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February Newsletter: Honeybee Update, Buyer Bee-ware

Honeybee Update:

We are still recovering from the storm. Our losses didn’t come because of the initial storm, but what followed. We moved a 3rd of our hives to the Arcadia area, we thought it was best to "Spread them out, so if one area gets hit hard then at least we will have enough hives to rebuild." Although the bees made it through the storm they did not make it through the flood. These hives were completely swept away. The peace of mind we have is that we drilled holes in the top box, if water rushed into the main entrance the bees had a way to escape. This trick is something we learned from the floods of Harvey in Texas. A third of the hives that are responsible for the honey we offer are gone. Although this truth stings, we know that we are still very blessed. At least we have what we need to regrow and rebuild our apiaries.

As we reported in October, honeybees were starving. Our bees were fine because due to beekeeper illness within our team, we did not harvest prior to the storm like most local beekeepers did. Unfortunately, the honeybees that were affected by the storm became weak due lack of nutrition. Those bees either died or succumb to disease/infections. The bees that died left the perfect environment for pests and disease.

Honeybees are opportunists by nature. They will raid a dead colonies storage just because they can. This why we tell folks that when they call pest control to euthanize a hive, they are potentially killing other hives within a 3-mile radius. Some honeybees are also drifters…if they become orphans because their family died or is dying, their family pheromone will dissipate allowing them to drift into another colony to be adopted. (Each hive has its own pheromones like a fingerprint. If a hive’s front entrance is approached by a bee that has a pheromone of another hive, they will attack) To add insult to injury a number of our bee yards in south Sarasota County became sick and/or died due to drifters or raiding sick, dead, or poisoned hives. Some storm-made homeless bee colonies were poisoned by pest control for moving to an undesirable location on someone’s property. So, we had yet another wave of losses.

We were put in a hard spot because we were limited in options due to the winter season. Alma spent a good portion of her time in December nursing them to health with raw honey donated by family from Texas and vitamins. What blood is to an injured human, honey is to an injured bee. She couldn’t justify pulling honey from hives still recovering from the shock of 2 storms to aid the very weak and sick.

All in all, we lost more than half of our colonies. We are blessed to have family and friends that are also beekeepers that helped us by providing new colonies. The extra money we earn during the holiday season is often used to carry us through the summer months. This year it is going towards the bees in way of new bee boxes, lids, and frames. The Sarasota Honey Company moto is, “If we take care of our bees they will take care of us” Our numbers are not where we need them, but we are hopeful that we will be able to grow them stronger than ever! So far all is looking well but we are asking that everyone send good vibes and prayers that 2023 will bring perfect weather and blooms. We can have all the bees in the world, but it means nothing if we don’t have the flowers to feed them and us.

Buyer BEE- Ware

There is no doubt that 2022 was by far the hardest year for everyone in agriculture. Last Spring when there should have had 14 barrels of Orange Blossom honey the yield was 10 buckets. The not so honest beekeepers that feed their bees a sugar/corn syrup water while on the bloom were also

affected. (It is a way of watering the tap. Bees take the feed and mix it with nectar they bring in) The bees were bringing so little nectar in the spring that even the “feeder beekeepers” could not even pass what they got from their bees as “honey.” As we predicted most of the Orange blossom honey being sold in local stores originated in Texas and California. We had friends from Texas calling us asking, “What the heck is going on in Florida, we are getting inundated with calls for orange blossom honey! Aren’t you guys known for your oranges? Isn't your state flower the orange blossom?!”

Our summer harvest was great! Moreover, it looked like our largest harvest which happens in the fall was going to be amazing!!! Then the hurricane hit the week that it was predicted to be the start of an amazing honey flow. Our largest honey harvest of the year, the one that gets us and our bees through the winter and to April… yielded nothing!

A depleting honey bank.

Honey never spoils; therefore, when we see that we are about to harvest the current year’s newly made honey we add the prior year’s honey to our honey bank. We keep this reserve, just in case we have a bad year. 2022 was the first year we started to tap into this reserve.

This is the first time we find ourselves anxious about supply. I have seen Alma put in 18-hour days consistently with no days off. When she rests, I know it is not restful. We have spoken about her sleepless nights filled with concerns about the blooms, the bees, the chickens, honey reserves, retail and wholesale customers, and effects on the business due to inflation.

Early January we had our honey house/ food kitchen inspection with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Food Safety. We were told that other Florida beekeeping operations were struggling. We were asked how we were doing and coping. Alma explained about our “honey bank” but we were starting to get worried about supply. The inspector gave a stern warning that should we decide to purchase honey from another honey operation to have it tested. She stated that a local honey operation, purchased honey from Georgia and upon a “state spot check” the honey contained agricultural chemicals/pesticides. The honey was pulled off the shelves.

State inspectors will go into grocery stores and pull products like honey and have them tested for safety. The state of Florida tells beekeepers to scrape all the wax off their beehive frames every 5 years because it is believed that after 5 years there is enough toxins in the wax to seep into the honey. We at Sarasota Honey Company scrape our frames every year to every other year max. Every state is different. Some states have strict rules, others have no rules when it comes to how you raise your bees. Our Florida inspectors have no jurisdiction on the safety of honey from another state. They can just pull it off the shelves and do whatever follows between the State, the store, the beekeeper, and any customers potentially affected by the product.

Seeing our honey supple depleting, we were considering purchasing types of floral honeys. Most if not all honey specialty stores/booths do this…we are the only “crazy ones” that do honey the way we do. If you go to a booth/store and see sourwood honey, buckweed honey, clover honey…they are definitely purchasing honey from other states. Those honeys come flowers that do NOT grow in Florida. To lab test every barrel or bucket would not be cost effective or feasible. After deliberation with our team, we decided not to purchase specific floral honeys as the other local beekeepers have. The potential risk to us is not worth the pain/anguish if something is not right with that honey. Therefore, we are having to ration how much honey we take to each farmers market and pump the breaks on wholesale accounts and bulk retail sale discounts. There is a chance that some of our customers may not find some of our honeys at local stores. We hope they will be patient and understanding. We just need the weather and the blooms corporate and give us a good spring harvest. If we can just get to mid-April ALL will bee well.

I see why Alma states that if you want to become closer to God or your source go into agriculture. No matter how “good” you are at what you do in agriculture…mother nature will always find a way to humble you. She will bring you to your knees until you have no choice but give it up to the Lord or go mad. Yet all those in agriculture stay or at least hold on to the very end. It is a calling that most do not understand. I admire this calling for it for its resilience, beauty, and everlasting faith and hope. It is a calling that I believe only those that are in agriculture can completely understand. Only they have the complete appreciation for its beauty and needed strength to carry and withstand its burdens.

I find myself preferring to work behind the scenes: writing the newsletter, social media or working the bees. I rather get stung by bees then even visit the farmers markets. Ironically my "disability" is having difficulty with finding the "right" words in the moment. It is very difficult for me to bite my tongue or event witness when a potential customer is trying to haggle or complain about pricing at our booth or at another vendor's booth. (Alma says, "It because they do not know our value. It is up to us to educate them and let them experience what real local raw honey is supposed to taste like. When you have an amazing product, it will sell itself") However, on behalf of other vendors, I guarantee you like us they are doing their best to give you their best price. Some are barely making it...not because lack of demand but because the circumstances of supply chain availability, inflation, unpredictable weather/pests, and other situations that are beyond their control.

Will you join me to pray and believe for abundance in the 2023 season for everyone in agriculture? 2022 was very tough season for farmers, ranchers, and beekeepers. I know Sarasota Honey Company has the best customers. Our customers got us through the pandemic shut down. When we saw close friends laying off workers, closing their farms and business; you kept Sarasota Honey Company's doors wide open not one worker was lost or one bill not paid. We ask to please continue to support local small agricultural businesses... show them some love and words of encouragement to continue pressing forward!


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