May Newsletter: Devastating Orange Blossom Harvest, Tea Party Success, A Hen that is now a Rooster
Devastating Orange Blossom Honey Harvest for Florida Beekeepers.
Sarasota Honey Company knew it was going to be a difficult orange blossom honey season, but did not think it was going to be this bad. The 2022 orange blossom honey yield less than 10% of what we typically produce even in a bad year; making the 2022 orange blossom honey season the worst one we’ve seen yet. Disturb with the results, Alma Johnson owner of Sarasota Honey Co., reached out to other local Sarasota /Manatee County beekeepers to see if they had experience the same, the answer was “yes, it was very sad season for us all” Johnson decided to take it a step further and reached out to the Florida Department of Agriculture Apiary Inspection to find out if it was just Sarasota and Manatee County that experience such poor and devastating results. The department of agriculture inspector stated that all of the Suncoast and beyond, both small operations and major honey producers experience little to no harvest. The counties that were specifically named out were Hillsboro, Manatee, Sarasota, De Soto, Charlotte, Henry, Glades, Collier, Hardee, Highlands. According to Florida Department Of Citrus “Much of the oranges in Florida are grown in the southern two-thirds of the Florida peninsula, where there is low probability for a freeze.”
So what happened?
The Orange Blossom blooms came very early this year. Beekeeper’s had their hives to the groves by mid January. Johnson stated,
" At the time, we thought it’s gonna be a great harvest this year being that the blossoms came early. We were thinking, hopefully they’ll bloom through most of the spring producing our best year yet!” Alma joked,” I even did a happy dance in January seeing the girls (bees) working those flowers so well!” Then in February the freeze hit. The bees ate everything they had brought in in January! Moreover, the freeze affected the blooms. Beekeepers counted on a second bloom. What they weren’t counting on was a second cold snap and the tremendous amount of wind that this spring season produced. The second cold snap affected the second round of blooms. A windy spring season blew away some of the flowers and made it difficult for the bees to produce honey beyond their own needs. Bee had to fight headwinds to get to the blooms. The bees had to eat more to have the energy to fight the headwinds to get to the little blooms available. Most of the hives were only able to create enough honey to sustain themselves. Very few were able to give to the beekeeper. Instead of bringing in barrels of honey Florida beekeepers were lucky to get buckets… if anything at all.
Johnson stated that many of the beekeepers that she spoke to expressed that 1/3 of their income for the year comes from the orange blossom honey sales. The orange blossom honey sales help these beekeepers financially through the summer off-season. Moreover, the income earn in the spring time helps with the purchase of woodware for the honeybees. Unfortunately beekeepers have experienced a tremendous increase in the cost of woodware. Wood needed for our bees early pandemic days sold for $34 went up to $62 in 2021 and now it’s selling for $84. With everything from gas prices to increase labor cost, the devastating Orange Blossom honey bust was the last thing Florida beekeepers needed. Johnson asked the apiary inspector, “ What are the major commercial producers of orange blossom honey going to do with the honey they were able to produce? What are they going to wholesale/retail it for?”
The response was just as Johnson thought, “They are holding onto it. Not going to sell it until they can get the maximum price for it, to make up for some of the losses of the 2022 orange blossom honey season.” It seems Florida Beekeepers have decided they will let the honey that is out in the market right now dry up and then release the orange blossom honey for the maximum return.
In April, Johnson was picking up jars at a Florida beekeeping supply where the buzz among beekeepers was the orange blossom
honey. One beekeeper joked with Johnson, that they produced more of the coveted and hard to get Tupelo Honey last year than what the Florida Orange Blossom honey this year. “Maybe, Florida orange blossom should go for Tupelo prices, $25 a pound!” Johnson, stated she couldn’t help but cringe and think that’s a bit much.
Johnson, next thought was the orange growers. What will their harvest look like? Their sole income Is citrus. At least beekeepers have 2 other honey harvest left this season. Florida is known for our oranges. It will be a sad day in Florida if we have to depend on other states for oranges and orange blossom honey. One thing is for sure in 2-3 months if any orange blossom honey on the selves selling for less than $12 a pound I would highly doubt it comes from Florida and wouldn’t be surprised if it contains a “filler” honey. A process of “watering the tap”.
So what’s the light at end of the tunnel?
Johnson replied,” The summer blooms have started early. We are hoping for a wonderful harvest but this time I’m not gonna do a happy dance until my cup runneth over with honey!”
A Tea Party Success…more to come!
On Earth Day we partnered with Driftwood Theory to bring our first traditional afternoon tea party in over 2 years. What better way to celebrate Earth Day by being one with nature! Our attendees joined us for a special resin experience creating necklaces and partake in a garden tea party! We preserved REAL honeycomb, honeybees, and wildflowers all hand gathered in and around our gardens in resin!
They experienced a private tour by Alma, to learn about the bees, beekeeping in Florida, benefits of the hive, duties of the hive, agriculture, and what makes Sarasota Honey Co. unique. Check out our bees, exotic chickens and a pollinator friendly garden.
We wrapped up this fun event with a Traditional English Garden Tea Party! Attendees sampled a selection of Suncoast honeys paired with fruit and part-take in a variety of pastries, jams, fruit, finger sandwiches, and tea on fine linens and lace! The event was so well received with raving reviews that we will be hosting another event in June. Our next event will be held on Thursday, June 2 at 9 am, we will be making sun-catchers and enjoying a simple tea party. You can register online after May 9th via the link below or visit www.driftheory.com. If you have any questions or need help with registering, please feel free to text or call Alma: 941.726.8755. Below are a few pictures of our last event. We hope you can join us for our coming event.
Meet Billy Buttercup… A Hen that Identifies as a Rooster.
Did you know that Sarasota Honey Co. is all about the birds and the bees?! Our breed of choice are Polish chickens and we dabble a little in Silkies. Last summer we named a little buff hen Buttercup. Buttercup was like any other hen until one day she start to make a strange crow. I first thought it could be a throat worm that chickens can get infected feral birds. I treated her and the other birds in her flock for the worms but the crow got worst and more often. Perplexed, I reached out to a variety of chicken breeders and chicken mentors. The answer, we have a hen that is now identifying as a rooster. We have heard of this but have never experienced it among my flock. We were told that because “Buttercup” now called Billy was hatched as a hen and transitioning to a rooster the crow in not quite like a rooster that came to this world as a rooster. We were told that Billy Buttercup should be culled. Although, we understood the reason a farmer or breeder would recommend culling; the idea just didn’t feel right to us. However, we did know Billy couldn’t stay in the city. We decided to take Billy to a farm that was willing to accept him as he was. So how does this gender change happen? Below is what Jess found….
"Sex reversals do, in fact, occur—although not very frequently," states a 2000 report published by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "To date, however, spontaneous sex reversal from male to female has not been reported."
That's because the mechanics of this biological phenomenon seem to work in only one direction. Normally, female chickens have just one functional ovary, on their left side. Although two sex organs are present during the embryonic stages of all birds, once a chicken's female genes kick in, it typically develops only the left ovary. The right gonad, which has yet to be defined as an ovary, testes, or both (called an ovotestis), typically remains dormant.
Certain medical conditions—such as an ovarian cyst, tumor or diseased adrenal gland—can cause a chicken's left ovary to regress. In the absence of a functional left ovary, the dormant right sex organ may begin to grow, according to Mike Hulet, an associate professor at Penn State University's department of poultry science.
"If the activated right gonad is an ovotestis or testes, it will begin secreting androgens," Androgens are the class of hormones that are largely responsible for male characteristics and are normally secreted by the testes. "The production of androgen would cause the hen to undergo behavioral changes and make it act more like a rooster."
The hen does not completely change into a rooster, however. This transition is limited to making the bird phenotypically male, meaning that although the hen will develop physical characteristics that will make her look male, she will remain genetically female. So while the hen will no longer lay eggs, she won't be fathering any offspring, either. Below is a video of Billy crowing, while in route to his new home!