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June Newsletter: The Birds n the Bees:, Honey Report, Unexpected Apprentice

The Birds N Bees

Let’s start with the birds n bees before discussing them individually. In many ways nature works together for good. This is the case with the birds and the bees. Not only does Sarasota Honey Company breed and raise bees, but we also raise chickens! We have found that our bee yards with chickens have little to no pests that can destroy a hive. The beehives with chickens are nicer, more productive, and much healthier. Moreover, we don’t have to use chemicals because the pest levels are little to nothing.

The pest that are talking about is called the “small hive beetle”. It thrives in hot humid climate making Florida the perfect place for their population to explode to a major problem with the for local beekeepers. The small hive beetle can be a destructive pest of honey bee colonies. The beetle’s damage comb, stored honey, and pollen. If a beetle infestation is sufficiently heavy, they may cause bees to abandon their hive. Its presence can also be a marker in the diagnosis of colony collapse disorder for honey bees. The beetles can also be a pest of stored combs, and honey (in the comb) awaiting extraction. Beetle larvae may tunnel through combs of honey, feeding and defecating, causing discoloration and fermentation of the honey. We have seen them turn hives into brown sludge.

We have noticed that the small hive beetle larvae start on one frame of the beehive and then spread to the other surrounding frames. If caught early, we can pull the frame and the chickens will clean up those frames of every worm. Once the chickens finishes their worm cleaning we can simply put the frame back into the beehive for production. Our chickens literally jump like puppy dogs when they see us coming to them with a bee frame. We think it must be like a live video game for our birds.

There is a point in the hive beetle development that the worm/larva will burrow into the earth and go into a pupae stage to develop into an adult hive beetle. Under supervision we let the chickens scratch earth around the hives to find and eat the pupae… another level of knocking the hive beetle population down. We supervise the chickens not out of concern of the bees attacking or hurting the chicken but due to the threat of bird of prey…Ospreys. The bees just go about their business even when the birds are directly under, in front or even on top of their hives! Its funny to see the chickens released to the hives. Alma yells, “Chickens….beees! Bees! BEEES! Go go go go!” They run towards the hives like a Brave Heart battle having no mercy as they scratch ground with intense vigor for any potential pest of the hives.

The pupae, the frames with worms with honey are full of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and protein for the chickens. The bonus are 3 things: our birds are physically healthier, mentally stimulated birds, and best of all in 10 days we will have an abundance of eggs.

The Birds:

Sarasota Honey Company takes the genetics of the chickens just as seriously as we do the genetics of our bees. Genetics are everything in agriculture for temperament, production, and health. We entered the chicken raising business, after witnessing the multiple benefits of chickens with our bees.

It is a common practice to “cull” laying hens after they are 4yrs old because of the drop of egg production. On a farm/homestead every living creature has a purpose/ job… a way to pay their “rent.” At Sarasota Honey Company none of our egg laying hens get culled, because even our older hens have a job of keeping pest levels down. We find the mental simulation from frame cleaning and the beehive runs keep the “old” hens sharp, young, and limber.

Some of our family members had an issue that some chicken breeds can be used for meat and egg laying. This is why it was important for us to choose a chicken breed that in no way could be used for meat. The other considerations were temperament and egg laying. The bird we ultimately choose was the Polish Hen.

The Polish chicken breed offers good looks, a peaceful quiet demeanor, and plenty of production. They can be distinguished by their beautiful head feathers. This breed has a storied history and could quickly become the star of a backyard chicken coop. This breed is one of the few whose reputation is firmly ensconced in history – there are chickens that look to be Polish chickens in paintings from the 1500-1700s.

The birds were prized by French aristocracy, kept for their elegant appearance and brought to this country by the King of Poland, when he was dethroned and had to flee to France. He carried these chickens in his luggage with him! In France, these chickens are known as one of the best egg-producing breeds.

Polish chickens are known to be some of the calmest and gentlest birds .An excellent choice for backyard chicken keepers who have children or other pets making a fantastic pet for your family. Some people even raise them indoors! A Polish chicken that is given unrestricted room to roam may show up in odd places – if given the opportunity, it will even roost in the trees.

These curious birds are known to be quite inquisitive.

Often, they’ll end up trapped somewhere and will need your help to get out. In our case we have had one more than one Polish hen find her way into the house.

It can be tough to encourage natural breeding in Polish chickens – not because the roosters won’t mate with the hens, but because the hens are unreliable sitters that won’t often hatch their own chicks. Polish hens rarely go broody. A mentor said, “They look like Divas and are Divas.” The one of kids in our family joked that Divas often have nannies! This got us thinking and led to successful hatching. We got Silkie hens to be the Nannies to our Polish hens. Silkies are infamous for going broody to hatch chicks. Silkies seem to want to be the momma of everything! They will even “steal” eggs from other nesting boxes to sit on. The picture on the left are of the Nanny Silkie Chickens.

The difficulty of hatching Polish babies. The difficulty of keeping them alive as chicks because they have delicate legs and heads due to their incoming head feathers. Sorta like the soft part on a human baby. Keeping their genetics diverse can also be challenging. All these reasons make these chickens rare.

Meet our Polish Babies and what makes our birds different:

We only raise a few Polish chicks every year. We keep them until they are fully feathered and their legs are not all as delicate. Polish chicks are almost as difficult to sex male/female as the silkies. We have a very talented chicken whisper we hire to sex our babies male and female. He says he has a track record of 75% but in our experience with him has been 100%. We plan our chicks around his availability. Others we have hired have given us results of 40% or less correct. This is important because most urban areas only allow hens…no roosters. The polish and silkies are typically a more expensive bird and often sold “straight run” because it is so difficult to sex them. A straight run chicken is a chicken that has not been sexed, meaning that it cannot be determined whether the chicken is male or female.

We used to keep our chicks until we could be certain which were male or female which required 6 months of physical and financial maintenance. Families did not want to become emotionally attached and invest 4-6 months in a bird that resulted in being a rooster needing to be rehomed by law. We are so confident with our chicken whisperer that we are open to letting our babies find homes sooner. However, we do not offer a 100% guarantee that the young bird you take is female.

Silver and Golden Lace Polish birds are the most desirable of the breed. We only raise the birds that can be genetically diverse. This is the first time in over 2 years that we have those two types available. The roosters of the Silver and Golden Lace birds that had the genetics we wanted would be coming from areas affected by bird flu. We did NOT want to take that risk, so for the last 2 years we only raised the Buff and “Cruella” Polish birds. This year we have a limited amount of Silver, Golden Lace and the Cruella birds available. We hope to schedule a chicken keeping class soon. If you would like to learn more or are interested in our Polish babies please feel free to reach out. Below are pictures of some of our past birds that found forever homes:

The Bees:

2023 started a bit rough, the bees looked rough and the honey flow was also rough. Due to the hurricane we moved bees inland where they were damage or washed away with storm. We have faith the bees that were affected did not drown because they had a way to escape out of the top box. Here in Sarasota bee boxes were blown, thrown and damaged. Local feral hives that lost their homes in downed trees moved into empty bee boxes in all of our yards.

The law states that’s we have to re-queen feral hive but given the time of year re-queening was not an option. We decided to nurse them back to health with vitamins and honey. The bees looked rough but as Spring progressed they looked better with every passing day. However with every passing day they got meaner and arrogant. Talk about ungrateful! This is part of the reason we didn’t have tours for the public last spring.

In March, Alma started the process of re-queening these hives. This means removing the old queen and putting in a princess of bred with manners to take over the hive. By the time we had our inspection with the Department of Agriculture the hives were nice, well bee-haved, and just absolutely beautiful. Our girls pasted their inspection with flying colors and are proving to be wonderful honey producers. Above is a photo of Alma and our new Inspector for Sarasota County.

Alma’s Unexpected Apprentice…Don gets Certified!

Sarasota Honey Company’s very own Don Byam officially becomes a certified Beekeeper with the Florida Department of Agriculture. Some of you may recognize Don at our farmers market booths. He and his wife of 49 years, Jane, manage our booth at the Phillippi Creek Farm Market every Wednesday Oct-April, Dearborn Market in Englewood, Venice Farmer’s Market on Saturday and starting in July our Sunday, Wellen Park Farmer’s Market!

Alma had the pleasure of meeting Don and Jane years ago at the Phillippi Creek Farmers Market. At the time they were neighbors with our booth selling delicious nut butters. As neighbors they quickly became friends. Alma was able to learn about their product, adding their line to our store. Don and Jane were the first we thought of when the opportunity came for Sarasota Honey Company to grow. What started as business collaboration /friendship quickly became the sense of family. Thus, is it how Jane and Don entered the Sarasota Honey Company team and family. Becoming the new face at some of our Farmers Market, it was important that they learn as much as they could about honey, bees, and what makes Sarasota Honey Company unique.

There are no words to describe Don and Janes enthusiasm and desire to absorb as much knowledge about bees, honey and all we do. Alma stated it “reminded me of when I started my interest in bees. You feel a childlike joy experiencing something fabulous for the first time. Kinda like the excitement of Christmas morning.” Wasn’t much longer before Alma had Don in a bee suit and as her unexpected new apprentice. Alma’s “girls”(honey bees) fully initiated him into their sorority! Through his initiation, Don learned to wear thicker socks the next time he was in the girls!

Don recently became a licensed and certified beekeeper with the Florida Department of Agriculture. We are pleased to have Don as our certified beekeeper at our Farmers Market booths. We would like to congratulate Don, express our gratitude and love for him and Jane. It was a blessing to have you join the Sarasota Honey Company family and a joy to have you both officially join the ranks of our hive!

Next you see Don bee sure to offer him a CONGRATS and a pat on the back for us!


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