin.”
The beeswax melts into the oil and perfectly blends with scented oils to create a balm.
Clearly we have many reasons to be grateful to the bees. Our world depends on them.
Brevard Backyard Beekeepers and National Honeybee Day
CL Best Honeybees
2120 W. King St., Cocoa
Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Road, Melbourne
Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
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