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Beekeeping Makes Food Production Possible

Beekeepers Mike and Steve Grande spend many hours of the day and night among their hives.

Donald Patzsch of north Brandon asked for a column about bees and beekeeping, very apt in this season of pollen and allergies, when honey from local bees can be the best medicine. In visiting the same plants and collecting the pollen that is causing the trouble, the honey these bees make provides natural antibodies that will help tremendously in overcoming such problems.

Bees are also of vital importance to the pollination of many of our food crops.

Over their many years as beekeepers, Steve and Mike Grande have often worked with citrus growers. "Bees in the grove will bring the production of fruit well above normal with both more and larger fruits," says Steve Grande.

The brothers, who started their beekeeping at their father's side as children, have about 800 hives now mostly around Hillsborough County. The ones on Woodbury Drive just west of Lakewood are theirs, though not the cows that wander between the hives and do no damage.

The Grandes have been members of both of the nationwide beekeepers associations. Like all beekeepers, they have had trouble with their hives at times, mostly due to urbanization and reckless spraying by other agriculture interests.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of politics involved these threats. The brothers who have long lived on Telfair Ave and five years ago purchased the former Babbit Nursery land across the road and 1/4 mile south of Limona school, have been the center of controversy.

"People move into an agricultural setting and are thrilled by the trees and the cows and the beauty," Steve says. "Then after a while, they admit that the cows can smell and that agriculture has a downside, too."

A few children at the school were stung, but it turned out they were most likely stung not by bees but by wasps before the many wasp nests were removed from the school property. If you get stung by a bee, the bee pays with his life and his body can be found close by. Usually there is a thread-thin black stinger on the spot that should be removed by scraping it away, not by squeezing, which may release more pain into the site. A bee stings only once while a wasp can and will sting again and again once he is angry.

The bees are supplied with these frames in which the queen lays her eggs and the bees store the honey to feed them when they hatch. When the beehive is opened, the beekeeper can remove each frame to check for the queen and for the health of the hive.

"We had bees right beside Limona school when it was being built," says Steve. "We moved them to the other side of the grove so no one would feel threatened." They have also moved their hives away from Telfair road except for a few in their own yard. Honey customers can stop at the house with the big flying bee sign anytime "between sunup and sundown."

As for the frightening "African" bees, they can be a Godsend to beekeepers by increasing honey production. Like most bees, they will not hurt you if you stay away from the hive and do not threaten them. They eventually crossbreed with the gentler bees who then improve in production and the offspring become less aggressive.

"They aren't even from Africa," says Steve Grande. "They don't have to be a problem if the colonies are well maintained." The brothers share information with beekeepers in many parts of the globe and this helps them see the whole picture. Beekeepers learn early to move slowly and never panic.

Spraying for other agriculture interests does not need to be a problem either. There is much land where bees can thrive but other ventures cannot, such as near the mangroves along the coast and in the wetlands. But spraying by plane is always a problem because of the drift.

The Grandes are planting many honey plants on their 20 acres. They have water gardens so that their bees can always find water, with water plants so the bees can climb back out. They raise their own queens and divide the hives as needed, leaving the old queen in the old hive and making sure there is a new queen cell or a new queen in a cage in the new hive. They put bee candy on either side of a live queen in a small cage so that she can take on the odor of the new hive before the other bees eat her way out.

By this careful management, they seldom have swarms, but wild swarms often come from the ships coming into the port of Tampa, and these tend to find the beekeepers.

When they move their hives from one location to another, they load the hives on the truck at dusk and put a net over the truck so the bees can't escape. They then drive to the new location and leave them to settle overnight. Next morning at first light, they unload them. They wear their beekeepers nets when working from hive to hive, but seldom bother when only checking a single hive.

"A good hive works like a high performance engine," says Mike Grande. "Things can go from really good to really bad very quickly." Then they just hang on and hope in God. "Experience and age help one to understand," they say of both the natural and the unnatural happenings in the beekeeping business which has been their livelihood for many years.

Their flying bee honey sign is a landmark in the colorful garden at
606 Telfair Road not far north of Brandon High School.

Mike Grande was the first to spot this swarm in a tree above their hives.

Now's the time to...

  • Check a book out from the children's department in the library for a quick course on the fascinating facts of beekeeping.
  • Check the labels on your honey containers. Some honey now sold is not all pure honey. And pure honey needs no other ingredients.
  • For the same reason, don't buy it in the grocery because that has no doubt been processed. Look for raw local honey from the beekeepers or at health food stores or produce stands.
  • Use honey for a natural, healthful sweetener, but do not feed it to babies under one year old.
  • If you are using honey in cooking instead of sugar, use half as much. Also don't boil honey or you will destroy much of the nutrition and the flavor.